Young Transportation Engineers Work for a Better Future [Interview]


Every once in a while, we stumble over people with a story so interesting that they are best shared with others to spread inspiration and excitement. A few days ago I came across one such person on LinkedIn with a story, worthy of telling.

That person was Nur Asiah Izaliza Zainullah, Project Engineer at MRT Corp, in Malaysia. She’s working with electric trains and I was very happy when she agreed to talk to us about her career.

If you’re a graduate, or in a similar position, trying to make your way in a company, you might find this interesting as well.

Chris: Thank you for taking some time to do an interview with us. I saw your post on LinkedIn and felt really inspired by it. It was liked thousands of times and commented by hundreds of users. Did you expect your post to go viral like this?

N.A. Izaliza: I feel honored that my simple post was able to inspire people from all over the world. To be honest with you, I did not expect it to go viral at all. I just wanted to share my honest feelings and experiences. I was just hopeful that others would benefit from it somehow.

Screenshot of LinkedIn post

Chris: You work for MRT Corp, which is a company for mass transit solutions. How did you begin your journey there?

N.A. Izaliza: In 2013, the Malaysian Mass Rapid Transit Corporation (MRT Corp) was offering an offset program for undergraduate engineers. That time, I just graduated, majoring in Power Electrical Engineering, from the University of Tenaga Nasional Berhad (UNITEN). So I thought, “why not give it a try.” It was a great opportunity and challenge for me to embark on, so I joined the program in August that year.

The offset program was a joint venture between the MRT Corp and Siemens to train young local engineers for the operation of electric trains. In other words, we were the local pioneers in learning all the Siemens electric train system and being prepared to lead the operations in our country in the future. So, I was linked up with Siemens, and being sent to Nuremberg and Krefeld, in Germany, for 3 months to learn about the systems.

After that, I went to the train assembly plant in Rasa, Rawang, Selangor, in Malaysia. There, I gained a lot of knowledge and experience, as I was exposed to testing and commissioning of the trains. I was there for more than one year to learn. When the time had come, management felt that I’m ready to be given the responsibilities of supervising and monitoring the testing for the main MRT operations at the Sungai Buloh Depot and that’s what I’m still doing now.

Chris: How is it like to jump from one career station to the next? I suppose you learned your way around and acquired a lot of knowledge in theory and practical fields?

N.A. Izaliza: I am really grateful to be given the opportunities by MRT Corp and Siemens. So yes, I tried my best to learn all I can. Sometimes it was really challenging and tough, like when fasting for 20 hours during the holy Ramadan month, in Germany. Or being apart from the family, the far working distance from home and have to commute daily, and long working hours, but being young it was really interesting and sometimes even fun for me.

During my time at the Siemens training facilities in Germany, I learned a lot of theoretical knowledge, but honestly, I learned a little better, doing the practical works during my time at the assembly plant, Rasa. Of course, my superiors and colleagues taught me and helped me a lot along the way. I’ll always be grateful for what they did for me.

Chris: What is or what was your favorite activity in your career?

N.A. Izaliza: Being a tough girl since I was very young. Even sometimes being treated as a boy during my school days, I always prefer to do the hard work. So, my favorite activities were, of course, being involved in the train’s testing and commissioning. I learned a lot while getting my hands dirty. It was exciting and fun.

Chris: What do you think how people will use mass transit systems in the future? Any insider knowledge to share or a wild guess how the future might look?

N.A. Izaliza: I’ve been to cities with really good public transportation systems such as Nuremberg, Berlin, London, and Singapore. It inspired me a lot, and I believe Malaysia is going in the right direction if not already on par with them.

In larger cities, like Kuala Lumpur, traffic gets really congested, and no matter how the government plans for the road construction investments, the number of cars on the streets will always be overwhelming. It is a good sign for the country, though, since it shows that the people have the wealth to buy cars, but it beats the purpose of getting from point A to B on time if everyone gets stuck in traffic jams.

That is what MRT tries to help. We already got various train system in the city such as the Putra LRT, STAR LRT, KTM Komuters and Monorails since many years ago, but it was still not enough to cope with the growing population. We expected that 1.2 million commuters will use the MRT system daily at some point, and it will reduce need for so many cars on the road.

We want to change the mindset and perception about how you can seemingly only get everywhere comfortably and glamorously by using your own cars. We want to make sure that our MRT experiences for consumers are the best and we will always try to take it up a notch. The government is also having a lot of exciting plans for commuters in the future. The vision is to enable people, more than 300km or 400km away, to be able to work in Kuala Lumpur daily. This is what you can see in other big cities like Tokyo, Japan, already. We need a really fast commuter system such as the bullet train for that and I believe it will not be long for this dream to come true.

Chris: If you would start over and begin your career from day one, would you do something differently?

N.A. Izaliza: The only thing I regret in my early career in MRT is not being able to enjoy myself more during my free time in Germany and travel across Europe! Just kidding, to be honest with you, I love my working experiences since day one, and if had the chance to start over, I would do it the same all over again. Like I said earlier, the train system in Malaysia is expanding and these are exciting times, especially for us, the young engineers.

Chris: You shared a very inspiring story about yourself. Is there anything you want to tell our readers beyond that?

N.A. Izaliza: I just want to share what my superiors, my mentors, and my husband shared with, me during my early days in MRT Corp. They said that the most important thing for the new blood, the young engineers, to have is the right attitude. We must always have the attitude to learn, to always respect other people no matter if they are younger or older than us. We should not be afraid to ask for help, and never be condescending to other people. Just ignore the office politics and only concentrate on the work in front of us.

The most important thing is always being humble and try to gain knowledge as much as possible. Everyone needs to start somewhere and must never be afraid to try and ask. Even in my early days, I was really shy and scared of public speaking, but as time went by and with the right guidance, I was able to overcome it. You can too.

Try to surround yourself with the right people, and you’ll be good. I’ll always remember and remain thankful to my superiors, seniors, and colleagues who showed me the ropes all these years. I would not be who I am today without having them in my life. Also, always try to believe in yourself and never give up!

We really appreciate that she took the time to talk with us and let us tell you a little bit more of her story. I feel very inspired by this and want to amplify her message, so that it may reach those in need of some good inspiration and motivation. I can only repeat what she said, “never give up!”

You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Photo credit: Nur Asiah Izaliza Zainullah
Editorial notice: The interview was edited to enhance readability. The underlying message, intent, and tone was not altered.

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Christopher Isak
Christopher Isak
Hi there and thanks for reading my article! I'm Chris the founder of TechAcute. I write about technology news and share experiences from my life in the enterprise world. Drop by on Twitter and say 'hi' sometime. ;)
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