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From RAF to tech innovator

From RAF to tech innovator


06 May, 2019

I was fortunate enough to be sponsored by the RAF throughout my time at Bristol University, where I studied electronic engineering. This meant that, immediately on graduating, I joined the RAF as an aircraft engineering officer and completed 20 years of service. It went in a flash. I had many diverse engineering roles, working on VC10, Hercules, Nimrods and TriStar aircraft, and travelled substantially – from the Falkland Islands to the Middle East to Australia. The RAF prides itself on the quality of training and education it offers, and I was fortunate enough to benefit from this in both a technical and leadership nature. As a result I qualified as a Chartered Engineer with the IET in 2002 and have subsequently become a Fellow.

I am an enormous advocate of the power of education and encourage all to search for ways to continually grow. A significant point of my career was when I did an MBA specialising in the defence sector. Being exposed to strategic challenges and developing an in-depth understanding of the sector, gave me a great deal more confidence in voicing my opinion on matters, and helped me take my career forward. More recently, I went on a course to become an executive coach, which I found much tougher than I’d expected! As an engineer, when presented with a problem I want to know what went wrong and search for the root cause. This course taught me the power of problem solving by starting with the vision of ‘what good looks like’. As a result, I have changed my approach dramatically and am finding it a much more positive and optimistic place to be.

I am an enormous advocate of the power of education and encourage all to search for ways to continually grow

I joined PwC more than three years ago to work in our defence consulting business. As an engineer and female in the RAF I had been in the gender minority for all of my career and was struck by how much of a positive impact working in a more diverse environment had on me. In the West and Wales region, I found myself in a Partner and Director meeting that had more females than men – this was in stark contrast to my previous working environments. That said, I had a very positive experience of the working environment in the RAF, and was always treated with equality and respect.

My RAF experience has taught me the value that operating in the air can give you

My RAF experience has taught me the value that operating in the air can give you. I have drawn on this understanding to help develop PwC’s UK drone business, focusing on how drone-captured data can be used by businesses to give them a unique and powerful perspective. With accuracy down to a few centimetres, data analytics and machine learning can be applied to the raw data to provide comprehensive insights to such things as capital projects, real estate portfolios, landscapes for development and large structure maintenance conditions. This exciting and pioneering technology offering draws on my RAF operating and engineering experience, as well as commercial skills gained in PwC. The collaborative way of working in PwC means lots of people are eager to help take the proposition to clients, and I am fortunate to have an experienced and committed team to drive this forward.

From RAF to tech innovator

As part of PwC’s Intelligent Digital team, which brings together technology, business understanding and human insight, leading on drones, I advise clients on how to integrate this exciting technology into their business to give them a competitive edge. In addition, I am a member of the PwC UK defence team that works with clients to provide a wide range of professional services.

As for the future, I try not to look too far forward or the next 20 years will also go in a flash. I will continue to drive the unique perspectives of drones and seek ways to deliver advantage for our clients through emerging technology. It is a privilege to be part of our Intelligent Digital approach to working with technology, helping our clients to reimagine the possible, and balance business understanding with technology innovation and human insight.

You can follow Elaine on Twitter: @ElaineWhyte100