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Darren Johnston

"For me, joining the IET was about professional recognition and I could continue my learning and professional development with the organisation. With the IET you’ve got access to a lot of different resources."

Darren Johnston

Profile

Darren works as a project engineer at Sellafield Ltd, but has had a very varied career. He changed degrees after two years; moving from mechanical to electronic engineering and turned a sandwich year into a three year work placement with Ericsson Mobile Communications. Since then he’s worked with an Internet start-up, created his own company and more recently founded a career for himself at Sellafield Ltd.

Career History

Although Darren’s career may come across as a crazy mish-mash of roles across a variety of sectors, he’s actually built a highly varied skill set that helped him enormously during his application for CEng status. Through the various roles he’s undertaken, he’s managed to garner experience in many different sectors of engineering, allowing himself to have the freedom to work in areas as varied as mechanical, electrical and software engineering as well as R&D.

“I’ve been privileged to gain exposure and work experience in electronic, software and mechanical engineering and I think that helped me become Chartered because it’s a really good spread. These skills also led me to my current job,” he says.

Often his moves have come from opportunities offered: for example his sandwich year at Ericsson turned into much more after his manager offered him the chance to stay on and develop himself through extra practical experience. In the end the company asked him to join full-time, in return allowing him to take time off to complete his degree. Through this he was able to experience working abroad at it’s headquarters in Sweden, adding another string to his bow.

After a time Darren decided he wanted to return closer to home in the Lake District. So he dabbled in entrepreneurship working with an Internet start-up and then creating his own company. He then began discussions with Sellafield Ltd and has since had the opportunity to work across many of the company’s departments.

Sellafield Ltd has a renowned graduate scheme that allows staff to apply for Chartered status after five years, however as Darren didn’t take this career path he had to take a more ‘winding’ route in order to prove he had all the required competencies. This he did by looking for roles in the most suitable departments to get the right levels of experience.

“I’d gradually been building up my competencies and realised I’d excelled in certain specific areas. Having joined Sellafield Ltd and spent five years in control systems I needed to move. The company is very good at supporting staff progression and so I was allowed to transfer to a different department. I sometimes had to take sideways moves in order to gain competencies, but it’s starting to pay dividends now I’m Chartered and I’ve got to work in project engineering.”

The IET

Darren’s found IET membership has given him great support throughout his career, and one example he’s keen to highlight was during his application for CEng.

“IET mentors were invaluable in helping me achieve CEng status,” he says. “During my time with the IET I have had two and their help has been extremely important.”

But simply joining was something that stands out to Darren. He felt that just by being a member he gained a level of status and was being professionally recognised. It was important to him to gain external recognition for the work he had done and the level of competency he had achieved. This was something he felt IET membership offered him.

Although he’s given a lot to the IET through volunteering with his local network, he also feels that he’s gained much more through being an active member.

In 2010 he began volunteering for the Lancashire and Cumbria Local Network (LN), hoping to get the committee to organise more events closer to home.

“Historically 90 per cent of the events take place in either Lancashire, Preston or Blackburn, which is nearly a six hour round trip for us based in North and West Cumbria,” he says. “But there’s a hot bed of engineering in the region and so I spoke to the committee about arranging events and they asked me to do it!”

Through getting involved in developing events he’s been able to network with some high level directors, people he believes he would have never had the opportunity to meet otherwise.

“The people I’ve had contact with have all been very ‘high up’,” he says. “I arranged a lecture on the Eurofighter, and managed to get fighter pilot Mark Bowman, the chief test pilot of BAE Systems worldwide to be the guest speaker. It was a pleasure to speak with him. I’m also speaking with Rear Admiral Tim Chittenden. He’s director of safety at BAE Systems  and also a non-executive director at Sellafield Ltd. Dealing with these kinds of people raises your profile and gives you a lot more confidence. The volunteering work may mean some late nights, but there’s a lot of payback.”