Irish woman in San Francisco: Life is quiet but everyone is exercising

Sarah Hinchin on how work as an engineer has changed since coronavirus has hit the US

Sarah Hinchin, from Bray, lives in San Francisco.

Engineer Sarah Hinchin, from Bray in Co Wicklow, lives in San Francisco where she works as a project manager for large engineering firm Jacobs. San Francisco is a lot quieter now as Covid-19 has an impact, she says.

Are there any changes in San Francisco since the coronavirus crisis and what are they?
San Francisco has become much quieter. The restaurants and bars that are usually packed are closed, and there are no tourists around. The main public activity now is people out exercising, which is good to see.

What does your day look like now? 
I'm working from home and my colleagues are also set up to work remotely, so it's going well. I have a lot more calls with the various teams to check in on our projects. What is really important is maintaining a routine. I'm doing this by either doing a workout before or after work, and getting out for a walk at lunchtime. I'm really lucky where I live as it is a beautiful place to run and cycle, and as we approach the summer, the weather is getting warmer.

What is the food situation there?
When California's governor Gavin Newsom announced the lockdown here on March 19th ordering nearly all residents to stay home and limit social interaction until further notice to try to slow the spread of Covid-19, the supermarkets were very busy and there was limited stock of non-perishable items. But now it has returned to normal. Thankfully everyone has realised that the shelves will be restocked during this period and that there's no need to panic.


Do you hope to return to Ireland?
I was due to fly to Ireland early next month to go to two weddings, but the flights were cancelled and the weddings were also been cancelled. I will plan a trip for later in the year. I'm really looking forward to a reunion with my family and friends.

How are people in San Francisco doing?
I'm sure everyone is experiencing different challenges, but most of the people I know are fortunate enough to be able to work remotely and are doing okay apart from feeling cabin bound.

Is there anything you miss about Ireland at the moment?
I miss being able to see my parents and friends in a crisis like this, but even if I was at home I would not be able to visit them. I'm actually talking to my family and friends more during this time as everyone has so much free time at home so that is really nice.

When did you leave Ireland and why?
I left Ireland at the start of 2017, relocating from our Dublin office to San Francisco to work as a Lead Process Engineer in the life sciences sector. Growing up, I always wanted to live abroad and was looking for the right opportunity to relocate. In 2016, I had the opportunity to work from Jacobs' Cincinnati office on a large-scale pharmaceutical project for six months. It gave me a taste for working internationally. After I returned to Ireland, the opportunity came up to relocate to San Francisco and I jumped at the chance.

Did you study in Ireland and if so where?
I studied chemical engineering at University College Dublin (UCD). Even from a young age, I was always fascinated by solving problems, especially the ones that can make life simpler and more seamless. I'm a chartered engineer with the Institute of Chemical Engineers, which is a global professional engineering institution with about 37,000 members in more than 100 countries.

Are you in a minority as a woman engineer?
I've worked predominantly with men, but the industry is undergoing change. It's really encouraged to see increasing numbers of women working in engineering because of the huge range of opportunities that it provides. It's a career for curious minds and those driven to dream big. It offers diverse, rewarding work, competitive salaries and the option of international travel - something that I've found to be a huge advantage. Engineering is a great choice for anyone with an affinity for maths and science, and it is attractive for women because we aren't afraid to challenge the status quo and break down barriers.

Is diversity happening in engineering?
Yes, engineering is becoming more diverse and it's great to see increasing numbers of women working in senior management roles. Inclusion and diversity are central parts of our work culture at Jacobs, which employs 52,000 worldwide. The way I see it, everyone benefits from gender balance and diversity.

Do the Irish fit in well in San Francisco and are there any other Irish people in your circles?
There's a huge Irish community here in San Francisco. There are two GAA clubs, an Irish Bay Area Network and of course a lot of Irish bars that are run by people from home. I've made a lot of Irish friends here and it's easy to feel at home. Hopefully we will all meet again. I also met my fiance, Kieran, in San Francisco, so we often joke that I travelled more than 8,000km to get engaged to an Irishman.  ]