Women of BIM part 3: Sarah Marshall

Welcome to the third in our series of interviews counting down to International Women’s Day on 8 March. The final interview will appear next Monday morning. Sarah Marshall is digital delivery manager at data-driven software specialist Glider Technology. Here, she reveals how a career in BIM has allowed her to travel and learn from BIM specialists from other countries and cultures.

Working within such a diverse team with a vast number of project stakeholders, from different backgrounds, and all with different experiences to date gave the team such strength and depth.– Sarah Marshall, Glider Technology

Why did you choose BIM as a career?

I am really grateful that my career has led me to specialise in BIM, despite not being fully aware of the possibility of BIM as a career initially. It was only after I finished my degree and started working in industry that I knew a career in BIM was an option, and the right one for me.

Back when I was in sixth form, I was looking at my A-Level subjects, which I chose based on what I enjoyed rather than with any career goal in mind, and from there came to a roundabout conclusion to study Architecture.

I applied to several universities and despite receiving offers from each, Northumbria University came back to me with the opportunity to study Architectural Technology instead, based on the technical detail in the portfolio I had submitted and background in Design Technology and Maths.

Upon completing my undergraduate degree, I started working as an architectural technologist (AT) and this is when I was fully exposed to the importance of BIM and its possibilities to enhance project delivery. I particularly enjoyed this aspect of my role as an AT, utilising various BIM software to realise and ensure project success.

What’s been your biggest professional challenge and how did you overcome it?

Just before covid-19 forced a lockdown in the UK, I was fortunate to live in the Middle East for 18 months while working on a BIM implementation project for a government authority in Qatar. To summarise, the project involved engaging with the client to understand their current capabilities and status on BIM, and to develop the standards and protocols needed to successfully roll out BIM processes throughout their organisation, with the potential for wider implementation across Qatar.

This was a really momentous project for me as it encouraged me to expand my knowledge of BIM outside UK standards and best practices. It really forced me to understand BIM from a fresh perspective and to re-evaluate the processes we implement and to also look in depth at the reasons behind our current working practices.

This was a real challenge for me to question the way I had been working, but I took my experience and knowledge, and that of the others on the project team, and consolidated this to deliver a successful BIM implementation project.

The team I worked with on this project were from a number of different countries and backgrounds, providing a wealth of varied experiences of working in BIM. Working within such a diverse team with a vast number of project stakeholders, from different backgrounds, and all with different experiences to date certainly had its challenges. However, this was also what gave the team such strength and depth, sharing thoughts and ideas on the most successful methods of implementation and BIM processes we had each experienced throughout our careers.

Which project that you’ve worked on has given you the most satisfaction and why?

In 2018, I had the opportunity to work in Hong Kong, and while there, I was involved with two major infrastructure projects providing 4D BIM support at tender stage. My main

responsibility was to work alongside the contractor design teams and planners to demonstrate the proposed construction programme in relation to the construction activities and produce 4D construction animation sequences.

This was huge for me, having always wanted to travel and now I was getting the opportunity to do so while also growing into my role as a BIM specialist.

Not only did this project develop my technical skills and give me a real insight into the values of 4D construction sequencing (particularly in such a crowded environment like Hong Kong), but for me, it was a time to really take ownership of the success of a project through managing my time, the deliverables and client relationships.

There is a long way to go to create and establish an awareness of BIM as a career.– Sarah Marshall, Glider Technology

Name another woman in BIM who you think is doing great work and why.

Just looking at the profiles of the women that make up the core team and regional leads of the Women in BIM group, it is evident that there are a growing number of women who are doing a fantastic job to raise awareness of women working in the industry, and to provide support to those already in the industry.

In your experience, is BIM more diverse than the wider construction industry and if so, how does this affect the working culture?

I have been fortunate enough to work across the globe, which has broadened my cultural experiences, particularly in the construction industry and across many sectors. I have witnessed firsthand just how diverse a career in BIM can be, not only for the type of projects we work on, but also for the people we collaborate with. In some sectors there can be a vast difference in the ratio of men to women, and proportion of ethnic minorities, however I like to think that despite this, companies are hiring people based on their abilities to do their job, and not any other factors. 

How can the industry attract more women?

Considering this was not necessarily a career I was aware of before I started working in the industry, I think there is a long way to go to create and establish an awareness of BIM as a career and the opportunities it can give professionally and personally.

We see adverts on TV, in magazines and in schools for getting women into the construction industry, often using visuals of women in hardhats and high-vis jackets standing in the middle of a construction site, but it is very rare to see a career in BIM and digital construction advertised specifically.

20×20 is a national movement to champion girls and women in sport in Ireland, and I think their statement that ‘if she can’t see it, she can’t be it’ is just as relevant to the digital construction industry today too.

Who is the person in BIM that you turn to for inspiration/support and why?

There have undoubtedly been many people I have met along the way in my career that have had a positive impact on my professional and personal development, most are likely unaware of the impression they have left. I also have some close friends within the industry who I regularly turn to for professional guidance and mentorship. I value these people especially because of their experiences in the industry and understanding of my personal qualities and goals.

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