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A better world through a systems approach

Interview with Howard Steel, ASEP

Courtney Wright

Sep 15, 2021

IMG_20210629_081431This interview was conducted in 2021.

Q1: Describe your current position/role.

I undertake a range of engineering activities within my role.   I undertake background research enabling equipment and sub-system selection and design.  I author functional specifications, V&V plans, provide design oversight at preliminary to detail design stages for equipment and sub-systems used within civil nuclear decommissioning. I work with other disciplines including Construction Structural and Architecture, Control Electrical and Instrumentation and Analysis in the process of delivering project work.

I also contribute to the health and safety of co-workers, stakeholders and specifically operators of this equipment and I ensure compliance with UK legislation generally.  I also mentor other colleagues starting on their careers.    

Q2: What are one or two of your proudest professional accomplishments?

To-date, my proudest moments include being advised that I had made Member status with the Institute of Mechanical Engineers here in the UK.  Personally it meant I was an “Engineer”. It followed that I became Chartered Engineer.  Other moments include seeing equipment for which I had provided the mechanical designs and had helped assemble shown on the BBCs Tomorrows World program followed by its display within the Science Museum in London.  

Q3: What is the biggest challenge you face as a Systems Engineer?

That systems engineering with its attendant activities such as the creation and maintenance of V&V plans are not something that can be “bolted-on” to a project and that they run core to process of delivery.  Further, that there must always be bidirectional traceability in delivering functionality and that requirements must be written as design “agnostic”.  No preconceptions about equipment or performance should be inferred.  

Q4: What advice do you have for individuals starting their career as a Systems Engineer?

Do not home in as a specialist on any specific element of SE. SE is very broad in its scope and it should not be reduced to a few “core” activities. Study for ASEP at the earliest opportunity if for no other reason than it emphasizes how broad SE really is.  

Q5: How do you continue to learn about SE? What professional development activities do you do?

SE is core to what I and my colleagues do. That’s not to say we specialize in SE, but systems thinking allows codification what it is we do in terms of SE.  I am currently chairing a study group that is held outside working hours and owing to the Covid pandemic is undertaken using TEAMs.  This study group has allowed us to maintain momentum following an initial course of training and ultimately take the ASEP exam.

Q6: What are the next career goals you want to achieve?

I am currently writing an application for CSEP. However, it remains a goal, on the “bucket list” if you will, that one day I should make Fellow of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers here in the UK.

Q7: What are some of your hobbies/interests outside of work?

I cook, producing dishes from all regions. I also garden, having a modestly sized patch I try to keep the snails and slugs at bay. I also watch all available science programs on television paying particular attention to those programs involving the US space program, particularly the Apollo moon flights.  

Q8: Why did you decide to get the SEP certification?

With people who are classed as “systems thinkers” it was predicted that my company could benefit in terms of winning future work. I wanted in on the ground floor so to speak.

Q9: How does the SEP certification impact your professional career?

This is work in progress. SE is core to what we do anyway, so the consequences of recognition as ASEP, remains to be seen.

Q10: What has surprised you in the past five years related to systems engineering?

Although, new to INCOSE and that as ASEP, looking back I would suggest that within our community, SE is largely not recognized because it is so embedded within our work.  

Q11: What job titles have you had other than “Systems Engineer?”

Not many really. Engineer, Project Engineer and now Senior Mechanical Engineer.

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