Authentically Ella is the epitome of a millennial multi-tasker, balancing a career as a Tunnel Engineer whilst maintaining a thriving fashion and beauty blog. As the icing on the cake, the Irish stunner is even undergoing a part-time Masters degree and is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) ambassador, which saw her recently invited to hang out at the Houses of Parliament with Jeremy Corbyn to celebrate women in engineering – talk about girl power! Ella’s go-getter energy is a force to be reckoned with, so we decided to chat with her over a coffee about: female empowerment, challenging the status quo of lifestyle blogging and the secrets behind her beauty obsessions.
What made you want to become a Tunnel Engineer?
I actually studied Structural Engineering as my background - I’m a qualified Structural Engineer. I came over to London for a job interview and I went through Westminster tube station and I remember seeing it and thinking ‘this is mad, how did they do this’. I was going for a Structural Engineering job, not a Tunnelling job at all, so for the next year I started to research and learn more about it and I knew I wanted to pursue Tunnelling instead. We don’t have an underground system in Ireland, where I’m from, and there are so many underground systems in London - there’s a huge industry for it here, so coming here definitely sparked my interest.
What’s your day-to-day like?
I work eight-hour days but I’m also doing a Masters part-time, which I’ve nearly finished now, so my thesis is due in about six weeks. On top of that I started blogging in my free time and maintain a social life at the same time – it’s all extremely hectic! It does depend on my job as well; at the moment I’m a tunnel engineer in consultancy, but they can also put me in different things at any given moment. At one point I was a shift engineer – meaning you work in shifts, and I was working on the Bond Street station upgrade in Oxford Street. I was working 7 days 2 days off, 7 nights 2 days off, and each day was 12 hours. I was trying to fit a Masters in to all of that and I started blogging just before my shift work started as well, so it was all incredibly hectic! At the moment however, it’s not so bad. I’m just doing an 8-5 job and not shift work anymore, which is brilliant as I have weekends! I am really busy with my masters at the moment though, so I haven’t really had time to blog too much lately. Hopefully that will change once I hand in my thesis.
Actually, blogging is a full-time ordeal if you want to keep the momentum going and to keep your followers up!
It is! Especially as I like posting things that look nice or really interesting things that I’m doing – you can only post so many coffee pictures! Of course I love posting one every now and then, but I want to be posting other great content too. A lot of the time when I post content, especially on Instagram, it’s usually something I’d love to write a whole post about. Sometimes I put stuff up that I want to write about the week after, and actually I never really get the chance to. I start my day around 6am and finish at around 10pm. This includes my job and I try to put up a couple of Instagram posts a day, and then either socialise with friends or do some of my Masters. On the weekends, if I’m not doing that I try and do other stuff like travelling!
Do you prefer working in an office or onsite?
I much prefer being on site. I know it seems very strange because it’s really muddy and mucky down there, but it’s more hands on. Even though it’s much longer hours I like to get engaged in the whole process and you always learn more if you’re on site. Rather than just designing something inside an office, if you’re onsite you’re actually looking at it and you’re visualising. A lot of the time someone would give you a drawing telling you to do it according to what they’ve designed, but you’re looking at it directly and thinking what they’ve drawn is actually not possible in reality. When you’re up there in the office, you might not be as realistic about it, and you may not take into account a lot of extra factors that you can only see when you’re down there. So I much prefer being on site, as I really want to understand that background knowledge first hand.
On your blog and social media you advocate and speak out for female equality in the workforce - especially in the engineering and construction industries, could you tell me a bit more about this?
In construction there’s a very low count of women. Then you zoom into tunnelling, which is an area of engineering and there’s only 0.6% of women in tunnelling – an incredibly low percentage in comparison to men. When I was on site there were three crews, and out of the three crews I was the only woman. I would be spending 12 hour night shifts with these guys and it was really, really difficult. Women in engineering are very underrepresented and when you come across men in engineering usually they’re fine, but a lot of the time they may not take you so seriously; they may not treat you as an equal. Especially when I would be on site, they may not have always trusted my judgment, even though I’m a qualified engineer or I’m more qualified than another person who’s male. So sometimes you’d get that and it is pure sexism, but it’s not always something the person means to do. It’s something that they’re doing more unconsciously. So I’m always trying to promote equality and encourage it as much as I can. I’m a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) ambassador and recently I was invited to Parliament with Jeremy Corbyn. All these women in construction were there and it was like a breath of fresh air! It was absolutely brilliant. Even though I’m an advocate for equality, while I was there I was mingling with other women and trying to network and every time I spoke to a different woman I would ask what they did and they would say mechanical; aeronautical; aircraft engineering – all these different things - and it’s funny because I’m always against people for being stereotypical but when they each said that to me I was blown away. It was absolutely brilliant that Corbyn did that and we actually set a record for the most female engineers at any one time in Parliament. I wrote an article about it on Linkedin and it went quite viral, which was really, really good.
Has this also been part of the reason for you wanting to start your blog?
Yes this is one of the main reasons I started my blog. I am an engineer but I love beauty I love makeup and I like anything to do with fashion. Whenever I get asked what I do and I say I’m a structural engineer I always get these weird looks and absolute astonishment – the idea that you can be something like that and look pretty at the same time shocks people. There are some women in engineering that don’t care about how they look and that’s fine. I’ll go out some times and I won’t wear makeup. I don’t wear makeup everyday, but to associate a specific look with engineering – that’s something that I don’t like. Why can’t you start a beauty blog and still be an engineer? One woman that I follow, she’s a software engineer and she’s also a makeup blogger and you would never in a million years think she was; she’s absolutely unreal. It’s so often judgment based on appearance and I don’t like that, so that’s definitely why I started blogging.
What advice would you give to young girls just starting their careers?
Find something that you love, do it and stick to it no matter how difficult it is. You might face obstacles, you might face challenges that are trying to veer you away, but if you want something enough, you will be able to overcome these. No matter how many challenges you’re going to come across, don’t be afraid to take on too much. I think a lot of people are afraid of that and afraid they will become too busy to the point where they won’t be able to cope. I took on way more than I felt I was actually capable of, but I got through it. When I was applying for a Masters, people told me I wouldn’t have enough time to do it all but I did it anyway, along with a full time job and blogging. Now I’m nearly finished and realised I could take on more than I ever expected because I was passionate about doing all these things. If you’ve found something that you love, even if you do come across challenges which could break someone else, it won’t have the same effect on you, because you’re passion will just take over and it won’t matter.
Who are your heroes?
Huda Beauty! I got to meet her as well! She came and stopped me one day when I was working on Oxford Street when I was in my orange work gear. She was on her Snapchat; I had snapped and they were snapping each other, and then she said ‘we need to find you, we’re on Oxford Street too!’ and I was like ‘oh God no, don’t come and find me, I’m in my orange gear, I look like shit, and I could have been down in a tunnel so I wouldn’t have reception on my phone!’. At one point I was told to go and get some concrete close by to where the Disney store is and who do I run into – Huda Beauty and all her camera crew! It was an incredible experience. She’s such an inspiration to me because she’s so focused. To see where her brand came from and where it is now is so incredible. Also, Just Jordan – she’s an Irish blogger. She’s absolutely beautiful and she is so real! She’ll say exactly what’s on her mind and she won’t put up posts just because they are sponsored. She was also so supportive of me when I first started blogging and I actually got to meet her too at a blogging event that she organised and she was so lovely.
How do you stay healthy?
I do lots of running and Pilates. Sometimes I do get really stressed out and I don’t post things on my blog for a while, but I think it’s important to always stay calm and stay positive and I’m really lucky that I’m surrounded by really good friends and family that always keep me grounded and bring me back to reality when it all gets a bit too much. I also think you should eat whatever you want. I don’t try and pick out certain healthy foods all the time; I try and have a balance. So balance, positivity and empowerment to women are how I do it!
Can you share an early beauty memory or beauty mistake with us?
My mum has drawers upon drawers upon drawers of makeup. She has drawers of lip liners, lipsticks and so many products in general, but actually when you see her she wears minimal makeup so I’m not sure why! So from a young age I was exposed to her always doing her makeup and to be honest she never did contouring or any of today’s trendy techniques, but I learnt a lot of makeup tips from watching her. I suppose one thing I do remember doing a lot was not wearing concealer and putting on foundation that was a bit too dark!
If you could Slap on just one beauty product, what would it be?
I would say concealer. On the days when I don’t wear makeup, I still dab on a bit of concealer to hide any blemishes. If you had asked me this question a year ago, I would have said foundation because I used to feel so self-conscious about not wearing it – I couldn’t even leave my house without it! I don’t wear that much makeup anymore but when I was doing shift work, which was 12 hours a day, I never went into work without makeup on - and most of the time I’d be down in the tunnels where no one else would even see me! It was a bit crazy.