Managing an Engineering Career Through a War

Nataliia Mysak, a maxon SpaceLab engineer in Switzerland, is a single mother who is a refugee from the war in Ukraine.

Rob Spiegel

June 18, 2024

5 Min Read
Nataliia Mysak
Betka82 for iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

At a Glance

  • "At SpaceLab I entered a world of incredibly smart, versatile, kind, and educated people." -- Nataliia Mysak.
  • Female colleagues helped Mysak find support for her professional growth.
  • The digital world made it much simpler for Mysak to discover and form supportive communities.

As we celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, it’s a good time to look at one engineer’s story of war displacement, Nataliia Mysak. Before the war in Ukraine, she gained experience in designing engineering networks in Ivano-Frankivsk. She actively participated in developing technical projects for engineering networks, including internal and external heating networks, water supply, ventilation, and more.

Her responsibilities included technical calculations, equipment selection, preparation of technical specifications, development of engineering network drawings, and coordination with architects and other engineers. She also worked on adapting and optimizing project documentation according to new technical standards and technologies.

Mysak then enrolled in Ivano-Frankivsk National Technical University of Oil and Gas at the Faculty of Oil and Gas Pipelines and graduated with a Master's degree with honors in "Design and Operation of Gas Pipelines, Gas Storages, and CNG Stations." She also completed her studies and earned a master’s degree in economics remotely at the same university online while residing in Switzerland due to the war.

With the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Mysak arrived in Switzerland with her four-year-old daughter and two suitcases, hoping to return home in two to three weeks. But history didn’t give her that opportunity. “The war did not end as quickly as hoped. The safety of my daughter became priority number one, and I had to integrate,” Mysak told Design News. “My degree in mechanical engineering and my desire to continue learning and developing led me to an incredible place. I never could have believed that I would work at SpaceLab. I have never felt so much satisfaction from work as I do here.”

Related:Voices of Women in Engineering

At SpaceLab, Mysak found a community of likeminded people with technical backgrounds. “I entered a world of incredibly smart, versatile, kind, and educated people. The work experience and knowledge I gain here are invaluable. The realization that I am part of incredible engineering space projects makes me incredibly happy.”

The Choice of Engineering

Mysak wanted to be an engineer since childhood. “I was very proud to write essays in school about my family of engineers,” said Mysak. “My father is an engineer and radio electronics designer, and my mother is a radio technician. Their paths crossed at a radio factory, which was actually a secret facility for producing military and secret equipment during the Soviet Union.”

Her choice to pursue an engineering degree began with a decision she made in her mid-teens. “I was 16 when I had to choose between becoming a math teacher or an engineer,” said Mysak. “At that point I chose engineering despite my parents' persuasion that engineers are mostly men. They believed the competition would be rough and I would have to work harder than the men. They also believed that the main task for a woman is to keep the home and family."

When Mysak entered Ivano-Frankivsk National Technical University of Oil and Gas to study mechanical engineering, she received the highest marks in the entrance exams in physics and mathematics. “I cried from happiness,” said Mysak. “Everyone thought I would fail the exam. They looked at me with pity, saying I could try next year.”

At Ivano-Frankivsk National Technical University, Mysak ranked in the top ten of 120 students. Even while she succeeded in her studies, she experienced resistance as a woman in a technical field. “I often heard from fellow students who competed with me in studies that I was taking away job opportunities I would not need since I was a woman,” said Mysak. “Nevertheless, I always enjoyed the respect of my friends and most of my fellow students. I immediately found a job as a design engineer after graduating – with honors – with a master's degree in mechanical engineering.”


Becoming a Working Engineer

After graduating with a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, Mysak found a job as a design engineer with a private company where she gained experience, knowledge and valuable skills. Mysak then moved on to work at the Scientific Research Center (Ivano-Frankivsk Agro-Industrial Productivity), focusing on optimizing labor costs in agricultural construction and the fuel and energy complex. Her responsibilities included developing work time standards and implementing scientific developments into production. “The people with an economic education did not want to take on certain types of calculations that I simply liked,” said Mysak.

Family life intervened. “My little daughter was born. While on maternity leave, I mastered a new job that made easier by my engineering education,” said Mysak. “At that time, my boss was my brother and father, and the work they gave me involved calculating emissions into the environment at various types of enterprises. I felt confident that I could handle this new work because of the knowledge I acquired as an engineer.”

Then the war intervened, and she moved – thinking it was temporary – to her current job working for maxon on SpaceLab in Switzerland. We caught up with Mysak to ask her more about her journey as a woman in engineering.

Have you generally experienced support or resistance in your choice of a technology career?

Nataliia Mysak: I felt significant support from my brother and father. They always believed in my abilities and encouraged me to continue developing in this field. At the beginning of my career, I did not encounter any resistance.

Designing, calculations, and drafting are meticulous and sometimes routine tasks that require patience and perseverance, qualities that women possess just as much as men.

Has the digital era made your career easier?

Nataliia Mysak: The digital era has significantly made it easier to acquire new knowledge and skills. In addition, the digital world has made it much simpler to discover and form supportive communities, providing valuable support.

Has community with other women helped your career?

Nataliia Mysak: Communication with female colleagues helped me find support, which was also beneficial for my professional growth.

About the Author(s)

Rob Spiegel

Rob Spiegel serves as a senior editor for Design News. He started with Design News in 2002 as a freelancer and hired on full-time in 2011. He covers automation, manufacturing, 3D printing, robotics, AI, and more.

Prior to Design News, he worked as a senior editor for Electronic News and Ecommerce Business. He has contributed to a wide range of industrial technology publications, including Automation World, Supply Chain Management Review, and Logistics Management. He is the author of six books.

Before covering technology, Rob spent 10 years as publisher and owner of Chile Pepper Magazine, a national consumer food publication.

As well as writing for Design News, Rob also participates in IME shows, webinars, and ebooks.

Sign up for the Design News Daily newsletter.

You May Also Like