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Building a career beneath the waves

Building a career beneath the waves


22 Sep, 2020

Austin Phillips and Richard Purdy – engineers from SMD, independent designer and manufacturer of work class and specialist subsea ROVs – tell us about the paths that led them to a career in subsea engineering …

One of the most difficult questions we are ever asked is what career we would like to pursue. Where do we see ourselves in five years’ time? Even if you do have an answer, there could be a whole spectrum of routes available to you – for example, you may dream of becoming an engineer, but in what speciality? There may even be routes you hadn’t thought of before. So, whether you have your mind set on becoming an engineer and want to know what options are available, or you are about to make some key academic decisions for your future employment, we’re here to help. In this article we’ve teamed up with SMD, the world’s largest independent designer and manufacturer of work class and specialist subsea remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), to find out how some of its engineers built their careers and what advice they would give those who are just starting out. 

Graduating into a career 

Austin Phillips is a graduate mechanical engineer at SMD. He notes that the graduate path is a great place to start as an engineer, as you get a feel for various areas of the business, from customer interaction to design. For example, while Austin is currently working in the services department on an upgrade job, he recently worked on a repair job for a part that broke down in the field. He was tasked with redesigning the part in order to strengthen it. 

So, how did Austin achieve this, and what advice would he give to those looking to set a good foundation for a career upon graduating? 

‘I personally didn’t know too much about the industry when I graduated,’ he admits. ‘I had a few jobs after graduating before I came to SMD. So, for anyone looking at getting into subsea engineering, I’d definitely recommend reading up on it as much as you can to get an idea of the products and clients in this sector.’
It’s certainly been worth the work too, as Austin describes the sense of achievement and pride he gets when seeing something he designs ‘come to life’ on the shop floor.

Motivation for a future as a principal engineer

For those that decide to get into engineering as a career, like Austin, what’s waiting at the top? 

As a principal engineer at SMD, Richard Purdy is required to manage a team of draftsmen and engineers to make sure their workloads are balanced correctly. He also deals with any issues around people management during any given project, as well as checking and approving engineering designs and drawings. Richard also deals with technical reviews throughout the day, so he certainly has a lot of responsibilities. 

In addition, Richard also helps new starters and graduates find their feet as engineers and move on to the next level of their careers. With so much going on in his role, we asked him what the most exciting part of working on subsea components and devices is. 

‘The best part for me is having the ability to take something from a blank piece of paper and see it through to the end, putting it on the back of a ship and then down to work underwater,’ Richard explains. ‘There are very few jobs still out there that you can do that in terms of the timescales – to see something from the very start, at concept, to actually seeing it working. With a lot of engineering roles, you just see the design – you don’t get to see the manufacturing of it. So, for me, that’s the best bit.’ 

And what about advice for aspiring engineers, especially those looking at a career in subsea components? 

‘I actually studied agricultural engineering,’ Richard continues. ‘So, I got an interview based around my background in agricultural engineering. Engineering is engineering. It’s the application that changes. The fundamental principles of mechanical engineering stay the same, whether it’s subsea vehicles or combine harvesters!’

Aspiring engineers take note …

Whatever your current field of study within engineering, there is certainly a unique scope to diversify into other sectors within the engineering sector. If you like the idea of not only designing parts and components, but seeing them being built, tested and put to work in real time, subsea engineering could be the hidden gem of a career path you’ve been looking for. 

Article reproduced with kind permission of SMD,