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Q&A | I did a degree in product design

Matt blackwell jpg

Costain digital operations director Matt Blackwell, fell into construction after training as a product designer and starting out creating simulations for the shipping industry. Now he heads Costain’s digital team.

I’m responsible for the digital team

We’re there to help the company to win work by delivering visualisations for tenders and we help our contractors on site to deliver what the customer needs around data management, visualisation and digital engineering.

Costain’s digital operations team started with just one person

To a degree that shows the progression we’ve made in the last few years around this team. I fell into construction having met the O’Rourke team when Heathrow Terminal 5 was being tendered. It started with me and it grew when we brought additional people to come in and do modelling and it’s expanded out beyond the realms of what we originally set out to do around building information modelling (BIM). It now incorporates lots of different types of technologies and it’s more about applying technology solutions to contracts rather than just performing 3D modelling.

I realised I didn’t want to go into product design and I was far more interested in graphics

I did a degree in product design

I guess half way through my degree I realised I didn’t want to do product design for a career and I was far more interested in graphics. After leaving university I got a job in mid-Wales working for a shipping simulation company. We used to work out what would happen if the engine of an oil tanker broke down at sea and would build 3D models of ports around the world for those simulations.

We used to use the same computers as Pixar Animation Studios

At the time, the only computers that were capable of doing these simulations were super computers developed by tech company Silicon Graphics. We were using the same £500,000 computers to run our graphic shipping simulations as the Hollywood animator.

I fell into construction after working in Formula 1

For a while I worked as a business analyst for the Arrows Formula 1 team. I was responsible for customising and implementing their data management solution. I didn’t really have a clue what was coming next and I almost fell into construction by accident having met the O’Rourke team when Heathrow Terminal 5 was being tendered and after they’d just acquired Laing. They were looking at doing something different for Terminal 5 and asking how they could adopt automotive modelling techniques, such as large screens and high-end computer visualisations for the project.

I fell into construction having met the O’Rourke team when Heathrow Terminal 5 was being tendered

I’d encourage people not to think that what they want to do is what they will end up doing

A really good example is where we took someone on from a jobcentre who was trained to design computer games. As far as he was aware, 3D graphics only existed in computer games and films. He had no comprehension that 3D models and visualisations and engineering solutions needed the kind of skills that he had.

Career Highlights

2002 to 2003 Business analyst, Tom Walkinshaw Racing (Arrows F1)

2003 to 2008 Business Improvement manager, Laing O’Rourke

2008 to present Bid manager/group BIM manager, Costain

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