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Li Yao, Motor and Electronic Chief Engineer

Li dreamed of becoming an engineer or a teacher when she was young to change the world using the knowledge she had learnt, or educate the people who could go on to change the world with this knowledge. With this mindset (and her love of Lego blocks and dolls) it is no wonder that she is now a successful Motor and electronic chief engineer working towards providing a greener, more comfortable and more intelligent world for our society.

Age: 43

Job title: Motor and Electronic Chief Engineer

Company employed by: Danfoss (Tianjin) Ltd. Commercial Compressors.

When you were a child, what did you dream you’d be when you grew up?
I dreamed of becoming an engineer or a teacher when I was young. I wanted to change the world using the knowledge I had learnt, or educate the people who could go on to change the world with this knowledge.

What is the biggest impact your work will or could have in the future?
To provide a greener, more comfortable and more intelligent world.

What excites you most about STEM?
To understand how the universe works, how the world operates and how we can make it better. It is fascinating to learn why all of this happens and how we can use it to improve the world around us.

What do you love about your job?
I love that I am able to provide people with a more comfortable and intelligent life whilst using less energy and therefore leading to less damage to the environment.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?
Making things happen and getting to know novel things every day. (I am responsible for motor technology inside my company, so have the chance to get to know different motor high-tech companies very often). Also it is exciting to use my knowledge to help my colleagues create the best possible product.

What does a typical day at work involve?
- Contacting novel technology companies to evaluate their technologies and products.
- Discussions with the team to understand any issues and find solutions and actions to take forward.
- Reporting and managing people and tasks.
- Technical discussions to find out novel ideas and possibilities for the future.
- Discussing motors/electronic products with colleagues.

What’s the most unexpected thing about your job?
Sometimes I need to get a feeling of the company’s business model to see the full scale of work, so it is about looking at the bigger picture which I had not expected, but this can be very interesting as well.

Did you have any role models when you were younger? What inspired you to do the job you’re doing now?
Edison was my role model when I was in my junior years. I was so impressed by his hard work and dedication to provide electricity to the world.

Any influential toys during childhood?
Lego blocks made from wood and dolls.

Your favourite subjects at school?

Qualifications (school/college/university):
- The University of Nottingham, PH.D, Electrical Engineering.
- Beijing Institute of Technology, Master of Engineer, pattern recognition and intelligent system.
- Beijing Institute of Technology, Bachelor, Automatic Control.

Your reason for choosing this career?
My main area of study at university was within electronics and controls so I knew I wanted to pursue a career in this area. During my Masters and PhD I gained a lot of software experience and together with my knowledge of motors and controls knowledge I realised this combination was a perfect fit with my current position.

I have been studying and working abroad in the UK for many years. This experience has given me the freedom to talk to a wide range of colleagues and professionals, as well as improving my access to the very latest advanced and cutting-edge hi-technology across the world.

Tell me about your career path to date?
My PhD subject was electric motor design and simulation methods, during which time I successfully developed a flexible software to make motor design and simulations that also had basic electronic control components. With that software developed, I joined the KTP (Knowledge Transfer Partnership) program, supported by UK government, between The university of Nottingham and Cummins Generator Technologies, and tried to make the software available to be used for Cummins generator technologies.

In the last year of my PhD study, I was working part time for Romax Ltd, the software company making professional gearboxes and bearing analysis tools. This experience gave me an understanding of the software industry, which is invaluable in my work today.

Once this program finished, I joined Cummins Generator Technologies as an Electromagnetic Design Engineer, working within the products development and engineering department.

In 2010 I then made the decision to go back to China as I was missing my home and family, and China is now fast-growing with many career opportunities. Once settled back in China I started as a Motor R&D Manager for Danfoss commercial compressors where I am responsible for the R&D department.

In 2015, I took over electronic/drives R&D in Danfoss and am currently working purely on R&D looking after compressor motors, electronics and controls, as a Chief Engineer. Sometimes, people from other divisions will come to me and ask for professional support which I will always provide if I can help.

If you could have any job what would it be? How does it differ from what you’re doing?
I would be very happy to become a hi-technology company technical advisor providing valid technical evaluation opinions to people. This is similar to some of the work that I am already doing on a daily basis but my current work can include wider, much more detailed tasks.

Your advice to a young person considering a career in STEM?
- Understand your own interests from the bottom of your heart and ask yourself the question 'Do you love STEM?'
- Use all opportunities that you have to develop yourself. Some experiences might not seem useful today but could be very valuable in the future.
- Try hard, learn hard, progress hard.