Name: Jo Baldry
Job: Mechanical and electrical engineer
For: Max Fordham LLP
Since: October 2011
Hi Jo! What do you do?
I work as a mechanical and electrical engineer for a building services company. We work alongside the many different parties involved in the construction industry - people like architects and structural engineers - to put building services into the building. That includes lighting, drainage, plumbing, electrics, ventilation, heating, all of the different things that go into a building that make it work as a building, rather than just a shell.
We’re also involved a lot in building regulations and policies to do with energy efficiency, making sure buildings comply with certain standards to do with energy and safety and all that sort of stuff.
How did you end up doing that?
I always wanted to be an architect at school but I also loved science, so I ended up going down the science route at the last minute. I did a bachelors and masters in physics at university, after which I was torn between either doing research or teaching, as I didn’t really know I could go back to my interest in working on buildings and their design. I knew I really wanted to continue the physics, which I loved. I went down the teaching route, but after 2 years I decided it wasn’t for me, even though I still wanted to be actively using my physics. Then I found out about Max Fordham, which brought my interest in architecture together with using physics and engineering. It brought me full circle in a strange way.
Max Fordham had a job advertised online, asking for a CV and a chatty letter which said something about me as a person, which really appealed to me. I was called in for an interview, where I was given a couple of practical questions to discuss along with the standard interview questions. Sometimes they have a second interview for jobs here, but they offered me the job after just one!
Does your formal physics education help you a lot with your work now?
Lots. I definitely use a lot of the theories, formulae and principles I learnt at standard grade (GCSE) right through to university. I also use things like Excel and maths on a daily basis, which I was already confident with from using them so much in my degree.
Did you have any experience in the industry?
I had no previous experience of working in engineering, although I did a work placement back when I was in school with an architect, which did help. It helps just to see a bit of the industry, even in the smallest possible way. But no, I had no experience really, just a lot of enthusiasm for buildings!
What’s your role, day to day?
Most of my time is spent in the office, doing a load of different things. I'm often working on AutoCAD (a drawing package), on drawings which can be very technical. I do a lot of calculations, using Excel or specialist programs, and a lot of modelling of lighting and things like that. I spend time in meetings with suppliers, architects and clients, and writing reports and documents for projects, that sort of thing. I also go on lots of site visits, to monitor the project, watch what’s going on and work with the builders. I’m in a graduate role, so I’m mostly helping others with their projects.
What hours do you work?
At Max Fordham, it’s a bit different to a lot of other engineers, in that most engineers work set 9-5 hours, but here it’s much more flexible. Sometimes I’ll work longer hours, sometimes less, but it’s pretty much standard office hours. If I stay longer it’s usually because I’m into something, I’m motivated and interested in it and I want to finish it. It’s surprising how often I’ll find I’ve become really engrossed in a task and worked past normal office hours! Some people work at the weekends too if they have a deadline.
What’s the process you go through when working on a project?
We get a brief from a client or architect, which might be a bit of a skeleton, vaguely outlining what they want. Then we have to go and look up the relevant standards and building regulations about each aspect, to establish what’s expected in a certain room or building. Then we have to start comparing these expectations with what the client has requested. They might have asked for something that’s not possible or allowed, so it’s a balancing act. We often have to go back to them and suggest different fittings or layouts. We have to explain what needs to be changed, and have some idea of how problems can be solved. It’s a back and forth process, gradually getting more and more technical, honing a solution. We then have to translate everything we’ve worked on into schedules of work and technical drawings, so it can all be used in the construction ultimately. All the different aspects – windows, light, materials, ventilation - come together in the final project.
What do you find yourself doing most?
Technical drawings, and working with CAD. It can be slow, but I find it quite therapeutic, and a lot of people say the same. A lot of my time is spent reading quite technical British Standard documents. Sometimes I like doing that, it’s like a puzzle, working it out, although it depends how well the document’s written!
Who are all of the different people you work alongside?
Architects, clients, other engineers, on site project managers, general tradesmen and people from the construction industry. We also deal with manufacturers (of things like lighting), and people dealing with planning and costing. There are other people in the office who do slightly different things, so they may deal more with the planning side of things, for example. There’s a big variation depending on what you’re working on.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
The sheer range of things I could come across in a day. It’s quite a steep learning curve, certainly as someone who didn’t do a degree in engineering. Because it’s such a varied thing, covering everything from mechanics, water and airflow to electrical circuits at a very complex level, sometimes it’s so broad it’s hard to know where to start. You’re just working on a tiny sliver at a time. Although the variety is nice too.
What’s the industry like to work in as a female?
I like it, which is probably particularly unusual, because it’s still quite a male dominated industry. As a female I’m certainly in the minority, but I’ve always been the sort of person to just do what I want to do, whatever I’m interested in, irrespective of any stereotype.
Because there’s a stereotype, some girls might be put off and think it’s not for them, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be. I would encourage girls to get involved. I feel very supported as a graduate, and there’s lots of graduates at Max Fordham so we all support each other.
So why don’t girls go into engineering?
Because of stereotypes. There is a similar stigma around physics and maths, which are both core subjects for engineering. They’re seen as boys’ subjects. When girls are choosing their GCSEs or A levels, and perhaps haven’t got the confidence to say “this is what I want to do, even though it’s different from what people expect me to do, and different from what all my girl friends want to do”, they drop these core engineering subjects.
When I was at school and studying those subjects, I was always in the minority as a girl, and on my degree course it was the same. It’s a shame as there’s no reason why a girl couldn’t do it. You have to be quite diligent and hardworking to do well in physics and maths, paying attention to the details, which girls are good at, possibly more so than boys at school! There’s no reason why girls shouldn’t be able to do any of it.
What qualities might make someone good at your job?
You have to be sociable and personable, because you do have to talk a lot to other people. This job is quite mathematical and logical so you have to be quite good at problem solving. No two buildings are the same, so you have to be flexible and adaptable. Being organised helps too because we do change across from project to project a lot, so you may be working on multiple projects at the same time.
I think you also have to be quite confident if you’re dealing with builders and other professionals. People will question you so you have to be able to stand up for what you’ve designed.
How good are you at leaving work at the office?
I’m quite good at it. I was bad at it previously (when I was teaching) and I learnt a massive lesson about how important your personal time is, and not to feel guilty about having it. It’s absolutely vital. Life’s too short not to have a bit of your own time.
What’s the best thing about your job?
There’s lots! The people. I like that I get to spend time interacting with people a lot. Another thing I enjoy is the satisfaction of resolving a problem, and feeling like you’ve gotten to the end of it. I love that eventually you get to see what you’ve done in physical form.
What about the worst?
I’m a bit of a fidget and I miss that in teaching I was up and moving. I spend a lot of time sat at a desk, probably not as much as a lot of office jobs, but I’d still prefer to be up and moving around.
Have you got any advice for anyone interested in going into engineering?
There’s the potential for getting chartered as an engineer, so I would say try and be as organised as possible from the beginning with getting information together for that.
Be open to learning new things, and try and be a little bit forgiving of yourself as you’re learning new things. You won’t always get it first time, because there is a lot to learn.
Is there anything you’d change about your job?
In comparison with teaching, I wouldn’t change anything. Except for the holidays!
Is it more about who you know or what you know?
What you know.
Do you have any goals in your career?
Chartership would be nice. I collect qualifications it would seem! I just enjoy the process of seeing new buildings and working with different buildings, and I hope one day to work on some of the more well known projects Max Fordham work on, like the Tate buildings. At the moment I’m just enjoying the here and now though, learning new things and working with great people on interesting projects!