Tallinn University of Technology

Maria Altof studied Electrical Power Engineering and Distributed Energy in TalTech and is working as a compliance engineer in ABB. During her time in the university, she also studied in the Hermholtz Institute in Switzerland. In ABB, she is responsible for the products’ compliance to special certificates (Marine, UL, CSA) upon clients’ demands. She also conducts the audits for certification centres.

Maria Altof

How did you find your way to technology education?
Everyone in my family has a technology education and thus there was a natural understanding that I should also choose a „serious“ profession. I graduated from one of the finest Russian speaking secondary science schools and it felt logical to continue my studies in TalTech. I chose the field of electrical power engineering, as it had the toughest competition the year I graduated from high school. At the time I was not thinking about the fact that this specialty requires studying a lot of various physics subjects. Fortunately, everything went well and I have never regretted my choice.

What appeals to you the most in the profession of an energy engineer?
I love engineering because it is a creative profession that fits ideally to an introverted person. In this job, you have to spend long hours by yourself, and what is valued in this profession are independence, precision and the ability to make decisions. The work tasks are usually diverse and complex, and they can be solved in different ways – usually there is no one and only solution to a problem.

How did you find your way from TalTech to ABB?
It’s a funny story and I’m not sure if my employer should know this. But all right, let it be! Starting from my first year at the university, I have always known that my goal was to work in a large enterprise, preferably an international one. In Estonia, choices in this area are quite limited or non-existent.
I applied for a summer practice at ABB but unfortunately, I was not invited to the interview. Then I asked my coursemates who got the invitation about when the group interview takes place, and I showed up without an invitation. I applied for an unpopular available position – the technical writer. And I got the job! However, I think to this day that the human resources department must have looked for my „missing documents“ for a while and I feel deeply sorry for that. Although it wasn’t my dream job, it was easy to link this with my studies at the university.
Today’s students must keep in mind that sometimes it may be difficult to find your way to the enterprise. It may even be more difficult than moving on a career ladder inside the company. A year later, a position opened in the production line of inverters and I started as a product engineer. Last year I became a compliance engineer. I’ve been working in ABB for seven years already.

Are you paid extra attention in your everyday work when compared to your male colleagues? Is it good or not?
I don’t think that I am. Sure, we don’t have many female engineers, but a female engineer is not something special nowadays.
In ABB factories, there are also women who work as fitters and testers – those positions require not only special knowledge and skills but also physical strength. Compared to these women, I’m sure I’m not doing anything special.

Do you feel that more women are needed in your specialty and why?
My answer is that in energy engineering, good engineers are always needed, despite their gender. During my university studies, we had 120 students in my class, only 4 of them ladies. For me, this dynamic was puzzling and surprising. It’s possible that technical areas should be promoted more among girls. As a matter of fact, all the ladies from my class have graduated and are working in their chosen field.

What kind of opportunities, experiences and skills has technology education given you to succeed in life?
There are a lot of them. First, I can and may design an electric wiring system for my apartment. To me, the most important thing is that thanks to technology education, I have met a lot of interesting people and got a chance to study highly interesting study programmes in Tartu and in Switzerland. For example, I participated in a course about renewable energy taught by the renewable energy advisor of Barack Obama, who flew in from Washington to give the course. Thanks to technology education, I have contacts in different areas of engineering from Colombia to South Korea.

What has kept you in ABB?
I think very highly of the trustworthiness of the company – ABB is a large international enterprise with a long history of being on the market. In addition, ABB is one of the leading electronic companies – therefore there’s always a chance to participate in innovative projects. Another important factor is that ABB really cares about their employees – we have a bonus programme, sports opportunities, vacations connected to the time of employment – I appreciate it very much.

What do you like to do in your free time, what are your hobbies?
I read a lot of books, five to eight books in a month, both fiction and other genres. I’m a member of a book club where we read new books and discuss them. We now even have our own YouTube channel.
I also like running, and I plan to run my first half marathon in September after a long pause.
For almost eight years, I have played in the grown-up’s league of a popular quiz show in Russia named “What? Where? When?” and participated in its international competitions.