A go-getter, McDonald’s used his own initiative to gain work placements as far afield as India, helping him gain a place on the IET’s Power Academy, and opening doors into the sector.
Bob McDonald is a project engineer at Siemens Transmission and Distribution Ltd (STDL), currently working at the company’s energy headquarters in Germany (Siemens AG) and preparing for his chartership application.
A very successful engineer, it’s been his self-motivation and go-getting attitude that’s helped him get to where he is today.
McDonald chose to study Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the Queen’s University of Belfast for five years (he started in a foundation year, then onto the Bachelors, and finally the Masters) concentrating mainly on the "power" side during his final years.
He had to take a foundation year due to his choice in A levels (Maths, Technology and Design and Art and Design) which sadly meant the option of a sandwich year wasn’t available to him at the time. However, this didn’t stop him, and he proactively hunted down work placements during summer breaks in order to be on par with his fellow students.
"I had managed to get experience working in India as well as in Scotland during university," he says.
"My old technology teacher had moved to India and I’d kept in touch with him. I met up with him during a visit in Belfast and asked if he knew of any electrical engineers who’d take on a trainee.
"The school he was working in back in India was actually being electrically renovated and so he gave me the contact details of the head engineer and it went from there," he explains.
"I put together a CV and cover letter and the managing director - Lyle Lopez - wrote back saying sure, we’ll find something for you if you can make it over here.
"I basically got to work at the school, in the foothills of the Himalayas during a hot and humid Indian summer. Lyle had to stay in New Delhi to work on a metro project, so he gave me the responsibility of interfacing between the engineers, architect, school and himself whilst he was away. It was amazing, fantastic, and I even met my wife there."
On returning to complete his education in the UK, McDonald applied for a place on the Power Academy, an IET initiative that supports talented students interested in careers within the power sector. While studying for a degree, scholars get a £2000 pa bursary and paid vacation training placements amongst other things.
After being accepted he was given a placement at the Manchester office of STDL, which grew into his current position, and found the financial support a godsend for his final year.
"To me, the main benefit was that it gave me an open door to my company now. It’s a very good route to get your foot in the door, all you need to do then is prove yourself," he explains.
"However, the benefit of getting £2000 for your final year was also great. I did part-time bar work right up to my final year. The fact I was able to concentrate all my time on my studies in my final year was amazingly helpful," he adds.
At the end of McDonald’s degree, STDL offered him a position on their graduate scheme based in Manchester. During his time there, he had the opportunity to learn from many experienced and knowledgeable people.
"I had gained experience from working in the different divisions which I had short placements in, and was able to get a good picture and understanding of the complete project lifecycle from the tendering phase up to the completion phase. Some of my highlights include working on site at the gas insulated switchgear substation project 'Rayleigh' and the air insulated switchgear substation 'Lynn and Inner Dowsing' offshore wind farm, and preparing a tender for the Greater Gabbard offshore wind farm project."
"At the end of my two years as a graduate engineer, I was given the chance to move to Germany and work at our energy headquarters in Erlangen, Germany. Here, I am working as a project engineer with responsibilities that cross the barriers of both project management and design - again, strengthening my experiences gained from the graduate scheme. It’s also quite strange to be now working on projects that I had helped with during the tender phase with those people who have now become my customer."
"There are a lot of interesting points to working here in Germany, the best by far is having a close contact with the main developers of our state of the art products - especially as I had studied the technology in depth while at university."
Currently McDonald is part of the team that provides the reactive compensation plant for the UK projects - in particular, Siemens’ newly developed product SVC PLUS. It will be used to ensure the wind farms meet National Grid's conditions for connection and therefore ensure that the wind farm doesn't have to be disconnected from the grid when it could be providing green power to the country.
Everything McDonald has experienced at STDL will help go towards the competencies he needs to 'tick' for chartership, and he feels it won’t be long before he can apply. He’s happy with what he’s achieved so far and has many more goals he is already working towards when it comes to career progression.
He leaves with these parting words for fellow engineers, and those in training:
"It doesn’t happen by itself. You can get the doors opened, but it’s you that has to go through them. At times you really have to push yourself and work hard, and when something doesn’t work one way, then you find a different way, a different route. I could take myself as an example. I got some lucky breaks, but at the same time, when I got them, I made sure I worked and they’ve counted."