High f lier who’s liv­ing her dream

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View -

AS a child, Me­lanie Olsen was fas­ci­nated by the fighter jets which would oc­ca­sion­ally zoom above her small coun­try town of El Ar­ish in north Queens­land.

And, while her school­friends were in­vent­ing ex­cuses for not do­ing their maths and physics home­work, she was de­vour­ing the chal­lenge of solv­ing com­plex prob­lems.

Now 25, Ms Olsen has found a way to ap­ply her sci­en­tific mind to her ob­ses­sion with cut­ting- edge tech­nol­ogy.

An elec­tronic war­fare en­gi­neer with the Defence Ma­teriel Or­gan­i­sa­tion ( DMO), she works on a variety of mar­itime elec­tronic war­fare sys­tems.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing as an elec­tron­ics en­gi­neer with first class hon­ours from trop­i­cal north Queens­land’s James Cook Univer­sity in 2006 Ms Olsen ap­plied for a po­si­tion in the DMO grad­u­ate scheme.

The op­por­tu­ni­ties it has opened to her have proven to be well above her ex­pec­ta­tions.

When I ap­plied, I re­ally had no ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the breadth and scale of work DMO man­ages on a daily ba­sis,’’ Ms Olsen says.

The type of work I’m do­ing is sim­i­lar to where I had hoped to end up once I grad­u­ated, but I didn’t ex­pect the mas­sive di­ver­sity of work ex­pe­ri­enced on a dayto- day ba­sis.’’

Par­tic­i­pants in the scheme ro­tate across three DMO ar­eas within an 18- month pe­riod. Ms Olsen’s first post had her work­ing on the Nulka project: a rocket de­coy de­signed to pro­tect ships from cruise mis­siles. She then joined the Over The Hori­zon Radar Sys­tems Pro­gram Of­fice in Ade­laide work­ing on a wide area sur­veil­lance radar.

Her train­ing con­cluded in the Mar­itime De­vel­op­ment sec­tion of the Ca­pa­bil­ity De­vel­op­ment Group in Can­berra.

Still based in Can­berra, Ms Olsen is part the en­gi­neer­ing team the Mar­itime Elec­tronic War­fare Sys­tems Pro­gram Of­fice.

The work it­self varies sub­stan­tially,’’ she says. ‘‘ I en­joy the tech­nol­ogy side of things so that is where I have di­rected my ca­reer.

‘‘ That’s one of the bril­liant things about the DMO - the scope of work is so broad that you can tai­lor your ca­reer to where you want to go.

Each day is a new ex­pe­ri­ence in­volv­ing new chal­lenges - that is what helps me ex­cel. Defence is so broad that you can re­ally make your ca­reer ex­actly how you want it to be.’’

The Nulka project is still part of her work. As it is a joint project be­tween Aus­tralia and the US, her team trav­els to the US an­nu­ally to en­sure the project team func­tions suc­cess­fully as a unit.

With elec­tronic war­fare ex­perts and con­trac­tors based in Ade­laide and other cap­i­tal cen­tres, travel within Aus­tralia is of­ten re­quired - some­thing which has greatly ex­panded Ms Olsen’s hori­zons.

I hadn’t re­ally been south of Mackay, Queens­land, be­fore I flew to Can­berra to take on this job,’’ she says. Typ­i­cal tasks Ms Olsen may be in­volved in on a day- to­day ba­sis in­clude ex­am­in­ing de­signs and pro­posed changes, writ­ing and re­view­ing re­quire­ments, par­tic­i­pat­ing in and wit­ness­ing test­ing, man­ag­ing projects and par­tic­i­pat­ing in en­gi­neer­ing re­views.

‘‘ Lead­ing edge tech­nol­ogy is cer­tainly what draws me to the elec­tronic war­fare side of defence,’’ she says. It is an ev­ere­volv­ing field that is re­quired to con­tin­u­ally up­date it­self with state- of- the- art tech­nol­ogy.

This cre­ates chal­leng­ing and com­plex prob­lems with strin­gent time­lines, but that is the en­vi­ron­ment that I love work­ing in.’’

Ms Olsen ad­vises en­gi­neer­ing stu­dents to do their re­search on the in­dus­try and their em­ploy­ers be­fore tak­ing a job.

Get as much in­for­ma­tion as you can and don’t be afraid to ask po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers what they do,’’ she says.

Chances are they will be more than happy to help you. Also don’t be afraid to travel to a new place to achieve your goals.’’

Me­lanie Olsen: Fac­ing com­plex chal­lenges on a day- to- day ba­sis

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