Shine a spotlight on - Ibby Kanalas

With a personal interest and specialist qualifications in illumination design, Ibby enjoys projects involving office accommodations and fit-outs as well as public domain lighting. She recently worked on several infrastructure upgrades at Sydney International Airport. Here she relished the complexity of designing a new lighting system for an existing development and her ability to make a difference.

Ibby Kanalas joined Northrop as a senior electrical engineer in 2013 and became an associate late last year.  She has more than 35 years’ experience in the construction industry.

With a personal interest and specialist qualifications in illumination design, Ibby enjoys projects involving office accommodations and fit-outs as well as public domain lighting. She recently worked on several infrastructure upgrades at Sydney International Airport. Here she relished the complexity of designing a new lighting system for an existing development and her ability to make a difference.

Ibby’s road to engineering is an inspiring story. She was encouraged by a remarkable woman named Martha Kovach, who was the first female electrical engineer in Hungary. Of Jewish origin and orphaned in the war, Martha was forced to live on the streets, eating from garbage bins to survive. Eventually finding foster care, she retained steely determination to make something of her life.

After graduating from technical university, Martha achieved her doctorate in 1970. She was soon managing a team of eight drafters and designers, one of whom was Ibby. Martha became Ibby’s teacher and mentor. “She encouraged me to become an engineer, without her I would never have thought of it. She arranged a scholarship for me, and I am so thankful for the career path she inspired me to take,” recounts Ibby.

With her own resolve to succeed, Ibby went on to become a teacher herself, using her time spent on the train travelling to and from work to gain a degree by correspondence.

Today, it is Ibby who plays the role of mentor. Over the next two years, she will coach two new engineers in her building services team, helping to develop their skills so they can manage projects independently. She encourages career growth opportunities for all young engineers. 

Ibby is keen to continue her own learning. She recently ventured into the world of thoroughbred horse training, working on the relocation of the Inglis Selling Centre from Randwick to Warrick Farm.

“It is the first time I am working with an equine architect. I learnt a lot about the horses. They don’t like loud sounds, we can’t use timber platforms in the selling area because the noise frightens them when stood on and we also can’t have fast changing lights or sound. Similarly, we can’t have flags or banners on the light poles because they flap in the wind and horses don’t like the visual distraction,” says Ibby.

Ibby has seen many changes in the industry over the past 30 years. When she started in engineering in the 1980s, she was the only woman in the company and felt treated with mistrust. She is now heartened to see the advancement of so many more women in the profession.

ASSOCIATE, ELECTRICAL ENGINEER

Want to keep in touch? Sign up for Northrop's newsletter