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Chartered Engineer (CEng)

Shakir Tahir PGD TM (Open) BSc (Hons) BSc (Open) CEng MIET MRAeS

Published: 26/01/2021

Shakir Tahir at his deskEducation and qualifications:
PGD Technology Management, The Open University.
BSc (Hons) Engineering, Northampton University.
BSc Open Degree, The Open University.
HND Mechanical Engineering, Bedford College.

Job title:
Independent Mechanical Design Engineer/Limited Company Contractor

STSS Aeronavales Ltd

What inspired you to become an engineer or pointed you towards an engineering career?
The long and short of it is that my family had much to do with it. My engineering foundation was laid out pretty early on, at 16 where I attended a technical school in Kuala Lumpur. I finished my ordinary level with additional science subjects plus mechanical engineering. My father and his brothers graduated with Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) degrees and naturally I also took my cue from them to continue that tradition. It was a typical narrative in the part of the world I was brought up in.

That said, I had developed an interest in aircrafts at a very young age. I remember visiting the Royal Air Force (RAF) Museum in Hendon aged seven and being mesmerised by the static aircraft displays. Growing up, I knew the names backwards of various British and American-made airborne flying wonders. It turned out well for me and I am grateful to be where I am today.   

Please describe your role or position within your workplace.
I am an independent contractor, performing sub-contract engineering design and consultancy services for third-party clients. I typically have one alpha customer whom I support at a time, while side hustling in my spare time. I am currently assisting Leonardo (Airborne & Space Systems division) in the development of a next-generation avionics system for Eurofighter Typhoons. As a mechanical design engineer my role is to design and package single board computers, antenna and sensors that get fitted in the platform. I ensure that the mechanical packages (eg enclosures, housings etc) are structurally and thermally robust for harsh environment applications.

Can you describe a typical working day?
On a normal day you’ll find me working on engineering solutions virtually, using a 3D Computer Aided Design (CAD) system. Here is where I spend the majority of my time, creating and analysing engineering structures. My role involves fulfilling requirements, project management and risk management as I take a design from cradle to grave. Occasionally, I attend meetings with suppliers, reviewing designs with the project team, and peer reviewing work of others where required.

I also carry out change management activities, which typically require problem solving and investigation for in-service and legacy products. A slightly colourful day would entail experimenting in the lab for developmental activities, test support and small volume manufacture/assembly.

Since the first Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020, I have conducted most of my day-to-day business from my home office. I have my own additive manufacturing facility and model shop to help streamline product development and de-risking activities as part of my services.

Are there any particular challenges or unusual aspects to your role?
The acronym that defines the challenges I face in my role is SWaP-C, which denotes size, weight and power plus cost. These are the typical challenges facing electronic hardware generally. Often, these considerations need to balance trade-offs. Miniaturisation (size and weight reduction) have been the important theme in the last few decades or so. This has also meant the increase of power consumption in small spaces brings about unique thermal management challenges. The use of advanced materials and non-conventional machining to solve these problems can somewhat increase product costs. Nevertheless, I have to make the case for cost savings later in the life of these products, and therefore front-end cost shouldn’t be of primary concern.

The unknown is another typical aspect of challenge when I design something. The fear of failure can sometimes impede certain design decisions and therefore innovation. Stakeholder management is important so concerns can be responded to with appropriate risk mitigation.

What do you find most enjoyable about your job?
I must admit I enjoy the people I work with more often than the actual task itself. As my work requires complete product lifetime involvement - from requirements management to in-service support - I’ve had the chance to work with various people from different departments within the project team. I find mentoring and helping colleagues out highly rewarding as it builds good rapport and increases team performance.

Of course the feeling of contentment I get when problems are solved is second to none. Seeing the products I design in CAD getting manufactured and put onto aircrafts is such a joy. I enjoy the fact that I work with cutting-edge technologies and products that get used in the defence of the UK and its partners worldwide. I get to brag to friends and family too!

Is there a great professional achievement or high-profile accomplishment that you would like to tell us about?
Obtaining my CEng and completing a Postgraduate Diploma (PGD) is definitely the highlight of my career for 2020 amid the raging pandemic. Throughout my working life I have had the opportunity to work on various high-impact projects when designing airborne to shipborne equipment. One single platform that I have had the opportunity to work on for almost 10 years is the Eurofighter Typhoon, from designing its protection system to parts of the airframe. I was also part of the original development team that worked on the Britecloud system – a miniaturised electronic expendable decoy, the first of its kind for the RAF. In the past I have worked on equipment that goes in the Vanguard class submarine, BAE Hawk, Tornado, Apache helicopters and the Sea Lynx.

What contributed to your decision to become professionally registered?
Being an independent contractor, it is easy to get complacent precisely because there’s no routine development reviews with line managers anymore. I am responsible for my own progress and understand the importance of keeping abreast with current technologies and future trends. My Continuing Professional Development (CPD) responsibility prompts me to gain more knowledge over time. After completing my apprenticeship, I achieved Engineering Technician (EngTech) registration. Since then, I knew that I wanted to work my way up to ultimately gain Chartered Engineer (CEng) status. I was supported by helpful individuals and surrounded by Chartered Engineers. Getting professionally registered is important for me to show that I have all the competencies and experiences that reflect my seniority within the industry.

In what ways has registration benefitted your career?
The responsibilities that come with the title have made me a better engineer. It has changed my approach to decision making, knowing that I must abide by a professional code of conduct, sanctioned by the profession. The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) Career Manager tool and the Engineering Council’s requirement to maintain my competence through CPD ensures that I stay on top of new developments within engineering. Becoming a CEng has boosted my self-confidence as I gained respect from colleagues through the hard work and tenacity shown in achieving professional registration, particularly as my route was EngTech, then Incorporated Engineer (IEng) and finally, CEng.

As a self-employed engineer, what is the value of being professionally registered?
I find that engineering is increasingly becoming a competitive vocation and to keep up I need to arm myself as much as I can with qualifications and recognition. As I am a one-man-show in my company, my personal achievement in reality is the company’s too. Time and time again, I come across job requirements that demand engineers be professionally qualified either as IEng or CEng. It’s an increasing trend no doubt. Professional registration has given me a positive advantage over other competitors.

Is there any advice you would pass on to someone considering professional registration?
Firstly ask yourself are you ready for the level of registration you’re aiming for? Assess yourself with/against people around you. It will give you a better idea of where you are in your career. Get a mentor, ideally someone that has gone through the process, and a Professional Registration Advisor (PRA) to support and guide your application. Most importantly, assess your competences and skills against the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC). As a wise man once told me, life is a journey not a race so it is important to self-evaluate before deciding.

Where do you see yourself in your career in five years’ time or what are your future ambitions?
Now that I am a CEng, my next target in the long run is to achieve the European Engineer (EUR ING) status. I’d like to see myself in a more managerial role sometime in the future. I enjoy working with people and mentoring is certainly up my street. I don’t discount moving abroad one day if the right opportunity comes around. I’d also like to get into working on Tempest – the UK’s sixth-generation fighter aircraft.

Outside work, is there any activity you enjoy doing in your spare time that relates to engineering? For example, do you participate in mentoring, volunteering or membership of other engineering groups?
I enjoy building model aircraft kits in my spare time. The lockdown, if there was a blessing from it, gave me the extra time to work on what I love doing. I also enjoy scratch building and use references as a guide. There is a lot of research and learning experience when building them. I enjoy do-it yourself (DIY) work around the house and, using a 3D printer, I can now design my own brackets and fittings etc to fix things rather than buying a whole set or a new replacement unit. I am a member of the IET and the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), and before the restrictions came in I took the opportunity to join in the lecture series in and around the Solent area. The Solent has a rich aviation history - it would be a missed opportunity not to take advantage!