Martin Parker is 29 and works for Ewan Associates. He is currently in the Bulgarian capital where he is project manager for the Sofia drainage area study.
Route to the job
I gained a masters degree in water resources systems engineering at Newcastle University, which included spending six months on a research project in the Sahara with Halcrow. After university I joined Ewan Associates as a graduate engineer, then worked as a Department of Trade & Industry Teaching Company associate in a partnership between Ewan Associates and Exeter University.
During this period I started my PhD in the use of optimisation techniques in the sewerage industry, and developed the joint Ewan-Halcrow COUGAR software for designing low cost schemes to improve sewer overflow performance. After another year at Ewan I became sewerage modelling team leader for the Exeter Office and, in November 2001, I was asked to go to Bulgaria to project manage the Sofia drainage area study for the United Utilities/International Water concession, Sofiyska Voda.
I had been told that the project was just starting and the concession was only one year old, so I expected to find a lot of political opposition, resentment from existing staff and significant cultural differences. I also expected to find nothing on the ground, low quality, unmotivated staff and antiquated systems.
Drainage area studies need large amounts of information relating to what is happening in the city and in the underground networks. From previous experience, I knew this data would probably not be readily available and a major part of the project would involve developing relevant data sets.
I was pleasantly surprised at the co-operation within the company and the positive expectations from the public about Sofiyska Voda.
There is a belief in Bulgaria that if you work hard, improvements will come, and Sofiyska Voda's staff clearly want to be part of this.
There could have been resentment towards expatriates, but this is not the case: acceptance is almost universal and the concession is seen as an opportunity to modernise. I was amazed at the quality of the Bulgarian staff. Their understanding of hydraulic engineering is world class. Staff are highly motivated, highly technically skilled and have a frightening ability to learn new concepts and processes.
If you get the opportunity to work overseas take it! Improving Sofia's sewer system and working with Bulgarian people has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Take the time to get to know your employees while overseas. One word of warning: being away from home and family takes its toll, and it is important to establish a balance. On our project the expatriates and Bulgarian staff play football together as part of the process of ensuring balance and fun!