Industry Innovators – Natàlia Milán

Amate Audio’s chief acoustics engineer, Natàlia Milán, has spent half her life working for the Spanish manufacturer, having joined from university at the age of 23. She discusses her education and career history with ProAVL Asia

How did you get to the position you’re in today?
When I was a teenager, all I wanted was to be a sports journalist, but I was a very good student. I was good at mathematics, physics and languages, so teachers told me to focus on something like engineering or science. I followed their advice and enrolled in an engineering degree at university, which brought me to where I am now. With engineering you start with an idea in your brain, which goes from a couple of lines drawn on a piece of paper right through to a prototype. It’s quite special when you have something that you can touch and listen to and see that what you were thinking about is now a reality.

You’ve described acoustical engineering as one of the most fascinating things you’ve studied. Can you explain why?

It started with my dad: he used to sing and play guitar and had a dedicated room at home where he spent hours and hours listening to music, and it was he who transmitted the love of sound. I was about six years old when I saw my first amplifier. When I was studying telecommunications engineering at university, I wanted to enrol as a technician at a TV network but it was quite difficult so when it was time to select a field in engineering, I decided to study the physics of sound. I discovered that acoustics were much more interesting than I thought. Acoustics are everywhere: electroacoustics, environmental acoustics, architectural acoustics, underwater acoustics – it’s fantastic to learn how sound adapts itself to every scenario. May the sound be with you all!

Did you realise you could have a career in this industry?

No, I didn’t. When you are an engineering student, there isn’t much information about the industrial world, manufacturing and so on, and you can find yourself a little lost, not knowing what to do with your life. Nobody explains how to design a product when studying engineering. When it comes to producing a loudspeaker, for example, nobody tells you that you need an acoustics engineer, a mechanical engineer, someone who has a lot of knowledge of mathematics and physics, so it’s not just four walls, glue and a speaker inside, there are different rules that must be followed to produce the final product. I don’t think people are given the right information. You have to go to the root, which is university in this case.

Chief acoustics engineer, Natàlia Milán

Do you see this changing at all, for example by giving children the tools they need to succeed and information about possible career paths?

There’s a lot that can be done at primary school. I’m glad to know that here in Spain, things are starting to change. I have a five-year-old son and once a week, his class learns about robotics using a small robot, so boys and girls both start to know more about technology.

We have to do more things like this. In secondary school, for example, there should be panels where women from the technological world could go and talk about their experiences and give girls advice; maybe set up a technological campus just for girls, it’s not so difficult. When I was young, a policeman, a fireman and an air hostess came to school to offer careers advice. If you were a girl, you were almost expected to focus your life on becoming an air hostess. So I think you have to talk about “a person”, not a man or a woman. My son asks me: “Mum, what’s your job?” and I say: “I’m an engineer; a person who creates and develops something, who thinks about something,” and I’m sure to say a person. I think this is the message we have to give our children, especially when they are very young. It’s the same when it comes to issues like race and religion; they need education from the very beginning.

Has your gender ever been an issue, and do you think as a company, Amate has supported you?

Yes, I do, I’ve felt very respected since the first minute I started here. I’ve never had any problems within the company. Outside, I sometimes did at the beginning of my career. I always say that it’s difficult to be an engineer and it’s difficult to be a young engineer, but it’s very difficult to be a young woman in engineering, especially in the beginning, because sometimes people don’t trust you. I had confidence, but you have to be very strong. Sometimes of course you have ups and downs, but I’ve always felt extremely respected here and I know my colleagues love me; they always speak kindly about me to others, and that’s very nice.

Have you had a particular mentor?

Well, although he’s now retired, Mr Juan Amate has been a mentor. He’s the owner of the company and has a high technical knowledge of engineering and electronics. There is also Mr Costa, who was the senior engineer when I started here and I learnt a lot from him, too.

Are there any young Natàlias coming up through the ranks that you are passing your experience onto?

Unfortunately not. I have mentored some guys during their last year at university, but I haven’t met any girls yet. It’s a pity.

As someone that broke into the industry at such a young age, do you have a word of advice for young engineers?

If you want something, fight for it; do it with passion. If you work with passion, it’s not work. In life, you cannot stop studying. There’s always an evolution of technology; you have to keep up with industry trends. Working today is not the same as working 23 years ago, fortunately, as we have more tools. It’s difficult to be a working mother, and I always say I need more hours in the day. But as a perfectionist, I try to learn everything and keep up by reading books, and articles. The internet is a good tool which has helped us a lot. We try. I try.