This interview was conducted in 2021.
Q1: Describe your current position/role.
I am a systems engineering consultant at The Energy Systems Catapult. My main responsibility is helping stakeholders in the public sector, primarily UK government departments, understand why and how to take a systems approach to solving problems around the UK energy system transition for net zero greenhouse gases.
Q2: What are one or two of your proudest professional accomplishments?
- In 2019 I started my own business consulting in systems engineering. This was a calculated risk and a significant challenge. Over time, this became a genuine enabler to grow as both a person and a systems engineer. I increased my professional network, explored new challenges, and invested in my own personal development (including progressing to ASEP). I know I wouldn’t have achieved these things without the drive and opportunity of having my own business.
- I co-authored and presented a paper for the INCOSE UK Annual Systems Engineering Conference (ASEC) in 2020 called ‘Harambe: The Only Way to Net Zero’. I didn’t consider such an endeavor in the past but the learning process and the hard work was ultimately rewarding if a little cathartic at times. I’m proud to have an output that is available in the public domain and may go on to influence or inspire some activities that are related to its content.
Q3: What is the biggest challenge you face as a Systems Engineer?
Getting stakeholders to understand the concepts and principles of tackling problems with a systems perspective. Examples include subject matter language barriers or conflicts in working between problem space and solution space. In extreme cases, there is an active push back on taking a systems engineering approach because there is perceived to be no time and/or money. It is challenging to convince some stakeholders of the benefits that are afforded by systems engineering. We could do with more “off-the-shelf” and bitesize examples as a community to help overcome this.
Q4: What advice do you have for individuals starting their career as a Systems Engineer?
Stick to the fundamental rule of always following your passion. It can be important to pay attention to trends in industry, skills, markets but don’t let those be the main drivers for your career decisions. Do what you love now, and the rest will fall into place over time. There is plenty scope in systems engineering to have a full and varied career which evolves over time.
Q5: How do you continue to learn about SE? What professional development activities do you do?
I am the chair of the Energy Systems Interest Group which gives me regular engagement with INCOSE UK and its members. I am also a member of the MBSE interest group. In addition, I attend ASEC every year which helps networking and staying on top of the latest activities across the systems engineering community. Aside from that, I try to find the time to advance my knowledge through webinars or training courses or reading literature such as the INCOSE UK ‘Don’t Panic!’ series of books. Lastly, I find the volume and quality of online resources (e.g. SEBoK) ideal for continual learning. The challenge therefore, is reduced to finding self-motivation and time.
Q6: What are the next career goals you want to achieve?
Achieving CSEP is my next milestone. Beyond that, I’d like to achieve CEng status which is also now offered by INCOSE UK. I also have a growing desire to contribute to systems engineering literature but I’m still working out in what form that would be and what level of commitment would be required.
Q7: What are some of your hobbies/interests outside of work?
I enjoy all forms of sports and actively participate in triathlon, golf, football and mountain biking. I also really enjoy live music and play the drums in an indie-rock band. I have a love of the outdoors too and find hill-walking or open water swimming is best to get me immersed in nature. It’s surprising that I can still claim these things as I have two young children who also occupy a lot of my time in the most amazing ways.
Q8: Why did you decide to get the SEP certification?
I felt I needed to consolidate my status as a systems engineer and demonstrate some credibility for my career path and personal achievements. Almost all other professions offer a similar step and, generally, the high performing people want that recognition (and generally it’s rewarded in other professions). The SEP initiative offers a great pathway for systems engineering practitioners and my hope is that as systems engineering continues to grow, so does the presence and recognition of SEP.
Q9: How does the SEP certification impact your professional career?
In some ways the impact is internalized. I don’t sense that industry nor individuals actively seek this out yet I feel more confident and more credible within myself when putting forward thoughts and/or arguments around systems engineering. The nature of achieving any level of SEP means you need to pass the knowledge exam and without doubt the push to achieve this has helped me understand systems engineering practices and processes much better than I would have if I hadn’t embarked upon SEP.
Q10: What has surprised you in the past five years related to systems engineering?
There are two surprising things emerging. One is how instantaneously the scope of problems, complexity and interoperability has lent itself to a systems engineering approach. So, the original concepts and methodologies of what we now know as systems engineering are becoming more and more relevant over time and significantly so in the past 5 years. The other major surprise is the recognition that systems engineering is receiving from those outside of the community e.g. non-practitioners, other industries, academia, and public sector. In the UK at least, this appears to be driven by large-scale, complex problems such as achieving net zero greenhouse gases by 2050 or the transition to autonomous vehicles.
Q11: What job titles have you had other than “Systems Engineer?”
Laser systems engineer, production team lead, and graduate technologist.
Q12: Are there any other final comments you would like to make?
As a community of system engineering practitioners, we need to consider what the future holds, what sets us apart from others, and what is value-adding about systems engineering. The challenges I mention in Q3 are – in my opinion – a real barrier to adopting systems engineering on a larger scale. In doing so, we must remain pragmatic that it’s not a “one-size fits all” situation; so there may be occasions where systems engineering isn’t the most suitable approach.