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

  • 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[…]


  • 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[…]


  • 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[…]