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Working lives

Sam Dods, 33, is technical director and co-founder of Cambridge based non destructive investigation firm Aperio.

Route to the job Growing up in a number of cities and mining towns in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Indonesia and New Zealand, it is not surprisingI qualified in mining engineering. I graduated from Auckland University, New Zealand, in 1990 and after a short stint of travelling I got a job in non destructive investigation of civil structures with a firm in the UK. I really enjoyed the challenges of this relatively new field and after six years with the same firm decided I would like to set up a business rather than go back to mining engineering.

Expectations While with my former employer, I met the three colleagues who were to become my business partners.

We agreed that as civil engineering non destructive testing was in its infancy, it represented great opportunities for technical development.

Reality We established Aperio in 1997 in Cambridge and the firm has gone from strength to strength. After the financial roller coaster ride typically experienced by start ups, the company is developing at an ever increasing rate. We are working on a range of diverse projects, including determining the depth of the standing stones at Avebury, mapping voids under the floors of Westminster Abbey, determining the extent of delamination within the cover concrete of the Tyne and Clyde tunnel decks and investigating pavement construction and condition at Heathrow and Schiphol airports.

We are now also winning projects further afield, like radar surveys of a 31,000km road network in Indonesia. As the company grows, one of the major challenges is to transfer the founders' enthusiasm and knowledge to our employees in such a way that they feel part of a team. We must not only produce work that satisfies our clients but also develop our technologies and procedures so we remain competitive.

Advice Before launching into a career I would recommend that young potential engineers take a trip around the world. It puts your life and work in the UK into a wider perspective as well as being looked on favourably by employers. Be prepared to change the direction of your career and if you do decide to start your own company then plan carefully. Get all the help you can and prepare a full business plan. Also be prepared to walk away from an idea if it fails to 'stack up'. Try to balance the ever increasing pressure to use intellectual property as a competitive edge with sharing knowledge and experience among your competitors. The sharing of knowledge, particularly in newer rapidly growing fields, can raise the quality of work across the industry.

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