Hi! My name is Houda Dahmani, I am a project engineering manager at ALSTOM. I am working on urban signaling projects in Istanbul, Turkey. I am originally from Tetouan, a city in Morocco.
ALSTOM is a leading railway company worldwide, providing a wide range of mobility solutions answering the different needs (tramways, monorails, metros, high-speed lines, etc). In Turkey, its product portfolio includes rolling stock, signaling, railway infrastructure, services, and integrated solutions.
Railways are considered complex systems because they include different engineering disciplines. My mission as project engineering manager is to supervise diverse engineering teams and pilot the technical aspects of every project. I represent the project, internally and externally in front of the customer. With my engineering team, we define the Transport System Solution, I validate and guarantee the technical consistency to meet the required quality, cost, and deadlines.
My first internship (construction field)
I’ve been in the railway sector for more than 6 years now, in different positions. I started in a Moroccan consultancy group as an Alignment Engineer1. I then joined ALSTOM as an interface engineer. My first mission was to manage the extension of the Constantine Tramway, in Algeria. I was the coordinator between the different sub-systems (power supply, signaling, rolling stock…) and the civil engineering2 side.
After one year I joined the ALSTOM AMECA hub3 in Istanbul first as a track design4 engineer, then as a system engineer, and today as a project engineering manager.
Control Center – Istanbul (Covid… masks)
What I love about my job, is that I am contributing to enhancing people’s mobility. Every project I work on will transport thousands of people daily, in a smarter, greener, safer, and more comfortable way!
What I also love, is its diversity and complexity, the different disciplines and interfaces between them. If you keep an open mind and a hunger to learn, you can be sure that you will always learn new things!
Dubai route, 2020
Why did I decide to work in engineering? I have always been fascinated by construction and big structures. I remember in my childhood one of the best “distractions” I had was watching neighboring construction sites from my window. Even if I was hyperactive, I could sit quietly for hours watching from the window. Everything was exciting and interesting! Everything gets built-in childhood!
I was good at mathematics and I loved technical subjects, so I decided to go for engineering, and precisely civil engineering.
That’s how I integrated for 3 years the Hassania school of Public works (one of the best engineering schools in Morocco and the reference when it comes to civil engineering!).
In summer of 2012, I visited Paris for the first time. At that time, there was a tramway in Rabat but I haven’t used it! This visit to Paris was the first time I experience the “underground” transportation system, the metro system, the RER but also the tramways. I was fascinated. The design of the tunneling, the underground stations, the vehicles, the interchanges, the interfaces … everything was magic to me!
I didn’t have a tourist map but I had a Metro Map instead ! And whenever I was lost in the city (I didn’t have a phone or GPS then), I would look for the nearest metro station, head back to “Châtelet”5, and start again.
That was the real “hook” that made me choose civil engineering, with a specialization in “transportation infrastructures”.
After engineering school, I did an MBA (Master of Business Administration). The MBA was a great opportunity! Thanks to a collaboration between my engineering school in Morocco and Ponts Business School (Paris), 1 student of every cohort, could be granted a scholarship for the MBA program in parallel with the engineering studies. The MBA opened my eyes and mind to the different aspects of the “business” world. Before I was more of a “technical nerd”.
What I liked during this MBA is that I was the youngest and the only non-experienced person. I was learning not only from the professors but also from my classmates, with their different backgrounds (industrial, finance, banking, insurance, consultancy, marketing, engineering, law…). My favorite subjects were: Finance, Marketing, Strategy, and Negotiation!
During this journey (my studies and my first working positions), I enjoyed every step of it, regardless of how hard it was! I am not sure I would change any of it.
About my hobbies, I love to travel, especially in backpack mode. To discover places, people, cultures, and food (yum yum). My best trips were my solo-travels. I really believe that when you travel alone you make the greatest encounters. Another hobby that I have is photography (amateur, I am not a professional yet!).
of course wherever I go, I take pictures & Metros as part of the travelling experience 😉
Pictures from my travels – Kuala lumpur
Now, I am married and the mother of a baby girl. It’s true that it is more challenging to keep the work/personal & family life balance especially when the baby is at a young age, but having a supportive partner is a blessing. Also having a good manager, who is aware of the principles of diversity and inclusion, who is focused on merit and not biased, is also important!
To combine my professional and personal life, I used to organize myself and my day-offs in order to travel the most. And even with my small family, we organize ourselves to continue our “discovery” missions around the world 😉
I think we are luckier than our predecessors because we can see more girls and women showing their worth, and succeeding in different domains. Not only in railway engineering! If I could do it, if my female friend made it too, so can you!
It’s true that still today I always worked in a majority of male “teams”, at max I had 1 or 2 female colleagues working in the same team. But overall in ALSTOM, we are targeting 25% female diversity, we are very close to that number and it would be great if we can go beyond it, to balance the women’s presence and concentration between the different departments (engineering, services, HR, etc…).
My advice to empower girls in Science can be summarized in two things:
Childhood is the most critical age, where most of our convictions are built. Unfortunately, in many societies not only the eastern ones, girls’ education, careers, and aspirations are not taken as seriously as for boys. I am grateful I had parents who never expected less of me than my brother, who never let me feel that my success is less important. So, here is my message to the mothers: your daughter is as gifted as your son, don’t lower your expectation when it comes to her, on the contrary, the values, the motivation, the expectations shouldn’t change based on the gender.
Girls in Science – From Isfahan, Iran
If we want to support girls in science, we should first, as women, have faith in each other, and empower each other. I was once having a conversation with a female friend (architect), and I was shocked how she was convinced that a male surgeon is always better than a female one (based on some personal experience she said). Let’s not discuss how big of a “hasty generalization” is this conclusion. If we don’t support each other, empower each other, and trust our competencies and capabilities, then how can we expect the world to acknowledge it?
1 The Alignment Engineer defines where a road or a railway will pass, and makes sure the alignment of this road/ railway respects the geometrical characteristics that will allow safety and comfort, but also optimize the construction
2 Civil engineers are involved in the design, implementation, operation, and rehabilitation of infrastructure
3 AMECA: Africa, Middle East and Central Asia,
4 Track design is the design, engineering, and construction supervision of all types of railroads for different types of trains and terrains
5 Châtelet: central Parisian metro stop
Written by Mazzarine D.