This issue, The Professional Edge chats with Celene Anger, P.Eng. a mechanical engineer currently on secondment from the City of Saskatoon, serving as interim Chief Operations Officer of Remai Modern.
Tell us about your personal and professional background.
I grew up in Saskatoon and graduated from Aden Bowman. After that, I went to the University of Saskatchewan where I took a year of arts and science before switching to engineering.
Why didn’t you go straight into engineering?
No one suggested it. In high school, I was good at science and math, but the guidance counsellors never told me what I could do with those skills. Maybe it didn’t occur to them that engineering was a path they could recommend to a young woman. I was going to be an accountant. Finally, a classmate in one of my math classes suggested that I apply to the engineering college.
What was your biggest challenge in university?
I always had a job to pay my way through college, so that was challenging. Being a woman in a male-dominated field was also a bit daunting. Fortunately, there were three other women in my class, so we had a support network. But, as one of the few females, the profs always knew when you skipped class.
Partway through my degree, I took advantage of the university’s internship program and went to work for IBM in Toronto for a 16-month term. That opportunity gave me valuable on the job experience, but after a year away from school it meant I had to transition back to university life, which was somewhat of an adjustment.
What was your first job after university?
I worked at Husky Oil as an operations engineer in Lloydminster. For the first six months, I did a lot of hands-on work that I really enjoyed. Then I moved into a position that was more on the office engineering side. It was a slower pace than the high-tech industry so I decided to go back to Toronto to work for IBM and associated companies for several years.
When did you start working at the City of Saskatoon?
I started in 2013 with the Transportation and Utilities Department, now known as the Transportation and Construction Department. I worked as the Director of Construction and Design, overseeing a team of over 100 staff comprised of engineering technologists, engineers and accountants. I helped oversee capital projects involving roadways, water and sewer rehabilitation, and new land development and private development oversight.
So nothing in Saskatoon got built without your oversight?
No, not everything. I had very little to do with the city’s two new bridges. The Major Projects and Preservation division took care of those projects.
What led you to work for an art museum?
In Construction and Design, I spent a lot of time implementing a management system which involved developing processes and creating procedures. We improved external communications with residents, engaged staff members in a team mindset and delivered excellent service. The City noticed the transformation my team and I achieved and asked me to bring those skills to Remai Modern’s team so they can be sustainable moving forward.
What do you feel was your single greatest accomplishment as an engineer?
When I was working for an offshoot of IBM, I helped with the installation of a manufacturing plant in Brazil. In addition to getting all of the equipment shipped in, I had to overcome language and cultural barriers, as well as differences in the work culture. Overcoming those challenges was definitely a proud moment.
I’m also proud of what I have achieved with the City. When I started, there was a fair amount of attrition within my division and people didn’t always feel supported. I helped change the workplace environment so staff and workers had ownership and input in their work. As a result, our services improved. Now, there are fewer residents complaining about construction work. People have even thanked us for the way we carry out those projects.
What are your interests outside of work?
I have three teenagers at home, so I don’t have much time for interests outside of their interests. When I do get some free time, I’m an avid reader and I like to go hiking and camping.
What is your favourite vacation spot?
I’m not sure if it’s my favourite but the last place my husband and I went was Italy for our niece’s wedding. The ceremony was in a villa just outside of Florence. The villa was amazing, as were Florence and Rome. We also visited Pompei, which was on my husband’s bucket list.
What do you do for professional development?
I am an advocate for workplace training wherever I work. I’ve taken courses on leadership. I try to keep up with new technology, especially online tools we can use to be more efficient in the workplace. I attend seminars and conferences. And, of course, working in the field provides valuable professional development.
Who has had the greatest influence on your life and career?
In my life, my biggest influence is my dad, although that’s a bit ironic. He was an industrial mechanic and wasn’t a big fan of engineers. He probably still isn’t, but he’s softened a bit since I went into the field. He always encouraged me to listen to the people who are actually doing the job and that good advice has stuck with me.
It’s hard to single out one person who influenced my career. During my time with IBM, I worked with a large group of engineers, many of whom had anywhere from 10 to 40 years of experience. It was so valuable to draw on that resource. There were two engineers in particular who taught me how to interact with people and how to approach my career. The most important lesson they taught me is something I’ve passed on to other young engineers, which is “If you always worry about moving up levels you won’t get anywhere. But if you put your head down and concentrate on doing the job well, opportunities will arrive.”