Stuart Curtis, mechanical engineering consultant

By planning ahead Stuart walked into his first career job straight after university. He’s discovered that working in a consultancy means you get to see and be part of the cutting edge of engineering and product design.

Stuart Curtis Stuart studied a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Southampton University, where he focused on mechatronics, going on to join Cambridge Design Partnership (CDP) a few months after completing his degree.

“My path was fairly standard, I went through college where I did maths, physics and design technology. I would definitely recommend a design technology type subject at A level as it is a great introduction to the more practical side of engineering and can give you a good head start on CAD packages and technical drawing when at university,” he says.

“Whilst at university, I had a summer job working in a local switch design and manufacturing company. It was useful to see the whole design and manufacturing process as the products were made largely on-site. This type of experience is invaluable as anyone can design a good product, but designing a good product that can be manufactured can be much harder and seeing the whole process gives you a better understanding of the requirements.”

Finding your first engineering job after university

As the end of his degree loomed ever nearer Stuart knew it was time to begin his job search.

“I found job hunting very time-consuming and it was hard to take time away from my degree work to apply for jobs,” he notes. “I applied for quite a few jobs in various places and each had a different take on the application process, varying from just a CV and covering letter through to extensive online forms and aptitude tests.

“The interview processes were also varied: at CDP I had three interviews: a phone interview at first, followed by a face-to-face interview which included an in-depth technical section, followed by a more informal interview to meet the company directors.

 “For another application, there was an initial telephone interview followed by an assessment centre day, which consisted of several interviews with different people, group tasks and aptitude tests,” he continues.

“Most of the jobs I applied for were advertised on job websites specifically targeting engineers, and I applied for several others through a recruitment agent. There are also websites where you upload a CV or fill in a form and give your details to job scouts. It was on a site like this that I found my job at CDP.”

His first job: working as a mechanical engineering consultant

Now in his first job post-graduation, he really enjoys working as a mechanical engineering consultant for CDP.

“It's great! I get to think about solutions to problems that the majority of people would never realise existed in the first place. Working in a consultancy means you get to see and be part of the cutting edge of engineering and product design and be creative with it. You can suggest an idea in a brainstorm that might seem completely ludicrous at first, but which can sometimes be carried forward, in whole or in part, to inform the development of a design or product,” he explains.

What its like to be the ‘new kid’

“I expected to be 'in training' for some time before I was unleashed on real projects, and I expected this to be fairly tedious. I also assumed there would be a steep learning curve, at least to begin with.

“It turned out that the formal training was very much focused towards ‘on-the-job’ learning and I was involved almost immediately on project work,” he continues. “I think my first day mostly consisted of training and getting to know the company and the people who worked there. After that, there was continued support whilst working on real projects.

“This meant the learning curve was possibly higher than I expected, but I think it was for the better. Getting stuck straight into projects that are already in full-flow means you get adjusted to real working conditions much faster and can do training as you go, taking knowledge from colleagues where necessary. It also means you get used to meeting and dealing with clients, something that University possibly does not contribute much towards.

Settling in

“CDP is a very welcoming company so settling in was fairly easy. Just working with people who have very similar thought processes makes it easy to interact, even when you don't know someone that well. The size of CDP is ideal for getting to know people. At around 50 to 60 employees, it’s a size that means you can meet everyone within the first few days and remember most people's names in a few weeks.

“As the company is expanding rapidly, I was fortunate as two other graduates had started a few months before me and another engineer started on the same day. This meant I had good support from others in a similar position to me.

The work’s similar to university!

It's a busy life but Stuart enjoys it. He’s found that working in a consultancy means he basically gets to do similar work to his fourth year group design project at university, which he loved doing, except that he doesn’t have to go to lectures or do exams and he also gets paid!

“The best things are the ability to use some of my creativity, combined with the things I've learnt at university, to design something that is real, not just an academic exercise like most projects are at university. I guess the worst thing is that I’m bad at leaving my work at work, I'm always subconsciously thinking of things, ideas will come to me at the most random times!”

Career plans

Looking forward Stuart plans to continue working for CDP and hopes to start undertaking project leader roles in the next couple of years.

“I always want to stay an engineer, I don’t want to be in a desk-based management role and I think CDP gives a good opportunity for this too,” he says. “Even the directors are still involved in projects in an engineering role; I  find them in the workshops from time to time!”