DC's Technical Director, 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.

Steve Mackay

Engineering Blog

  • Build a Learning Organisation Today

    Mar 24, 2020 | 00:01 am

    Build a Learning Organisation Today Dear Colleagues,Dr Jack Welch, a feisty chemical engineer,  died earlier this month. You may not  know who he was as he disappeared from the corporate scene a decade or so ago. He was the driven CEO of General Electric (or GE) – highly successful in growing the company to great heights – in fact, to one of the largest manufacturing and industrial companies in the USA (and indeed, the world). Whilst he was undoubtedly successful as a businessman, his argument on the need for the GE company to be a learning organisation resonates most with me.It is arguably easier to dig stuff out the ground as a miner than to keep innovating with new products in a manufacturing organisation when one thinks of the huge competition from the likes of China. Certainly, miners have the challenge in that  the prices they receive for their ore is predicated by buyers in[…]


  • Coronavirus, Virtual Collaboration and Online Learning

    Jan 28, 2020 | 06:13 am

    Coronavirus, Virtual Collaboration and Online Learning Dear ColleaguesThe debate is now moving to whether the current coronavirus (as I write this, more than a hundred people have died) is more virulent than the earlier SARS virus with suggestions that it is even spreading before symptoms are evident. Some comparisons are also being made about the influenza pandemic in 1918 when between 20 and 40 million died near the end of World War I. (More people died in a single year here than in the horrendous Black Death Bubonic Plague from 1347 to 1351).And we have Cyber Viruses of courseNaturally, there are a plethora of millions of cyber viruses being spread on a second-by-second basis through the internet. These are absolutely horrendously destructive to electronic media and have been known to shatter longstanding businesses and careers. But fortunately, with training and varied isolation techniques combined with a dose of common sense and pro-activeness, they can be kept[…]


  • Four Immutable Laws of Engineering

    Dec 17, 2019 | 07:40 am

    Four Immutable Laws of Engineering Dear Colleagues,As I was cycling into work this hot morning — forty degrees today —I was thinking about four incredible laws that we frequently use in engineering. Many of you would be familiar with them, but I see them come up so many times that I would thought I would revisit them. The First Law: When there is any doubt, there is no doubt.(Courtesy of the actor, Robert De Niro, I believe).If you are contemplating a structure, such as a support, and are worried about some evidence of corrosion weakening it, you would be virtually guaranteed that there is a problem with the structure because of corrosion. I notice that in a major bridge collapse in Johannesburg, there were some questions asked during the construction about the efficacy of the support, but no one applied this Law. It could have saved lives and avoided injuries if people had been more critical[…]


  • How to reconnect with your engineering audience when communication is fast breaking down

    Oct 16, 2019 | 02:26 am

    How to reconnect with your engineering audience when communication is fast breaking down Dear ColleaguesNo matter how good you are as a presenter, I am sure you have been in that horrible situation when you can see your audience fast losing interest in your presentation - from furtive looks out of the windows,  whispered interchanges, more intensive glances at phones or simply walking out on you - sometimes with not even a muttered excuse. You start feeling desperate at your critical information being ignored and simply lost. You may be passionate about your topic – but sometimes, your audience is bored.There are a few simple techniques (perhaps, tricks?) that I have used to reclaim my audience and to re-invigorate the presentation. There is at least one positive – you are aware of this drop-off in interest - unlike many presenters who continue droning on and on and essentially wasting their presentation.The first one is the quickestThe first technique is the quickest to implement.[…]


  • As an Engineering Professional or Company You Need a Deep Abiding Sense of Purpose

    May 6, 2019 | 06:22 am

    As an Engineering Professional or Company You Need a Deep Abiding Sense of Purpose Dear ColleaguesI would respectfully suggest that most people and their companies go about their day-to-day work without a strong sense of purpose. However, in achieving success and fulfillment it is absolutely critical for both you and the business you work for to seek an overriding purpose. Research ShowsResearch clearly shows that the finest companies are those that have a deep sense of purpose and employ people who similarly derive meaning from this purpose. This overarching sense of purpose drives everyone on a day-to-day basis and gives meaning to their work. As Nicholas Pearce (Professor from the Kellogg School of Management) remarks: The 'why we are here' drives the 'what we will do to achieve this'. Unfortunately, most companies in today's highly competitive landscape are driven simply by profit maximization. The financial pundits would fall about laughing if as CEO you indicated that you weren't particularly interested in profits but in providing meaning[…]


  • Dare to Change your Engineering Career Midstream

    Apr 26, 2019 | 07:05 am

    Dare to Change your Engineering Career Midstream Dear ColleaguesWith the rapid technology change occurring today resulting in tremendous career opportunities, there are increasing stories of engineering professionals changing their careers. There is always a huge risk when you change – you could be currently working in a great job paying well and you decide to change because you perceive there are better opportunities and perhaps, more exciting technical challenges. There is certainly a huge amount of change occurring in the engineering and technology areas with the strong growth of artificial intelligence, machine learning, increasing use of software in every endeavour, Internet of Things, drones, autonomous cars…..the list goes on and on.Source: Brainy QuoteA few suggestions if you are in this position and thinking of change.Carefully research the industry you are considering moving to. This means looking for real business trends in that industry – rising investment, major announcements, positive company results, share prices of companies and naturally[…]


  • As Engineering Professionals Lying Simply Ain’t Cool

    Apr 1, 2019 | 06:29 am

    As Engineering Professionals Lying Simply Ain’t Cool Dear ColleaguesOne only needs to think of the huge cases of lying and dishonesty within large industrial companies such as Volkswagen (car emissions fraud), Enron and Tyco (both accounting fraud), and the increasingly cynical commentary about these cases from a weary public to wonder whether this is a fast growing trend. I often wonder whether it is simply about people regarding it as a playful attempt at gaming the system rather than believing these cases are fraudulent.However, there is no doubt that these cases above are simply representative of blatant dishonesty and lying. Ron Carucci has done extensive research on the issue and believes that there are a number of simple reasons why dishonesty and lying penetrates an organisation – no matter whether you are running a tiny plumbing company with three employees or a billion dollar industrial enterprise selling electrical switchgear throughout the world with tens of thousands of[…]


  • Reviewing Engineering Projects with a Meticulous Pre-Assessment or Pre-Mortem

    Mar 1, 2019 | 08:05 am

    Reviewing Engineering Projects with a Meticulous Pre-Assessment or Pre-Mortem Dear ColleaguesAs we all know – projects fail at a regular rate. Particularly software projects. Gary Klein has referred to doing a thorough review of a project before it actually commences by visualising that it has finished in outright failure – something he labels a pre-mortem.We all do post mortems on projects – particularly ones that flame out spectacularly and where one often is seeking to…. as the old adage goes: ‘to reward the guilty and punish the innocent.’ So this is an innovative suggestion to think about what could go wrong with the project before it even commences.The suggestion for a pre-mortem from Deborah J. Mitchell (et al.) of Wharton School of Business is to imagine that the project has already occurred, and to detail the reasons for failure. This is said to help improve the identification of risks ‘by 30%’.  I do wonder about the precision quoted here,[…]


  • As Engineers Always Stick to Simple English

    Feb 19, 2019 | 04:33 am

    As Engineers Always Stick to Simple English Dear Colleagues,Surely, the KISS principle is one of the most useful engineering tools we have in our armory (KISS means Keep it Simple Stupid, for those who have forgotten). This should be applied to our writing so that it is simple and easy to understand.But this principle is often forgotten. Perhaps, the overriding consideration we mistakenly have is to impress our audience with lots of gigantic words. I believe it is a privilege when someone is reading your communications. Therefore, you should ensure you respond appropriately to make it as easy as possible to understand what you are endeavoring to get across.Spource: AZ QuotesEngineering Professionals Most of the communications that engineering professionals write are to colleagues – in my opinion – and this results in the use of lots of technology gobbledygook. Obviously one doesn’t want to descend to childish levels and treat one’s audience like complete orangutans with overly[…]


  • As an Engineering Professional Always Work Hard on Getting Accurate Feedback

    Feb 1, 2019 | 06:29 am

    As an Engineering Professional Always Work Hard on Getting Accurate Feedback Dear ColleaguesIt is always hard to know genuinely how well or badly you are doing in your job when you try and get honest opinions from those around you. Especially if you are leading a team. The last thing on their mind is for a team member to give you an honest appraisal of how you are doing. In case it damages their position or irritates you. Thus you will often hear that you are tracking extraordinarily well and are the epitomy of success. Often this is very far from the truth.Thus a few strategies are sketched out below to get some good hard honest feedback on how you are performing. Often extraordinarily painful but ….one can’t hide from the brutal truth. And once you have key information about deficiencies (and indeed, great things you do or have done); you can work on improving on these problems. Actionable solid feedback[…]


  • Make Engineering Learning and Development Part of Your Mantra in your Job and Team

    Sep 19, 2018 | 04:02 am

    Make Engineering Learning and Development Part of Your Mantra in your Job and Team Dear ColleaguesWe talk about ongoing learning and development for people all the time but I believe many managers only pay lip service to genuine learning opportunities. Many times, an employee is on a training course to ‘tick the box’ to comply with some ‘magical’ company development plan.We all need to make learning a key part of what we do in business. Not only does this provide useful technical skills but it helps to boost the firm’s culture in a positive way. There is no doubt in my mind that a huge amount of training is totally wasted with no tangible outcomes besides having a ‘jolly’ at the firm’s expense.Source: Meg Handley/Penn State NewsHumble SuggestionsA few suggestions on building learning as a key part of your activities:You should always talk to your colleagues about how your learning is genuinely boosting your skills and expertise. You have finished a course on variable[…]


  • Curiosity Didn’t Kill the Engineering Cat

    Aug 21, 2018 | 04:00 am

    Curiosity Didn’t Kill the Engineering Cat Dear ColleaguesWe wouldn’t have breakthrough discoveries without that wonderful quality – curiosity - from inventing fire, the aircraft  to the Google search engine. That magical feeling  that goes about investigating  new information, pondering on a different way of doing something or  simply trying something out new (and often having that incredible  ‘Ah hah’ moment) is an innate quality we all have.No More BoredomWithout curiosity we would have a very boring and unproductive world. It is key to your success in your  engineering career. However, many managers and companies fear it as it can be rather disruptive and encourage chaos. Something engineering professionals with their love of order aren’t always fond of. Certainly, you don’t want chaotic curiosity occurring  in a bridge design otherwise you may have some catastrophic results.Without any question – curiosity is particularly important to engineering professionals and their organisations in lifting one’s  creativity and strengths. It improves[…]


  • 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[…]


  • 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,[…]


  • 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[…]