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A better world through a systems approach

Interview with Kerry Lunney, ESEP

Courtney Wright

Sep 30, 2021

This interview was conducted in 2021.
SEP Interview - Kerry Lunney photo
Q1: Describe your current position/role.

Kerry is currently a Country Engineering Director / Chief Engineer at Thales Australia, based in Sydney. In this role she provides technical leadership and governance on bids and projects, delivers technical training programs, and participates on the Technical Board of Thales Australia.  She often undertakes personal intervention in different business units or on projects as required and is strong in forming and animating networks of key stakeholders, engaging with relevant actors at country level, Group level and external to Thales. In addition to this role, Kerry is currently the President of INCOSE, completing the 2nd year of her two-year term, after serving as the Asia-Oceania Director and President-Elect in the preceding years. Kerry is a Fellow of Engineers Australia with a status of Engineering Executive and Chartered Professional Engineer, is a member of IEEE, and is a certified INCOSE ESEP.

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

Kerry was quite excited to have been the first individual certified as an INCOSE ESEP in Australia. Additionally, she served as the INCOSE Symposium Chair in 2001 when it was held in Australia. Kerry described this experience as being fun and rewarding having run a conference for 500-900 people over the course of 3 ½ days. Reinforcing the significance of this career highlight, Kerry was recognized (over the phone) by one of her ESEP panelists as having been the 2001 INCOSE Symposium Chair! Another example of accomplishments was the development and delivery of complex Data Centers in Sri Lanka and Thailand, where Kerry was able to have a significant impact on the organization, management, total systems engineering, and risk mitigation approaches resulting in a successfully deliver a working system to her customers.

But at the top of the list was the honor to serve as President of INCOSE.

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

Kerry explains that, quite frankly, the biggest challenge being a Systems Engineer is that most people don’t understand what a Systems Engineer does, and hence the importance of such a role to facilitate a successful outcome in delivering a system solution.  Likewise, it is not a role that can be largely taught in educational institutions.  Yes, the foundations and many problem-solving approaches and techniques can, but to be a good Systems Engineer takes more than that. It takes education and experience to get everyone on the same page with respect to systems engineering. Finally, although the term “Systems Engineering” was primarily conceived out of the Defense world, many who practice the core Systems Engineering processes and disciplines don’t know they are actually doing systems engineering.

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

Kerry believes Systems Engineering is a good field with lots of opportunity. Based on the trends within industry and advancements in technology, there are many more integrated systems these days and/or going that way in the near-future. For individuals starting their career as Systems Engineers, Kerry recommends focusing on a depth or expertise in a specific engineering discipline first. Once proficient, they should then expand with other disciplines that interest them to help become aware of other facets of the system. That being said, Kerry feels that acquiring experience is essential to build from a formal educational basis. Additionally, she also cautions Systems Engineers from getting caught up being a specialist and getting pigeon holed in only one or two Systems Engineering work areas – one should not lose focus of the entire system when considering any one aspect. Kerry also advises that disruptive technologies are always those items that pop up out of the blue and a good Systems Engineer must think how they will impact / disrupt modern systems. Therefore, a Systems Engineer must stay current with emerging trends in the industry and be prepared to work hard. Finally, a Systems Engineer must have soft skills in addition to technical skills as there are many situations where one must work with groups of people with all types of backgrounds, expertise, and interest in the overall system.

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

In addition to her career commitments and responsibilities, Kerry also enjoys volunteering in INCOSE and also in the Australian Chapter, the Systems Engineering Society of Australia (SESA), where she served as President from 2008-2009.  Kerry also reads as much as she can (e.g., INCOSE’s website, publications, Working Group minutes / deliverables) to stay current on technology and the latest SE practices, and looks for opportunities at work to be part of a larger technical community.  What can be discussed and learned from colleagues worldwide can be very insightful.  Kerry also makes time to simply talk to specialists, experts, and others in the industry as that typically yields the most beneficial insights to helpful and relevant SE practices. Kerry also attends lectures, conferences, and technical / industry group events as much as her busy schedule allows.

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

Although extremely accomplished in her professional career, Kerry hopes to one day make time to write a novel but weave through it a systems perspective – matching fiction with fact with future. She would also like to continue holding technical leadership roles at the senior/executive level and tackle difficult problems. Similarly, loving her roles as a Technical Leader, Kerry wishes to someday give back to the younger generation through mentoring, supporting educational programs and providing expert guidance on one or two key technical challenges of the future. Kerry will eventually and gradually retire someday.

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

Special interests outside of SE include walking her dog Max, reading the occasional fiction novel, camping, playing the piano, cycling, swimming, body surfing, scuba diving, and many other outdoor activities in the vicinity of the beach.

Q8:  Are there any other final comments you would like to make?

Systems Engineering can have many different meanings to other professionals.  It is very broad in its adaptation across different industries and can be very complex. But because of this it can open many doors for the individual to progress through his/her career. No other technical field can provide the exposure to other technical fields in different domains across various industries.  It is a great field to either progress in or to use as a jumping board to move into another area of expertise.

Q9:  Why did you decide to get the SEP certification?

Kerry had been considering to apply for SEP certification but the catalyst was actually through her employer Thales. At that time, Thales was looking to put through a number of candidates from around the world to strengthen the organization’s expertise in systems engineering and to be recognized as holding this expertise. As a result, Kerry moved forward with her application, initially for CSEP level but while gathering all her material to support her application she realized she could qualify for ESEP, and the rest is history.

Q10:  How does the SEP certification impact your professional career?

It is not clear if the SEP certification has impacted Kerry’s career.  It certainly has not had any negative effect, quite the opposite.  The SEP qualification often has to be explained but it is always well received.  As a result, Kerry is starting to see the recognition grow in Australia. It does place you apart from your colleagues, so that is positive.  And for Kerry it was great to be the first person in Australia to obtain this qualification.

Q11:  What has surprised you in the past five years related to systems engineering?

What has surprised Kerry over the past five years is that there is a growing need for better system solutions with the increasing inter-dependencies and inter-connectedness, yet we are still having the challenge of being recognized for our expertise to work these system solutions.  They are opposing elements in the same ecosystem. It is almost as if there is an identity crisis for Systems Engineers.  Kerry noted that in-roads are being made and our position has improved over the five years but she thought we would have advanced further by now.

Q12:  What job titles have you had other than “Systems Engineer?”

  • Systems Design Lead
  • Systems Engineering Manager
  • Principal Systems Engineer
  • Chief Systems Engineer
  • Systems Project Manager
  • Chief Engineer
  • Technical Lead
  • Technical & Engineering Director
  • Technology General Manager
  • Engineer Grade 1
  • Engineer Grade 2
  • Software Quality Engineer
  • Engineering Manager
  • Project XYZ Engineering Manager
  • Engineering Process Manager
  • Joint Architecture Group Leader
  • System Architect
  • Solution Engineering Manager
  • Project Design Authority

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