Role: Discipline Lead (Systems Engineering)
Career Area: Systems Engineering
My role at SYSTRA
As Discipline Lead for over 20 engineers, my role encompasses provision of technical expertise on bids and projects; development of the Systems Integration team (including team capability development and resilience planning); and leading and directing the Systems Engineering provision to UK clients, prospective clients and the wider global SYSTRA business.
My career journey
Graduating with an Electronics Degree, my first role was actually in Acoustic Engineering within the defence sector! I was initially designing, and then integrating, setting to work, undertaking sea trials and training Forces personnel on our systems. This really drove my passion for understanding ‘the bigger picture’, looking at ‘the whole system’ or ‘system of systems’, including the human-machine interface. As I’ve found out, the ‘systems thinking’ and human-machine interface challenge is more complex in rail than in defence, not only due to the inclusion of members of the public (rather than just trained operators), but also due to the need to keep the railway operating whilst also delivering change (such as infrastructure upgrades).
So, a transition to the rail industry was my next big step, which was also my first role within a consultancy organisation. Following this I spent several years at Network Rail where I initially lead the development of the Systems Engineering and integration capability nationally for over 200 Systems Engineers. I then worked as a Systems Engineering expert within Eastern Region, where I led, guided and assured the systematic engineering delivery of complex infrastructure upgrades. Whilst at Network Rail I also commenced an MBA aligned to the Senior Leader Masters Degree apprenticeship, which allowed me to develop as a strategic thinker and leader.
I transferred to SYSTRA in 2022, and continued my MBA apprenticeship journey here, graduating with distinction in 2023! The breadth of knowledge, perspectives and experiences gained during my MBA is one factor I credit in succeeding in my current role.
We asked Kevin…
When did you realise this was the career path for you?
Wanting to understand how things work is a family trait – as a boy I would take things apart and test things (sometimes to destruction!) and I always took a keen interest in the work my father did as a Telecoms Engineer. These days, as a Systems Engineer my focus is more on how things interact, integrate and interface with each other, where I advocate for elegancy, efficiency and simplicity in outcomes. However, it’s only within the last 5 years that I’ve realised my preference is to act in a more strategic capacity, leading, guiding and enabling others to work to the best of their abilities.
Have you got any words of wisdom for someone starting out in a similar role?
A systems led approach involves being systematic when developing an operable system that is capable of meeting often opposing needs, interests and constraints. The value provided by the Systems Engineer is in balancing the wants and needs of diverse stakeholders (inclusive of technical quality, delivery schedule and cost to deliver ‘the whole’) by evaluating all the facets, variables and perspectives.
Valuable traits include the ability to communicate and translate detailed technical information in a non-technical manner; knowing when and where to probe; the ability to operate with uncertainty; being responsive to change; and being able to identify unintended outcomes. If you are naturally good at these things, this might just be the career for you!
How does SYSTRA stand out from the rest as a Great Place to Work?
Being relatively new to the business at the moment, for me SYSTRA stands out from its competitors through its commitment to our core values. For example, the depth and breadth of our technical excellence; the empowerment of individuals across the business to lead and do what they know is right (and not just what the contract terms state); and the resourcefulness and network of likeminded colleagues who actively collaborate, which really provides something far better than the work of a sum of individuals. I’ve been really astounded by the willingness, helpfulness and behaviours of all that I’ve met across the business, both within the UK and globally.
With such power in diversity, what unique perspective do you bring to the table?
As I have a Systems Engineering background, my thought process and perspective brings logic and order to complexity, acting often as a technical translator with an ability to see the bigger picture. This allows me to offer unique insights. For example, the identification of unintended consequences, or how simplifying something in design to ease the construction method may complicate things for the operation and maintenance of an asset for the next 30 years.
Where is the place that has inspired you the most?
This one’s difficult, but if I had to pick a place, I think I would say Manchester. Not only does the city have a rich legacy of industrial innovations such as the first railway (which has shaped sustainable travel to the present-day) and scientific discoveries such as Graphene, but it’s also a major hotspot for creative industries such as broadcasting and music.
I also hope that with the work I’m doing on projects such as HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail from here in Manchester, I can play a small part to inspire the generations to come.
What does true sustainability really mean to you?
Wearing my Systems thinking hat, this really must be tackled on a global level. But in doing so, this will need each and every piece of the jigsaw puzzle to fit together in the right way to realise the end vision. The benefits of / positive steps towards net zero and a sustainable world made by one country can so easily be eclipsed by backward steps made by others.
What would a green future look like?
I think it would focus on renewable energy generation and storage, reduction in processing of materials where possible and their use in the most natural state possible, and where this is not possible the re-use of those materials and outputs for other means. A great example being the re-use of wind turbine blades as fibres to strengthen concrete and as an alternative to rebar.
How do you look after your wellbeing outside of work?
Wellbeing for me comes in various forms – physical, mental, social and spiritual to name a few. I manage my physical wellbeing through a number of hobbies including cycling, skiing and hillwalking, as well as through my love of good food. I typically ensure my mental and social wellbeing through openly sharing my thoughts and feelings, and making sure I set time aside to engage and connect with family and friends. But when that’s not possible I do enjoy a good read, particularly non-fiction – this can be anything from academic/research papers on Systems Engineering, to motivational books by authors such as Simon Sinek. Finally, I would say my children are my purpose these days, so striving to do and be the best I can for them is very important to me.
If you could spend your lunchbreak with someone you really admire, who would you choose?
It would have to be Mark Wild, the former Crossrail CEO. This is predominantly due to how he embedded a Systems approach into Crossrail in order to manage the complexity and migration of the system, and also for how uncertainty was managed to allow for effective decision making.
If you had to pick, which mode of transport would you use for the rest of your life?
Definitely my bike, but as a father of 2, that makes the school run and Parent Taxi a challenge!