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

  • 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[…]


  • 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[…]


  • 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[…]


  • 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[…]


  • 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[…]


  • 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[…]


  • 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[…]


  • 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[…]


  • 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[…]


  • 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[…]


  • 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[…]


  • Engineering Professionals Need to Keep a Journal or Log

    Jul 4, 2017 | 02:11 am

    Engineering Professionals Need to Keep a Journal or Log Dear ColleaguesAs you bump (race?) up the ladder of an organization, keeping a journal can be really useful. No, I am not referring to making an accounting journal entry but a ‘diary entry’ as we in the Commonwealth English speaking world often refer to it. Or in shipping parlance, sometimes referred to as the ‘captain’s log’. Journals can be Really UsefulJournals are useful for two reasons, I believe: firstly, to cover yourself when there are disagreements about what really happened some time back – and secondly (more importantly) – to be able replay back events some time later where you can ponder why things turned out as they did. And perhaps to help drive improvements in what you do and to track how you are progressing towards your overall plan for the business or your career.The best thinking comes from structured reflection using your journal as a tool to peruse what[…]


  • Open up a New Engineering Business To Reduce Crime

    Jun 27, 2017 | 01:37 am

    Open up a New Engineering Business To Reduce Crime Dear ColleaguesI was fascinated but not surprised about the impact you can make on reducing crime in your local area – simply by being more entrepreneurial and opening a local retail or manufacturing business. Well - any business where people are employed and clients visit you. Recent Research Worldwide, there has been an uptick in mixed use development – combining residential and commercial properties in the same area. This makes it an easier commute and strengthens the local character.Some interesting recent research showed that when retail establishments in Los Angeles were closed, crime jumped in these areas. Typical crimes that were reduced with people meandering about (i.e. foot traffic) are the usual ones - car and home break-ins.People do speculate that certain businesses attract crime but this is especially not evident in this study (where medical marijuana dispensaries were shut down – Yes !). Similar patterns were shown for restaurants that[…]


  • 16 Habits to Write Brilliant Engineering Code or Run a Brilliant Engineering Project

    Jun 20, 2017 | 01:34 am

    16 Habits to Write Brilliant Engineering Code or Run a Brilliant Engineering Project Dear Colleagues We all know that habits can be powerful in achieving great things (e.g. timekeeping or exercising/studying regularly) or descending into the depths (smoking, drinking or eating too much).When we think of habits, I guess we mainly think of the latter ones. And once you have a bad habit, it is verily a devil to break out of.Some really great suggestions for good habits are listed below in helping to write great code but they actually apply to any part of working on an engineering project.The reason why I mention these habits now  is that I have been undertaking a Python programming course to undertake some probably ambitious engineering software projects.They can be broken down into three areas…. Team work Writing of code Commissioning and Maintenance Teamwork Finish the Project as PlannedStick to your original plan and finish the project on time and to the right level of quality. It is[…]


  • 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[…]