Technical Director, IDC TechnologiesSteve Mackay

Steve has worked mainly in the industrial automation and data communications fields throughout Australia, Europe, Africa and North America for the past 30 years. Although perhaps initially greeted with some scepticism, he pioneered the application of new technologies such as industrial data communications systems with great success.

He has been responsible for activities ranging from detailed hardware and software design for control systems to the management of the design, installation and commissioning of complex control systems in industries such as power, mining, mineral processing, oil and gas and petrochemical.

Steve has also presented numerous courses world-wide on industrial data communications, data acquisition and process control and the impact of new technologies on instrumentation and control to over 18,000 engineers and technicians, and has a particular interest in practical and leading edge aspects of engineering practice. He has had 25 of his books (3 of them of which he was a co-author and the remainder for which he has acted as editor) being accepted for publication by Elsevier throughout the world on aspects of engineering. He has recently been elected a Fellow of the Australian Institution of Engineers in recognition of his work in engineering worldwide. In between his engineering activities - consultancy, training and publishing; he is currently working on software allowing real time collaboration and training between engineering professionals located at different locations throughout the world.

He is a professional engineer and has gained a PhD, BSc(Electrical Engineering), BSc(Hons) in Physics, an MBA and a Masters of Management Research. He is currently Technical Director with IDC Technologies, a growing engineering training and publishing firm operating from offices throughout the world which he founded in 1992. When not working he enjoys being with his lovely wife and two children, reading historical novels, drinking good red wine and travelling to remote locations.

 

Engineering & Technical Blog

Steve Mackay enjoys keeping his weekly blog up-to-date with useful tips and current industry matters for his fellow colleagues. He has a loyal and expanding following base reaching over 300,000 people around the world.

Engineering Blog

  • What to do when you are overworked and overwhelmed

    Aug 9, 2018 | 01:03 am

    What to do when you are overworked and overwhelmed Dear ColleaguesAs we all know – at various times one can be absolutely overwhelmed with work and ‘issues’ to deal with. Nothing unusual in the engineering workforce especially with project type work and harsh deadlines to meet. Examples of stress include: you may feel that you can’t cope with yet another email as you have this seemingly unlimited list of tasks to do; the phone is ringing with urgent requests; people are shouting at you for your decision on a crucial project; you have to prepare for an awkward presentation next week… and there are snide comments about possible cost overruns with a project you are managing. And to add insult to injury, you may feel that in your leisure time at home that you should be working to catch up.It is important to deal with these times effectively so that you can pop out the other side with the[…]

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  • How to Beat YourMidLife (Engineering) Career Crisis Blues

    Aug 6, 2018 | 07:04 am

    How to Beat YourMidLife (Engineering) Career Crisis Blues Dear ColleaguesI believe most of us get to some stage in our lives where you start asking the inevitable questions such as: am I doing the right thing; am I in the right company or career; am I progressing somewhere; am I going to be financially secure when I am older; isn’t this work somewhat predictable and boring; should I be doing something more exciting and rewarding…. ?This is where you are seeking more meaning, fulfilment and satisfaction in your career (and indeed, life) against the backdrop of the usual financial pressures of  paying off a home, car and putting the kids through (private) school and trying to afford an upcoming entertaining vacation. A veritable vice grip of constraints. And naturally, in keeping your family relationships on an even happy keel.This questioning period happens especially in mid life. You have realized that you aren’t immortal – time is moving on,[…]

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  • Listen carefully to their Body Language when Understanding Engineers

    Jul 31, 2018 | 23:31 pm

    Listen carefully to their Body Language when Understanding Engineers Dear ColleaguesWhen I am discussing a critical issue with a colleague and confirming that he has ‘got it and agrees with my sentiments’, I also look carefully at his body language and I am never disappointed. Arms folded tightly, a quizzical frown and avoiding a direct glance are sure signals that what I have said hasn’t gone down well and disagreement is in the air.You need to study body language – that interesting combination of facial and eye movements and limbs -  perhaps overlaced with the tone of your voice. Apparently, only 10% of the meaning transferred between two people talking is via words – the rest – a huge 90%  is through that ungainly combination of tone of voice and body language.How to Use Body Language more EffectivelyTypical elements of body language include:Closed Body Posture. This means the person is hunched over, arms tightly wrapped around the body, legs[…]

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  • Most Strategic Plans aren’t strategic

    Apr 9, 2018 | 23:59 pm

    Most Strategic Plans aren’t strategic Dear ColleaguesNo matter whether you are an electrician operating a one-woman business in the middle of the Great Sandy Desert or a Chief Engineer of the largest car company in the world – you need to have a strategic plan to operate to, so that you can continue to operate successfully as a business. Most people don’t really know what a strategic plan really is.But these strategic plans are hugely helpful in keeping your enterprise on target in achieving great things.Not even close to a Strategic Plan As Graham Kenny in the Harvard Business Review remarked recently (‘Your Strategic Plans Probably Aren’t Strategic, or Even Plans’), most senior level managers often have no idea what a strategic plan really is. Typically examples thrown around for strategic plans include: achieve $50m turnover by next year/communicate better with stakeholders/donate 10% of profits to charity/launch a new engineering support service…and so forth. None[…]

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  • Garbage In, Garbage Out applies particularly to the Internet of Things (IoT)

    Apr 5, 2018 | 04:25 am

    Garbage In, Garbage Out applies particularly to the Internet of Things (IoT) Dear ColleaguesI clearly remember when computing started taking off, about the wry remark referring to garbage in, garbage out. This referred to a marvelous computer program developed at huge cost being fed absolutely useless data and thus spitting out useless information it had derived from the data. This is even more true today with the advent of machine learning and the internet of things (IoT). Imagine training your computer program in a machine learning application with shoddy data. The results could be catastrophic. And this is indeed what is happening today. In the frantic rush to write the best programs to predict outcomes, we often lose sight of the desperate need to ensure our data is valid and reasonable. I have some feeling for this challenge – as I have just completed a course on machine learning. This problem will definitely impact on you as an engineering professional and it is[…]

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  • Top engineering and technology trends for 2018: you need to STEEM forward vigorously

    Feb 7, 2018 | 07:15 am

    Top engineering and technology trends for 2018: you need to STEEM forward vigorously Image credit: ©everythingpossible/Dollar Photo ClubAt a recent function for would-be students of our engineering college on the need for more of a STEM focus, I was sharply corrected by a good colleague who remarked that we should think rather of STEEM: science, technology, engineering, entrepreneurship and mathematics. And he is so absolutely right.My take on the industrial automation industry in Australia is that we do not have enough entrepreneurial activity with a global focus. With the huge downsizing in employment at the large Australian mining and manufacturing companies, we need other entrepreneurial ventures to take up the employment slack in the engineering industries. For example, an inspirational Australian entrepreneurial company in the industrial automation sphere that I once worked for embraced this and went onto huge success globally: Citect (now part of Schneider Electric) created world-class SCADA software that took the world by storm.The evidence of a rapidly changing jobs[…]

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  • Make your Engineering Job Meaningful

    Jan 2, 2018 | 07:30 am

    Make your Engineering Job Meaningful Dear Colleagues I am always humbled by many people’s pride in what would initially appear to be a horrific job. These range from those who clean up often horrific levels of sewage and waste / work with toxic chemicals / operate on remote and harsh mine sites. You see the obvious level of pride and skill in their work coupled with a tremendous camaraderie and most importantly – a purpose in what they are doing. And then I see some engineering professionals - often well paid with what appears to be good jobs - who absolutely hate what they are doing and make sure everyone knows how dissatisfied they are. Why do some hate and others loveI thus puzzle why there are differences in how people approach their work. After all – it is a huge part of your life and it is best to either ‘chuck it in’ or re-assess how you[…]

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  • Fixed Price versus Variable (time and materials) Contracts

    Aug 29, 2017 | 03:02 am

    Fixed Price versus Variable (time and materials) Contracts Dear colleagues When you are on a fixed salary in a company life is pretty certain. But in the more fraught world of consultant and contractor, life can be considerably more complex and financially tricky when dealing with contracts that require you to deliver a specific outcome. Remember if you don’t handle these correctly, you will end up considerably poorer despite putting in an enormous amount of hours working. So it is worth re-considering the different options here as discussed below.In a simplistic way, as a contractor, you can bid for work in three ways. Fixed price contracts. These arrangements lock you into a price. Generally, come hell or high water, whatever happens, this is the price you as the consultant or contractor get paid for delivering a specific outcome.Time and materials. You get paid for both your hours spent on the job as well as the materials supplied to the client. Two[…]

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  • How to Get Noticed in the Engineering Job Market

    Aug 22, 2017 | 07:43 am

    How to Get Noticed in the Engineering Job Market Dear ColleaguesI bumped into an engineering friend the other day – unfortunately he has been out of work for a number of months and is in his late fifties. He was becoming somewhat despondent about the employment situation and at his age it is undoubtedly tough. Employers are very cautious about employing engineering ‘veterans’ no matter how good they are. Unless the employers have a specific need for the specialised skill that you may have.My take on it is that if you are idling without work;  you have to work every angle you can lay your hands on to get back into employment. The longer you are out of the workforce; the harder it is to get back in. Statistically, it is said that up to 80% of new jobs are never advertised. So what you see on the job’s website and in the newspapers are only a poor shadow of[…]

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  • Some spectacular engineering failures with simple solutions

    Aug 15, 2017 | 02:42 am

    Some spectacular engineering failures with simple solutions Dear Colleagues As you all know – common sense is NOT so common around here when it comes to avoiding industrial failures. Often these failures are caused by avoidable (always) strategies such as good maintenance, better quality equipment and better training for staff.Historically, a hundred years ago a telegraph problem  could have disrupted a few people’s lives – however the scale today of the impact of an electrical failure (power or communications) can be huge.Some examples of these spectacular failures (as listed in the IEEE Your Engineering Heritage: The $25 Million Ceiling Fan and the £100 Million Server by Robert Colburn) are quite laughable but were hugely painful to all involved:British AirwaysThe most recent failure which you may remember was the British Airways fiasco which probably cost the airline of the order of $120m involving a damaged computer server (and perhaps some inadequate training in remedying the problem). This caused the[…]

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  • As Engineers We Need to Work Across Countries and Cultures

    Aug 8, 2017 | 02:38 am

    As Engineers We Need to Work Across Countries and Cultures Dear Colleagues As you all know, the global workforce is rapidly growing. And it is rapidly becoming more multicultural and multinational. We all have our own cultures, skills, behaviours and attitudes about life and work which are generally focussed on our local environment or town. However companies are increasingly straddling borders or are required to work with suppliers/clients and partners in different countries. Fortunately for some of us, the English language is becoming the key language used; but cultures and attitudes don’t line up that  that easily.I marvel at the different cultures and languages around the world and would hate to see everything crushed into one uniform Macdonalds type culture.A few suggestions follow in boosting your positive interaction with your engineering colleagues  in different countries with different cultures.A researcher, Ms Tsedal Neeley, reckons there are five attributes you require to successfully work in this new environment. These are: Delight in Positive IndifferenceIgnore[…]

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  • Safety Margins Can be Often Tricky

    Jul 25, 2017 | 02:29 am

    Safety Margins Can be Often Tricky Dear Colleagues In the past few years; we have seen some spectacular collapses of buildings and bridges. This is quite inexplicable to today’s structural designer and engineer who puts enormous effort into the careful use of materials and huge safety margins. In addition, it is not only about care in design but also in putting into place monitoring mechanisms for the life of the structure.However, when a designer is operating at the limit of their expertise; mistakes still occur. One of the questions with the Deepwater Horizon oil rig which exploded with massive damage was in the use of cement (coupled with nitrogen gas) a few kms under the seabed – as to whether it did indeed have the strength required to prevent a massive gas and oil surge. As we know, cement as a proven structural material has been around since Roman times – but for perhaps more predictable environments.The[…]

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  • How to Create Meaning in your Engineering Work

    Jul 18, 2017 | 02:24 am

    How to Create Meaning in your Engineering Work Dear Colleagues As an old pal of mine, once remarked about his career: ‘Find out what you enjoy doing which adds value to other peoples’ lives and never ever work again’. What he was saying is that if you can do something at work  which gives you meaning to your life and which you truly enjoy; you really have a great job which is the same as your hobby. Corporations Spend MillionsCorporations spend millions of dollars on trying to motivate their staff and give them meaning to their work. One only needs to think of hospitals instilling the need to be caring about other people and a well known car company who promotes safety. However, this spirit of meaning, tends to disappear when engaged in the daily grind of work.There is no doubt that if you feel there is an inner purpose to your job and you feel very satisfied in it[…]

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  • How to Quickly Defuse a Ferocious Argument

    Jul 11, 2017 | 02:16 am

    How to Quickly Defuse a Ferocious Argument Dear Colleagues Ferocious and violent arguments are the part of life in engineering. Needless to say, they are rarely productive. And often very damaging to relationships and self esteem. A few suggestions on breaking an argument in its tracks and focussing on positive productive outcomes  follows…. An Argument over Defective SoftwareI have been involved in many meaningless arguments which have got heated and always regretted the unproductivity of them all. I remember having a vigorous exchange of views on testing control software for a large gas-fired power station. The project manager didn’t believe a black start was necessary to test the software in its entirety as he felt it (the software) was fine in the preliminary tests. I didn’t trust the software and wanted to do a thorough and meticulous test under real world conditions.This resulted in such an acrimonious exchange between me and the project manager that we forgot to pay[…]

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  • Originally from the Wild West, we engineers now need to be attuned to style and culture

    Apr 23, 2008 | 01:12 am

    Dear ColleaguesI must confess I have always imagined engineers and technicians as the rough and tough, Wild West action types (who work out in the field in pioneering conditions), compared to our more dilettante, cultured brothers and sisters in Law, Medicine and the Arts. In a book entitled Does the Engineer Need Culture?,  Prof. John Peck from City College, in New York remarked that engineers were “rough, tough spirits” who took “pride in cultivating construction-camp and bar-room manners rather than the deportment that would grace a drawing room”. Robert Noyce, the co-inventor of the integrated circuit, who himself came from the small town of Grinnell, in Iowa, said: “In a small town, when something breaks down, you don’t wait around for a new part because it’s not coming. “You make it yourself.” Interestingly, many of the founders of Silicon Valley came from small rural towns. In the biography; ‘The Tinkerings[…]

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