The technical skills associated with Engineering are much in demand by a variety of companies within the United Kingdom and are seen as necessary for developing the economy, so what is it like being employed as an Engineer?
Engineering is about solving real world problems using Science and Technology and as such it is about creating solutions including new ideas and making them work. This includes documenting your ideas and persuading other people to follow them.
This is known as a ‘career in STEM’ but it should be known as a career in STEAM as it also needs, for example:
- People with artistic skills who can ensure products are understood by and saleable to the customer.
- People with philosophical skills that can help resolve ethical issues with modern technology, e.g. Artificial Intelligence.
This article is about my experience as an Engineer, I am now retired.
I started out in Engineering on the advice of my father although at the time I preferred mathematics as I had just completed my Advance Levels in Mathematics, Further Mathematics and Physics. So anyway I attended an Electronics & Electrical Engineering degree at Manchester University in the 1970s.
On completion of my degree, I visited a number of companies looking for work but was bored by what I found. Back at university a lecturer advised us about PhDs, which I had not thought about until then but I applied and was accepted. My PhD was concerned with using Stochastic Approximation to enable the control of unknown systems.
On being awarded the PhD in 1980, I once again looked for employment and found work at GEC Marconi, where I had been employed during my summer holidays. I was employed as a Design Engineer.
My first main role was to design a general computer suitable for a military tank. This included a graphics card for a magnetic display and also included two microprocessors – things that hadn’t been done before. I was also responsible for writing the software to test it all.
Later on, I was running a small team developing Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) using Apollo computers running Mentor Graphics software.
Several years later, I was asked to represent the Engineering Design Team when discussing problems with the team responsible for turning the designs into circuit boards. This included teaching other engineers how to use the Mentor Graphics engineering tool on the Apollo computers running the Unix-like operating system Aegis. In addition, I was designing ASICs for a number of projects. I was, by then, a Consultant Engineer. It was then I got my first Windows desktop computer.
The Chief Engineer then invited me to become a Systems Engineer, which I accepted on the basis that I enjoyed change. He asked me to evaluate and choose a systems engineering modelling tool for use by the company. I chose RDD-100, which he agreed was the correct one. It was about then that GEC Marconi merged with British Aerospace (BAe) to become BAE Systems.
As a Systems Engineer, I became involved in bids for new work. I was trained in bid writing by Shipley Associates. I eventually became the technical lead for a number of bids – many of which I had to learn a lot of detail for.
I was also seconded to Niteworks, a project working in partnership with the MoD, companies and academia, to run a small team using RDD-100 to build a model of the work the rest of the team was involved in. At one point, we used this to support a future project that the customer was working on. We built and integrated a model of a meeting. This gave the human factors team data to work on for the first time ever before the event actually took place and it managed to predict some of the events that happened.
I finally became a Technical Authority and was then trained in safety engineering.
My last project before retirement was as a Technical Manager responsible for the security, safety, compliance with Legal Requirements and environmentally soundness of our product. I had to produce a report on each major change which was then assessed by the Chief Engineer. I was also responsible for improving the quality of the documentation for the product, which the customer valued.
I retired in 2020 and was then able support the development of this web application and the accompanying iShine application for both web and mobile. This required skills in a variety of programming languages but the key skill is solving technical problems that arise quite regularly because technology, including software, is always changing.
Although I am a Northern European male person and many of my colleagues were the same, there was still a great deal of diversity in the teams. Engineering benefits enormously from diversity:
- There have always been some women in the teams, nowadays that includes the management.
- I met my first transgender person at work.
- I have worked with both blind and deaf people.
- I have observed Mentally Challenged people being helped to maximise their contribution to the team such that they become highly valued.
- I have met people who started off in a completely different (non-STEM) careers before becoming interested in engineering.
- There were always people from different ethnic backgrounds.
- Many of the top leaders of the company were people with an apprenticeship background.
- The company includes people with other skills and knowledge, such as legal, philosophical and accounting.
When going to University, I was not provided with a grant by the Council so my parents paid for the annual fees and accommodation while I was responsible for everything else. So I worked during my holidays to pay for it.
The benefits from this were that I found the company I wanted to eventually work for and I learnt how survive on very little income.
When applying for the PhD I made sure that there was sufficient funding as I didn’t want to continue relying on my parents.
When at work I was paid sufficient for me and my family to enjoy our lives together. It helped that my wife is also an Engineer.
I think that engineering was absolutely the right choice for me, it provided me with a lot of choices over the years that suited my need for change, this was always supported by my manager.
I found that the technical skills required for engineering changed over my working life but that didn’t bother me as I enjoyed learning about something new.
The type of technical skills and knowledge currently in demand are:
- Cyber Security
- Data Analysis
- Web Design
- Cloud Computing
- Artificial Intelligence
- Quantum Computing
- Digital Twin
It is expected that this will develop further over time.
There are opportunities for engineers across many companies within the UK including the public sector. In addition, people who change careers to become engineers bring additional skills and knowledge to the team.
Top Photo by RAEng free under Unsplash Licence.