Dr Nicola Combe, originally from West End in Edinburgh, works for Centrica’s Connected Homes business as the Product Lead for smart technology product, Hive Active Heating™. Officially based in London, Nicola enjoys the fact she can work flexibly “from anywhere with an internet connection”.
At just 28, Nicola was part of the team that launched the award-winning Hive Active Heating™ thermostat in the UK, enabling people to control heating and hot water remotely through a website or mobile app, and recently worked to modify the product for the North American market.
Talking about her STEM career, Nicola explained it was a passion from an early age: “As a child, I loved to make and draw things. I had a creative flair, but didn’t understand how they could be applied to a job, let alone a career to start.
“But I was fortunate that my Mum was a physicist and my Dad was an engineer, so I soon realised I could make a career out of something I enjoyed, just like them.”
When Nicola was seven, her Mum passed away, so her Dad helped her with career choices. While he encouraged her to consider engineering, Nicola knew her future lay in design.
She added: “At school, the careers advisor encouraged me to study biology, chemistry and physics in case I ever wanted to be a doctor. But it never interested me, so I dropped biology and went for design and technology because I absolutely love making things!
“I had a fantastic teacher, Mr Bowen, who was a real inspiration. He supported me through my Highers at the Mary Erskine School and even helped with preparing my applications and interviews for university. I had the best role models from an early age.”
Nicola completed a BSc in Industrial Design at Brunel University nine years ago, followed by a Doctorate looking at how people use thermostats in the UK homes, making her the perfect fit for her role today.
Talking about her working environment, she added: “At Connected Home, the product team’s a pretty equal mix of men and women and it’s the diversity of backgrounds, from age to culture, that makes us a successful team.
“Engineering and technology are changing so rapidly and there’s a huge shortage of engineers and technically qualified people in the UK, so it’s a fantastic career for anyone.”
Keen to inspire others, she concluded: “It can be hard to explain what an engineer does, as there are so many career options. When I do school outreach work, I talk about the skills I use to make it more relevant to young people.
“Ultimately, a STEM career gives you the opportunity to solve real world problems, often improving people’s lives, and it’s often creative, challenging and varied – no two days are ever the same for me. That’s what drives me. It makes getting up out of bed every morning for work worthwhile!”