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Maria Mckavanagh

COO, Verv

 

And - Electrical engineer

What drives me to keep going is making a real, positive impact on society through technology.

What do you do?

A COO is responsible for running the operations of a business (things like supply chain, HR etc) and generally making everything you touch more efficient. The nature of the role can depend on the size of the company and the skillset of the CEO however. In a start-up environment the COO and CEO work closely together and therefore tend to have complimentary skillsets. At Verv, our CEO is very strong in innovation, coming up with future products and setting the vision then I try and make it happen! 

Why did you choose this field?

"I've always been careful never to waste an opportunity and grafted as hard as possible."

I studied electrical engineering simply because it allowed me to put off my life choices for longer! At the age of 18 it is very difficult to decide on a future path and so I wanted to keep my options open. Being strong in maths and physics at school meant I knew I wanted to do something mathematical, and I also wanted to fulfil my potential in terms of how much money I could earn. I therefore looked at becoming an actuary (my best friend did this - she loves it!) and accountancy however advice from a family friend changed my path dramatically. He told me "if you're good at maths, study engineering, and make it electrical/electronic because everything will be electric soon".

 

This was an awesome decision as I fell in love with engineering, loved coding and being one of the only girls, I learned resilience very early on. Since university I’ve been a consultant in the telecoms sector, an applications engineer, I then moved into a more commercial engineering role before being hired as COO of Verv.

I had no lightbulb moments along the way. Being a Catholic from Northern Ireland means that if I’d been born 30 years earlier I would not have had opportunities like university so I’ve always been careful never to waste an opportunity and I’ve grafted as hard as possible and then opportunities tend to present themselves.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

This year I gave one of the keynote presentations at WIRED Smarted in London. Presenting was something that I had real fear of doing - I’ve been physically sick, cried and just bailed before so many presentations when I was younger. I decided to face this fear by getting a job where I knew I would have to present all the time so I knew I’d have to conquer the fear or get fired. Luckily I joined a really supportive company who gave me the training to get through it. I still get really nervous sometimes but the high I get once the nerves have passed makes days when I am presenting the best days at work.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I am deeply passionate about using technology to solve real world problems - right now that happens to be problems in the energy sector and climate change but in the future who knows what it will be! I also really like managing / coaching people who are in really technical roles - I learn so much from them about technology and I like to think I help them with their personal development.

Best advice for the next generation

I will answer this question specifically about engineering as that is my field. Being an engineer involves solving problems every day. This means you get a huge level of satisfaction from the role and really feel like you are making a difference. You can go into so many different fields - energy, healthcare, finance as the skillset is so transferable. 

Real life heroes

Peter Green who was my third year project tutor at university and Danielle George MBE who, along with Peter, supervised my masters project. I really struggled with anxiety at university and Peter went out of his way to ensure I had a fair chance to do well e.g. arranging for a private room to sit my exams in so I wasn’t worried about having a panic attack in front of everyone. His lectures were the best I attended and he made the most complex things easier to understand - the way he taught has been a great inspiration for the way I try to explain things like Machine Learning and Blockchain in a way that anyone can understand. Danielle was the only female lecturer I had at university and definitely got a hard time for it. Having someone I could talk to who I felt really understood was so helpful - oh and she casually knocked out a PhD in three years, became one of the youngest professors at Manchester University and gave the Royal Institute Christmas lectures when she was 8 months pregnant! You may have also seen her on TV. Talk about inspirational!