Downer Rail (part of Downer Group) designs builds and maintains passenger trains, Locomotives and wagons around Australia. The Graduate program I am part of has been great for giving me a large exposure to many parts of the business. From solving challenging systemic issues on a fleet of trains in maintenance to putting together a bid for the refurbishment of 20 year old trains.
As at the time of writing I spent last week in Melbourne (I am usually based in Sydney) managing the negotiation and agreement of a technical solution for the design, delivery and ongoing maintenance of new trains for the Melbourne network.
This involved liaising with the project manager on the client’s side, delegating questions and document updates to people in the project team and communicating the responses or updates back to the client. I personally attended client meetings to discuss outstanding issues. Since the purpose of these meetings was for us to understand the clients concerns, so that a solution could be proposed, and to convey any technical concerns we had for why the clients request might not be feasible or economical. I was required to be familiar with all outstanding issues, with our Engineering position and willing to try to understand the client so that I could personally have informed technical discussions with the client representing the views of the Engineers I work with.
I was born in South Africa, however my Dad was offered a job in Australia when I was 5. So I was really raised in Sydney.
I went to primary school in Pennant Hills, where I was always far more interested in any sort of non-fiction I could get my hands on than fiction. Although machines and understanding how trucks, planes, trains all worked could particularly keep me entertained for days.
In high school I enjoyed, and did quite well in Maths, Science and Software but I wouldn’t say I was at all a ‘typical’ nerd. I played football and volunteered at my church doing everything from behind the scenes audio mixing to getting up on stage to do the weekly announcements.
Following high school I got accepted into Mechatronics Engineering at the University of Sydney, where I worked far harder than I “needed to” to pass, but I thrived on the challenge and absolutely don’t regret working as hard as I did, graduating after four years with a HD average. Throughout university I continued playing sport, being involved at church and although my social life didn’t exist for a few weeks each semester I enjoyed the social side to university too.
After graduating I spent a year doing research with Defence in the area of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles, presenting my work at conferences throughout Australia and at MIT. Not quite convinced I wanted to go straight into a PhD I applied at a few companies for graduate roles. Downer was one of the ones that responded and after going through the interview process they enticed me to give them a shot.
The job I have been doing has been challenging and a strong work ethic, particularly having a willingness to get involved anywhere, has been a necessity. Other than that the key skills someone needs to be able to do my role is an ability to pick up concepts and understand technical aspects outside your area of expertise quickly. Particularly having the ability to listen to someone try verbalise a concern in an area that they might not be intimately familiar with, interpret what they are asking, clarify the issue sufficiently that an expert has enough information to develop a solution, understand the solution well enough that you can then reiterate it simply to the original person who still doesn’t necessarily understand the problem.
The part of my job recently that I have really enjoyed is when I have a meeting with the client, about an issue that has been back and forth for a while and you finally manage to explain it so everyone at the table suddenly realises what the other side is talking about. That feeling of being instrumental in reaching a mutual understanding on a key issue. I think everyone needs to feel they are contributing in what they are doing and in my opinion there is no clearer measure than being able to say you explained something to someone, or taught them something.
There are a few downsides to my role, it does involve quite a lot of travel, made more difficult by the fact it is often organised last minute. The role is challenging and I have been asked to do things I didn’t think I could, which is tiring but also very rewarding. I have worked long hours, a few 14, 15 hour days when deadlines need to be met, even doing some work on weekends. Thankfully I could do that work remotely and I chose to do it in chunks so I could still enjoy most of the weekend. When deadlines have past and work is lighter I am able to do shorter days to make up for it. But it’s not easy for my family and friends either.
If I could give university me three pieces of advice…