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Working life: Building a modern world

Name: Michael Heywood
Job: Project engineer
Age: 28

Manchester University

I started out at a small London-based consultancy firm, which I joined straight out of university. Everybody from the graduate engineer right through to the senior partner had to muck in together to get the job done! I was lucky enough to get a tremendous amount of real world exposure right from the off.

Fundamentally there was a real focus on quality, detail and innovative thinking, which was a real education in the way to do things properly. After five years in London working on highly technical research, medical and hospital facilities, I took up the chance to move to Muscat, Oman and join Atkins.

The working environment and scope could not have been any more different, but the fundamentals of high-quality work and innovative thinking remained. Working in an emerging market brings its own challenge in terms of designing to suit not only the local market conditions and material supplies, but also the capability and working practice of the local contracting pool. Much of the work in Muscat was very much based in the commercial and residential sector, which really helped to broaden my level of experience. But it was interesting to see how many of the solutions and methods that have been developed for the technical and industrial sector could be applied to a commercial development – with impressive results.

Eighteen months down the line I moved with Atkins to the Dubai office where we are exposed
to every possible type of development, building and technical challenge you could ever imagine. The pace is fast and the scale of the projects is unprecedented, but you often surprise yourself with how quickly you can not only develop a workable concept, but also turn it into something tangible.

I currently lead a group of about 50 engineers working on a high-profile, multi-million pound building project located in Dubai. Providing direction to engineers of varying levels from many different countries is a challenge, but it is tremendous fun!

WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST SURPRISE ABOUT STARTING WORK? The realisation that it is a marathon not a sprint, and that if you want to have a successful career you have to take the time to plan it out carefully. Ultimately, you can achieve anything you want to, you just need a little bit of luck and the right environment that allows you to grow.

Leading a team involved in a large scale mixed-use development requires a very diverse level of experience and a comprehensive understanding of both the bigger picture and finite detail. I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked on a very wide-ranging portfolio of projects so far in my career, which has enabled me to lead, manage and understand the varying aspects of managing a “mega project”. You’ve also got to have a strong set of fundamental principles and stay true to them no matter how hard you are squeezed!

There is no such thing as an average day in our line of work! I spend most of my time these days either developing concepts with the client team or encouraging my team to develop well-thought-out solutions that really suit the problem at hand. Cutting and pasting is not allowed! At the end of the day you are dealing with people and that’s the hard bit. Getting the right balance between flexibility and a strong working ethic is a challenge but ultimately very rewarding for everybody.

Working with a great team of like-minded people to pull together
to produce something tangible. That’s the great thing about engineering, no two problems are the same, and there is no one solution to a problem. So when it is all said and done, you can look at the end product you’ve help build and turn around and say “I helped build that”.

Don’t jump at the fist job offer you get because you think you might not get another one. Choose your first company carefully; make sure that you interview them as much as they interview you. Understand the company’s core principles, make sure you are comfortable with them, and try to meet the people you are going to be working with day in, day out! Ultimately the first step is the most important one, it was for me.

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