Juliana applies her passion for sustainability to building infrastructure for the future
In 2017, Juliana Fernandez made the move from Colombia to Australia to study English and find work as an engineer.
While the transition has not been straightforward, Juliana’s perseverance and passion for sanitary engineering shone through and led her to an opportunity at Aurecon that enables her to make a positive impact on communities and the environment.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
When I was at school, I found science and biology really fascinating so I was interested in becoming a doctor. But before I went to uni, I tried to explore different options and decided to apply for Sanitary Engineering instead because it’s related to science, water, environment, which are areas I’m also passionate about.
When I passed the university admission test on my first attempt, that changed everything. While it was difficult at the beginning, I really enjoyed the subjects related to sanitary and water, and immediately fell in love with the possibilities for my career.
Can you tell us about your experience moving from Colombia to Australia?
I moved to Australia in 2017 because I wanted to learn how to speak English and to work as an engineer for an international company. I had some friends who were already living here in Australia, so I had heard some great things about the lifestyle, weather, and culture here.
From the very beginning, I knew that it would be difficult not knowing the language and having no local experience, so I really started from zero. I almost gave up at one point and was thinking about going back home. But the opportunity at Aurecon came up and now I’m here and I couldn’t be happier.
How did you end up applying at Aurecon?
I spent my first two years in Australia learning the language because I wasn’t that confident yet and I knew it would be critical to my success as a Water Engineer. I spent the next year and a half looking for engineer work opportunities, which was challenging given my student visa only allowed me to work 20 hours per week. Add this to the pandemic that reduced the opportunities for emerging professionals across the industry.
Initially, I was just looking for an internship to gain some work experience, but I didn’t have any luck. In the meantime, I worked in several roles from nanny to operator.
Finally, I decided to post something on LinkedIn to widen my network and seek opportunities because I believed in my capabilities and knew I could create an impact if I was given a chance. Luckily this resulted in a connection with an Aurecon recruiter, which led to an interview and then a job offer. My first professional job in Australia, and not as an intern, but a Water Engineer!
What kind of impact do you want to make as an engineer?
I try to have a sustainable approach to everything I do in my daily life, from separating rubbish at home, buying environmentally friendly products, to finding ways to reuse, upcycle or repurpose products. I like to share these small acts with friends, family, and my network to inspire them to think in a more sustainable way.
This is also the same principle I have in my work. We need to be more conscious with our decision-making, especially when we are involved in the design or construction of the built environment and infrastructure. The construction sector is one of the biggest contributors to global carbon emissions and I believe it is part of our responsibility as designers, engineers, and advisors to help our clients in finding alternatives, innovative solutions, and making sustainable decisions when implementing processes or building infrastructure to create a promising future.
The construction sector is one of the biggest contributors to global carbon emissions and I believe it is part of our responsibility as designers, engineers, and advisors to help our clients in finding alternatives.
I would also like to help engineers in the Latin community given there are many struggling to find a job. I would like to provide them with the tools to build their networks and find good opportunities like I did because I think we all deserve that chance here in Australia.
What kind of projects have you been working on?
I have been working on concept design projects for Sydney Water under the Planning Partner initiative, mainly in wastewater infrastructure projects to service the current and future communities.
One of the aspects I liked about these projects was that it required me to upskill myself in the digital space and learn the Civil 3D software to assist my team to make design decisions more quickly. One of Aurecon’s digital strategies is to employ the digital model-first approach and during that time, there were only one or two people in the team who are skilled in this software – and I became the third. I was able to expand my knowledge and capabilities that later I can use in other projects.
Now that I have my sponsorship visa (thanks Aurecon!) and can work full-time, I can see a lot of opportunities for me to be involved in other projects, especially since Aurecon has a strong partnership with Sydney Water which is Australia’s largest water utility. So, I’m really looking forward to the exciting projects that will come up and continuing to grow and learn.
How can our role as consultants help influence positive outcomes?
We need to be good listeners so we can understand the needs of the communities we serve. By conducting community and stakeholder engagement, we can come up with technical solutions that have economic, social and environmental benefits for the people who will actually use the infrastructure we are designing. I believe it is important for us to incorporate and value their feedback because the designs and solutions that engineers are creating should not only technically work on paper, they must work in real life.
You previously wanted to become a doctor before you decided to become an engineer. Is the kind of work you’re doing right now giving you the fulfilment you’ve always dreamed of?
Yes! Working on city-shaping and challenging projects is one of my biggest motivations, because these have the power to change everything for the better. We are always looking to benefit the community and environment, so it really feels like I’m making a positive impact. I’m proud to tell people that I’m a Water Engineer.