In The Spotlight… Kathleen Gray, Guarantee Broadcast Engineer for NEP UK
This article was originally published by Women in Film & Television UK on 18 May 2018.
Kathleen graduated from Southampton Solent University with a BSc in Live and Studio Sound in 2013 before joining NEP UK Broadcast Services. Since then she has progressed from Junior Vision Engineer to Guarantee Broadcast Engineer and has been Engineer in Charge on some of NEP UK’s largest and most prestigious projects, including ITV’s Love Island – which this year requires the installation of 98 cameras!
In 2017, Kathleen won the RTS Young Technologist Award, which is now open for applications for its 2018 edition, sponsored by Atos. WFTV caught up with Kathleen to find out how she got into broadcast engineering, the key challenges she faces in her role, and what the future holds…
“Asking your colleagues for help isn’t a sign of weakness it’s the way the industry works – you can’t be an expert in everything.”
At what point did you realise you wanted to be an engineer and what steps did you take to get the training and experience you needed?
I don’t think I ever realised that I wanted to be an engineer, I have always been technical and always enjoyed problem solving and being involved at school with technical theatre and concerts. I enjoyed sound engineering so I went to university to start a practical operational degree in the field rather than a heavy engineering one. Through university I worked on a variety of outside broadcasts (OBs) and picked up a large amount of engineering expertise. Through this, I fell in love with OBs.
What does a Guarantee Broadcast Engineer actually do?! (We’re sure there’s no ‘typical’ day at the office for you, but can you give us a sense of the types of things you might be getting up to?)
A Guarantee Broadcast Engineer is the person responsible for ensuring that all technical aspects of a broadcast are fulfilled to the client’s requirements. In this role you are effectively guaranteeing that the equipment/technical solution work. You are also on site to install it, configure it and fix it before, during and after a broadcast. You work on a wide variety of jobs ranging from sport and live entertainment to reality, working in both outside broadcast trucks and flyaway systems worldwide. This means that every day is different.
You only graduated in 2013 and now have a huge amount of responsibility on your shoulders. How have you managed that swift rise?
As long as you are aware of your own limits and those of the people around you then you will be fine. Asking your colleagues for help isn’t a sign of weakness it’s the way the industry works – you can’t be an expert in everything. Everyone has each other’s backs and no one wants you or a job to fail.
What do you think are the key skills and assets needed for someone to be successful in your role?
You need to be able to work well in a team. There will always be a large crew working with you, who you will therefore need to listen to and communicate effectively with. Along with your crew you will also have to communicate with the client to ensure all their requirements are met. On the more technical side, you need problem solving skills as you will constantly be working around equipment failures and unplanned requirements which need to be solved quickly and effectively to ensure the broadcast isn’t affected.
With technology evolving so quickly, how do you keep up to date and on top of what’s coming down the line?
I try and stay up to date with new topics like HDR and IP but realistically you don’t have time to keep up to date with everything, you have to learn on the job as the equipment arrives. You get very used to talking to manufacturers and reading manuals.
“Everyone thinks I am crazy saying that my proudest moment is guaranteeing Love Island“
We know that sometimes women have to work harder to be given the same respect as men in technical roles – with an outdated and frankly ridiculous notion that somehow women just aren’t as technically able as men still lingering in some quarters. Have you ever encountered that kind of attitude and if so, how did you overcome it?
I think I have always come under suspicion when starting a job with people I haven’t worked with before, but I believe that this is only partly due to my age and gender. As soon as you quickly prove that you know what you’re doing and you are able to do the job, that attitude very quickly changes and you become one of the crew and your age and gender are forgotten.
What has been your proudest moment?
Everyone thinks I am crazy saying that my proudest moment is guaranteeing Love Island, however this was the first time I realised I was an engineer and could actually do my job and guarantee a large derig. Being let loose on a new show meant I had to rely on what I had learnt, trust my instincts, get stuck in and stretch myself. Being involved in all aspects of the job from planning, rigging, and through to implementation of designs and delivery was hugely satisfying and rewarding.
How has winning the RTS Young Technologist Award impacted upon you?
The impact of winning the award was huge, to get recognised by such a prestigious organisation has given me the confidence to grow as an engineer and has provided me with opportunities to network with respected industry professionals.
What advice would you give to a young person who might be considering a role in broadcast engineering?
When starting out the best thing to do is ask lots of questions. If you show that you’re keen to learn, every engineer will impart as much information onto you as possible. Also, it’s OK to not know, it is impossible for you to know everything, the best thing to really know is who in your contact book is the expert!
What are your goals for the future?
Continue to learn and progress as an engineer, while also teaching and inspiring more young engineers to join the industry in various ways. For example I have joined NEP UK’s new STEM Ambassador Programme and I speak at the Student Open Day that we run to encourage young people into the Industry.
I eventually hope to have gained the required experience to have the opportunity to design and implement complex major projects.
Entries for the 2018 edition of the RTS/Atos Young Technologist of the Year Award are open until 5:00pm on Friday 25th May. Find out more and enter here.