This week we are pleased to be hearing from the wonderful Cait Percy, a Sensing and Technology Integration Engineer with BAE Systems, and a former chair of the New Professionals Forum. She has been leading quite the career since then and has recently received awards from Women in Defence for Emerging Talent and Woman of the Year!


Tell us about the journey to your current role

The first thing I’ll say is that this journey wasn’t exactly planned, it’s all about going for what seems the best option at the time. I’m from rural Wales, so I went to Sixth Form, and then got my MPhys Physics with Space Science from the University of Southampton in 2014. While I was there, I did a couple of summer placements in spacecraft engineering with the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, and in science communications with Things We Don’t Know. In the year following, I was lucky enough to get part sponsorship to attend the International Space University’s 9-week Space Studies Program, and then (after moving back home to earn some money again!), went off travelling for 6 months.

I came back to a place on the BAE Systems Air Sector Graduate Scheme and undertook 4 6-month placements around the business, including a secondment to one of our partners, Reaction Engines Ltd. Coming out of that, I moved into our Technology Strategy area for 2 years, helping to guide technology development in the Air Sector, before taking my current job in our Advanced Projects and Technology group, where I’ve got my teeth back into some technical work.


What brought you to defence and aerospace and what inspires you about the sectors?

I always thought that defence has to be where the interesting stuff is happening (and I was right), but since joining, I’m just constantly amazed by what we manage to achieve in defence – I’ve already got my air show tickets for this year! One of the main things that drives me is working with a group of people who are trying to make something impressive happen, from outreach activities at Uni, where we had a team who wanted to launch high altitude balloons for schools, to my team now, where we’re trying to work out if we can ever get a quantum sensor working on an aircraft, it’s the people who make it a great place to be.


How did you get involved in wider defence engagements (i.e. Women in Defence, Millennial Think Tank, New Professionals Forum, etc.)? How did these fit into your working day?

For me, it all tends to start with seeing something that I want to get to know more about. Sometimes, that means just an interesting conversation with someone, and sometimes it becomes a pet project. Whether it’s an opportunity that doesn’t exist yet (to work with partners from earlier in our careers, which lead me to the NPF), or a frustration that winds me up (non-diverse panels which is leading me to our internal women in engineering networks), I’ve learnt to take that energy and take it forward in a professional environment and then find ways to get involved. In terms of time, I’ll be honest, most of it is done in tea breaks and lunch hours. I was lucky enough to have managers who supported these types of activities, and if I had to take trips, I worked to fit them in where I was already going with work. It’s not always easy but it has worked okay.


What tips would you give to those who have just started their career and are looking to develop further?

Find what you’re passionate about today. If it’s annoying you, it’s probably annoying someone else, and following it up will teach you skills you don’t always get through your day job. Most of my opportunities have either come from picking up stretch assignments or getting on a soap box about something – but doing it professionally. If you want something changed, go and start talking to people, get advice on how to change it or how to get involved. It’ll put you at the heart of what’s going on and position you to make the most from that (and help other people too!). You can do good while getting something out of it yourself, so start there. And jump on opportunities, you never know where they might lead!


Interested in hearing more from Cait?

Caitlin has kindly agreed to host a webinar with the NPF on March 1st. The link to register to this free webinar can be found here: Lunch & Learn, Cait Percy, Woman of the Year 2021 and Emerging Talent Winner 2021 – ADS Group.