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Chartered Engineer (CEng)

Tristan Self MSc BSc (Hons) CEng MIET

Published: 16/03/2023

Tristan Self photographEducation and qualifications:
MSc Computing for Commerce and Industry, Open University
BSc (Hons) IT with Business, University of Hertfordshire
Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer
Cisco Certified Security Professional
Cisco Certified Network Associate

Job title:
Infrastructure Solutions Lead

Wellcome Sanger Institute

What inspired you to become an engineer or pointed you towards an engineering career?
I think a few things, one was that my father and grandfather were both engineers. My father was a mechanical engineer and ran an engineering business from home so I was exposed to technology and what it could do from a young age. I think the second was that at primary school we had a BBC Micro computer we were allowed to use. From this I taught myself some BASIC and was of the age when PCs were becoming affordable and in the home. This, coupled with being lucky enough to have a couple of teachers at primary school and secondary school who were ex-computer scientists, cultivated a situation where I had opportunities to explore Information Technology (IT) as a career.

Please describe your role or position within your workplace.
I work within the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Department at the Wellcome Sanger Institute. The institute is one of the leading genomic research centres in the world. The use of computing and information technology is key to the success of scientific research and the endeavours of the institute.

My role is focused on architecting and supporting the institute’s extensive IT infrastructure (compute, storage and networking) while leading work to improve and adapt the IT infrastructure to provide performant, scalable, secure and high availability compute, storage and network resources to support the ever-changing, and ever more ambitious, scientific research that takes place.

Can you describe a typical working day?
It is an ever-changing range of challenges, as much of the scientific research we support is cutting edge and not done anywhere else in the world. I support the more standard enterprise IT requirements; these often need to be bespoke but at the same time repeatable, secure, scalable and adaptable. Working within the ICT Department’s Infrastructure Management Team means I get involved in a range of tasks on any given day, from the mundane, such as supporting the networking switches that the scientists connect their laptops to, to the cutting edge, such as architecting and implementing multi-petabyte storage platforms or use of emerging cloud computing infrastructures to deliver services.

Are there any particular challenges or unusual aspects to your role?
I think that the need for constant change driven by the scientific research, put against the increasing need for security and availability of IT infrastructure, creates a challenging situation. Working within ICT we need to be able to quickly provide adaptable, high performance IT solutions, but do so in a safe, secure and highly available way; often “turn-key” or “off-the-shelf” solutions are not able to quite fit the need due to the unique nature of the organisation and its work.

What do you find most enjoyable about your job?
I love the fact that each day is different and that I get the unique opportunity to investigate cutting-edge technologies and put them to work, and doing all this knowing my work supports genomic research into the greatest challenges in human and pathogen biology with a view to improve human health.

Is there a great professional achievement or high-profile accomplishment that you would like to tell us about?
I think achieving my MSc while working full time was a pretty big accomplishment. This was partly down to the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) of the registration process for Incorporated Engineer (IEng) and Chartered Engineer (CEng).

The successful replacement of the institute’s virtualised compute platform was also a great professional achievement. It was very challenging and had so many competing technical challenges to overcome.

What contributed to your decision to become professionally registered?
I had been working in IT for nearly eight years when I decided I wanted to become professionally registered. IT is an ever-changing field but the principles of good engineering practice and ethics remain somewhat the same. I felt that achieving professional registration would help me gain formal recognition of my skills, experience and commitment to my own personal and professional development.

In what ways has registration benefitted your career?
It has allowed me to demonstrate my professional development, engineering competence and ethics to fellow engineers and employers, giving me confidence in my skills, abilities and views to ensure that the right things get done. The professional registration process was also a driver for my own personal development. The Engineering Council’s UK-SPEC competence framework, which sets out the requirements for professional registration, helped me identify areas and skills I needed to develop and was a catalyst for me achieving an MSc in Computing for Commerce and Industry at the Open University.

How does your employer benefit from your professional registration?
I think my organisation supporting my professional registration shows its commitment to developing their staff. I’m part of the institution’s Technician Commitment group, that works to encourage staff to think about their own professional development and take steps to progress this; being professionally registered, I can offer advice and guidance to those also seeking registration.

My professional registration also helps show that my level of competence and professional commitment meets the criteria for registration, helping my colleagues to understand what my abilities are as well as my level of knowledge and experience.

Is there any advice you would pass on to someone considering professional registration?
Don’t be intimidated by the amount of work required to gain registration, also don’t feel you should delay starting registration until you think you have the required skills, experience and competencies to reach your ultimate goal title (eg CEng). Starting at a lower registration level such as EngTech/ICTTech or IEng and working up will be valuable to you. I started at IEng and as my career developed I achieved CEng status. The registration process will assist you in your own professional development and to attain a higher level of registration in future.

As for more practical advice for gaining registration, your CV is a great place to start your registration application from, you should ensure it is up to date, has all your qualifications, training and work experience. Your application will take time to complete, but by working on it little and often, say an hour or two a week, you’ll soon have collected a good portfolio to give you the best chance of success when registering.

Where do you see yourself in your career in five years’ time or what are your future ambitions?
I’d like to further develop my technical skills so I can take advantage of new technologies such as cloud computing, which both allows me to provide better solutions to our internal stakeholders and customers, as well as improving my own employment prospects. I’d like to develop more experience in management and management frameworks to help me in my lead role and people management skills.

I feel that I'd also like to do more to encourage young people to take an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects and to choose a career in engineering or IT.

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 giving talks to students and potential engineers to give them an insight into my career, how I have got where I am, the challenges I have faced and how I have overcome them.