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Q&A: Working as an Engineering Project Manager

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“What makes a great engineer is not the highest academic grades, but a personality based on the need to solve problems and find elegant solutions.”

One of our recently placed Engineering candidates chats to Cormac Malone about life as Project Manager in a Medical Device company in Ireland and what inspired him to get involved in the engineering industry.

Can you describe your current role – what are your main responsibilities?

I’m a Project manager in a Medical Device Company. The role gives me ownership of delivering projects from early concept phase to delivery into the market.

I form teams of all those involved in delivering the project (a large array of members from inside and outside the company, and across the world). With this team we align on the project definition and scope, align on the schedule and develop a budget for approval.

My role is to facilitate this process and work to keep the project on track; which means that every time a problem or unexpected event arises, I bring together subsets of the team to find a solution to the problem that minimises the impact on scope, schedule or budget.

Technically I own the big picture of the project (project plan) and own making sure that all the finer details are worked out and resolved (by others). It’s a lot of time working with small teams to bring a ‘what makes sense’ / ‘what can be achieved’ perspective to conversations.

Have you always had an interest in engineering? What made you choose your current career path?

Engineering was an obvious college choice because of my aptitude for STEM subjects in secondary school, without any level of understanding of what working as an Engineer would be like.

I have remained in an Engineering career because I find the work enjoyable, challenging and fulfilling. At its essence, the job of an engineer is to find solutions to problems. Whether that’s to resolve a deeply technical design issue or to overcome an organisational roadblock hindering a project.

What makes a great engineer is not the highest academic grades but a personality based on the need to solve problems and find elegant solutions.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

I like the satisfaction of starting with a problem or project that hasn’t been done or solved before and delivering a positive result.

It’s about collecting as much information as is available, working with a team to sort the meaningful from the noise, coming up with a vision of how to get to the end and delivering the solution.

I like solving problems others have failed to do.

What do you find challenging about your job?

In all businesses, there are roadblocks to doing a good job based on politics and vested interests. Navigating these to deliver the right solution for the customer/business can be challenging and can feel like an unnecessary use of energy.

What’s one thing someone from outside your industry would find surprising/interesting about your day to day work life?

What surprised me in my first engineering role, and it has held true since is that your ability to work with people is as important as your ability to understand the technology.

It’s well reported that women are underrepresented in the engineering industry, what has your experience been like? Do you think this is a fair representation?

No group of people should never be excluded from opportunities to pursue a career that interests them. The hiring and promotion process I’ve been involved in have been open and fair.

The best engineers I’ve encountered have a reasonable mix of demographics (as have the poorer engineers). Looking at the demography of any career and saying it should exactly match the demography of the country is a simple-minded way of looking at this.

What’s the salary like and the opportunity for career progression?

Salary is market driven. In the current economy, it’s pretty good. Progression is down to the individual, their desire, their drive and a good mentor to navigate the path to career fulfilment (which is more important than promotion.)

What advice would you give to someone who wants a similar career to yours?

Find a role you enjoy. Focus on the positives, not the negatives (there will be some)
Have honest conversations with more experienced people to:

  1. Help you decide in which direction you want to guide your career
  2. Solicit their advice on how to progress in the desired direction.

If you are interested in learning more about engineering in Ireland or are looking for a new engineering job opportunity get in touch, I’d be delighted to advise.