When I grow up, I want to be an engineer!

When I grow up, I want to be an engineer!

31 October 2019
Engineer engineering
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Engineering schools are still as popular as ever. Why? Do we really know what an engineer is? Their backgrounds? Their daily lives? To answer this, we met up with three of them to find out more about their profession, their experience, and what motivated them to go down the engineering route.

When I was younger, I didn’t especially want to be an engineer. I was just mad about science and wanted to apply formulae and see the results. That’s most likely why I originally saw engineering from the point of view of solving problems rather than creating things from nothing”, says Tom Goulding, a senior mechanical engineer.

Meccano and science: the makings of an engineer?

Now 28, Tom recalls playing with Meccano a lot as a child and he also remembers his high-school physics teacher. “He inspired me and therefore influenced me in my interest in science and my choice of studies. I didn’t have a mentor as such, but my family and that teacher were definitely two of the reasons why I chose the career I did.”

Eric Devingt, 61, head of Assystem’s Connect Business Unit, dedicated to command and control systems and industrial IT, also remembers playing with Meccano for hours on end. “At the time I loved making models and building things. And later I began to really enjoy the technical side too. When it came to choosing my engineering school, I didn’t want one that was too focused on research. I needed to be able to apply what I was being taught. So I chose INPG (now called INP-Phelma) in Grenoble to study electronics and radioelectricity. That was in 1981”, he reminisces.

Conversely, Benoît Blassel, 34, operations director for reactors at Assystem, started out with a passion for the basic sciences. His perception of an engineer was quite hazy. “I had a very romantic but not very contemporary image of an engineer. To me, the personification of an engineer was someone like Edison. The type of inventor who designs an aircraft engine on his drawing board! I didn’t realise that key aspects of an engineer’s work involve pre-design studies, a long and meticulous design phase, and producing highly precise documentation.”

So when Benoît went to the prestigious École Polytechnique engineering school, he thought he would go into research. But he changed direction. “I wanted to embark on a more dynamic and hands-on career, with immediate social and economic challenges and a sort of winning mindset.” So for his fourth-year industry practical studies he chose the Institut National des Sciences et Techniques Nucléaires (INSTN) and training in nuclear engineering.

Are engineers all perfectionists?

Despite the age differences between them, all the engineers we spoke to talked about how long and technically complex engineering projects can be. “My close friends and family often say to me ‘even after 40 years we still don’t understand what you do exactly, but it seems great!’ And it’s true that we do get involved in a lot of different things,” laughs Eric, “But what really characterises engineering for me is the fact that you have to carefully study what you’re going to build before you actually build it. Whether it’s a bridge, road, calculator, nuclear power station or medical radiology system, every time the project is highly technical, and foundations need to be put down before any bricks can be laid.”

And Tom sums it up by saying “You need to like solving problems and be devoted to constantly improving the performances and quality of processes and equipment.”

So we’ve understood that engineers need to be perseverant. But Benoît adds that in the nuclear sector it’s also important to really believe in your project. “When I joined this industry, I discovered the world of major infrastructure projects. It’s important to realise that it takes a lot of time from when a project is first thought up to when it is actually carried out. For example, the design work on what would become the EPR started in the late 1980s. So it’s an industry where you really have to have a firm belief in what you’re doing. A belief I quickly felt when I saw how nuclear reactors are some of the most complex objects that we’re capable of building today.

Messages to future generations

Looking at the career paths of these three engineers – in France and the UK – we can see that engineers are professionals who are both meticulous and dynamic, and are always ready to face and solve complex problems.

All three engineers are passionate about their work and are keen to encourage younger generations to join them. “It’s one thing to be attracted by tech, construction and machines. But when you see what we’re capable of doing when we share that passion with others, that’s when engineering comes into its own”, says Benoît. “I’d love for everyone to be able to experience the incredible feeling you get when you’re confronted for the first time by a mammoth machine which has been built despite originally seeming an impossible task.”

Tom also praises this collective intelligence. As he sees it, “to improve the quality of a machine you need to be tenacious, but the essential thing for an engineer is to be able to work in a team.”

Eric, meanwhile, advises future engineers to work their way up through a profession that offers a whole range of jobs. “We often hear young people say they want to be project managers. And that’s good. But a project manager needs to manage, and before managing you need to actually do! This might seem a bit old fashioned, but I’d really recommend the engineers of tomorrow to get out there in the field to see the design and tech of machines and take part in the construction and test phases. That’s what I think makes an engineer. And it’s what makes a good manager afterwards.

 

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Benoît Blassel

Operations Director of Nuclear Reactors entity Assystem

Eric Devingt

Director of Assystem Connect entity Assystem

Tom Goulding

Senior Mechanical Engineer Assystem

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