Zoe O'Malley

Jacob's Engineering
School outreach program (transport engineer)

Zoe O'Malley


I am a transport engineer and planner, and also a team lead for the Transport Planning team at Jacobs Engineering. I often compare my work to games like Rollercoast Tycoon – it’s about city shaping: creating sustainable and innovative solutions for our communities. I found engineering at university really boring, but my job is so much more creative and fun then that. I consider myself lucky to have found the career that I have, and I actively promote STEM to high school students on a regular basis to allow them to have access to the knowledge of these sorts of jobs, because I wasn’t aware of it in high school. I went to an all female high school, and only found out about engineering thanks to a friend whose mum worked at an all male high school who suggested it. 


Almost all of my work to date has been done for the Department of Transport and Main Roads and Brisbane City Council. I love that I can walk around my local suburb and see projects that I have worked on. A few months ago I walked from South Brisbane just over Victoria Bridge to Brisbane Square, and on that walk I passed three of my more recent projects: Brisbane Metro (role: transport modelling project manager), CityLink Cycleway (role: data analyst and project manager) and Retrofit Separation Device Evaluation Review (role: data analyst and project manager). 
The majority of my projects focus on public transport and/or active transport. I particularly enjoy these types of projects as I am able to help build a more inclusive and accessible world as well as (hopefully!) decreasing carbon emissions through less general vehicle journeys, and in particular single driver trips. 

Role Model

Unlike a lot of my female peers at university, neither of my parents are engineers (in fact they both left school after grade 10). My family would be considered lower to middle class. There was never an expectation on me to go to university, my older half brother didn’t complete any higher education and this was the assumed route that I would follow as a child. I was an average child at high school, I performed well academically but only through studying and not by natural intelligence. I have found in my career that this is actually really valuable. The engineering solutions that we plan and design for are used by the average Queensland resident, I can better understand why something might not work in reality. This can be as simple as something like wayfinding – I can put myself in my family’s shoes and ask myself, ‘would I be able to navigate this network if I didn’t have all of the background information that I do’. 
I believe this is what makes me a good role model for young girls – I want to show students that you don’t need to be at the top of your cohort to be an engineer. We often hear statistics about how men are more likely to apply for a role they are underqualified for compared to women. I think this is absolutely the same as applying to study a STEM course at university, and I want to encourage women everywhere that they can do whatever they put their minds to. I failed two subjects at university, and at the time this was the biggest embarrassment of my life. Over time, I have realised that this is not the case and that those failures made gave me humility and grace. 


The percentage of women graduating from engineering has decreased over the last five years. Our workplaces often talk about the benefits of a diverse employee base, and I completely agree with this. However the issue isn’t necessarily with individual companies, there is clearly an issue with getting females into STEM university degrees. I feel lucky that I was able to find out about engineering when I was in high school over ten years ago, and I want to make sure that as many people as possible have access to information so that they can make the right choices for them. In 2022, I visited three schools to talk about my career: two all female secondary schools in Brisbane and one co-educational school in Plainland (30 minutes west of Ipswich). I also engaged the womens network at my workplace, and we sent out a Brisbane wide email to our staff encouraging them to do the same. There were five people that responded and I was able to give them information and templates to help them volunteer their time efficiently (resources included email templates to talk to principals in the first instance and PowerPoint presentations to use when talking to students). 
We are running this initiative again this year, but we are also adding options to mentor a minority student (either Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander or female/non-binary). The intent this year is to reach more staff across our three Queensland offices (Brisbane, Cairns and Townsville) who in turn can reach more students. 
I am also volunteering this coming weekend at the QUT Engineering Link Project to provide real world examples of engineers to school students. 

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