Dr Terrence Stevenson
About the speaker
Our speaker today is Dr Terry Stevenson.
Terry is the Chief Technology Officer at Raytheon Australia and is responsible for the introduction of new technology, the promotion of innovation, research and development, and the execution of all aspects of engineering across the business enterprise.
Prior to his current position, he was the Technical Director of Boeing Australia for over six years and before this, Terry was the Data Communications Manager and later the Group Engineering Manager at Stanilite Electronics.
Terry is a member of the National Information Communications Technology Australia (NICTA) Business Evaluation Committee, and sits on a number of business and academic advisory boards.
He holds a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering from the New South Wales Institute of Technology (NSWIT); a Doctor of Philosophy from UTS; and a Master of Business Administration from Queensland University of Technology. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Queensland.
It gives me great pleasure to invite Dr Terry Stevenson to deliver the occasional address.
I am pleased to be able to address this forum on this very important occasion celebrating and recognising the graduation of both Finance and Engineering students. I congratulate you all and share the pride of your family and friends who have come to witness this event.
Some 30 + years ago I also sat where you are and at that time reflected on what lay ahead. My purpose in addressing you today was to pass on some advice and encouragement. Basically, nothing turned out as I had thought it would, not even close!
Firstly, celebrate this moment and saviour your achievement, you have now graduated and opportunity awaits those of you who want it.
Regrettably but understandably you may have resolved to never pass through a lecture theatre again. I had similar thoughts at the time, but this is short lived once a social life has returned and your natural curiosity starts to re-surface.
As an aside it is significant that engineers and finance are graduating together, as you will find yourselves constantly interacting; you basically need each other to survive, but may have not figured this out yet.
As engineers you will need to cost your work and be able to estimate how much an engineering task will take to perform.
As finance people you will need to take the engineers estimates and further refine them to take account of your companies pricing structures and also whether the return on the task justifies taking it on in the first place.
So what are the things not to do and what are the things to do.
The Not To Do list: I initially struggled here to find things.
- Do not live in the past, you have got the degree now make it work for you. You will be judged on your performance, the degree is the door opener.
- Do not be tempted to go into management until you have learnt your craft; you only get one chance at this. If you go into management too early you will not consolidate your learning and in time this will be detrimental to your career. There is a lot of truth to the view that good engineers and finance people do not always make good managers. In fact figure out early if management is for you at all; not everyone has management ability. In progressive companies there is no need to go into management to seek financial rewards as similar if not better financial rewards are available to the specialist.
- Do not confuse management with leadership, not all managers can be leader’s and visa versa. Managers are tactical and control whereas leaders are strategic and visionary. I have worked with many managers but only a small number of leaders; you will pick up the difference very quickly, so learn to model your own behaviours on what you want to be.
The To Do list: This was a bit easier to write.
- Get a life! By this I mean a social life.
- Have a plan and start setting Goals. This is for your life and not just your career. This is not as easy at it may seem and it took me some time to realise there is an art and process on how you set and achieve your goals. Once you have mastered this art the outcomes can be quite dramatic and life changing to say the least. In fact I class this as one of your most important tools.
- Treat your career goals separate to your other life goals. Sure a goal is a goal, but it is useful to separate work from the rest of your life. Do not think your employer is off planning your career; they are not, so take ownership of this area, and the best way is through setting realistic goals.
- Join a professional society and participate where you can. Use this forum to track developments in you areas of interest as well as establishing a rewarding network that is international. I am always staggered by the number of times where I have been working in a particular area only to find there are a whole lot of other smarter people doing the same thing and willing to share their ideas.
- Many organisations’ have mentoring schemes, so take advantage of this if it is available. However, remember that there is nothing stopping you from adopting and modelling your own behaviour on those you respect and admire. Remember close family members are more than happy to point out your shortcomings and give you advice.
- Come to grips with the fact that learning is now part of your life; you are now on this treadmill; this is not a boring treadmill at all and can and should be very exciting. It is very important that you maintain your professional currency and this is possible through your professional society or further studies. So do it and do not keep putting it off, time passes very quickly.
So let’s digress for a moment, as I do not want you to think I am measuring you up for a straight jacket life with predictable outcomes. One thing we have learnt is that we humans are absolutely hopeless at predicting the future.
Notwithstanding, let me now make some predictions;
- You will have more than one career; however, there will always be a thread back to your first career. Each career will be a stepping stone to the next.
- My own life has resulted in at least 4 careers and I am shortly to look at a fifth.
So be flexible and plan, then accept the unexpected, learn to thrive in a changing environment. Life is all about change. When opportunity comes grab it with both hands; things very rarely present themselves to you in your personal time frame.
Looking at my own life there are some key aspects that I feel have help ed and lead me to be successful. Also remember success is how you see it not how others see it!
So what are these silver bullets?
- Start to read outside your area of training and by outside I mean read very broadly. You will be astounded on how many problems you end up solving from techniques you become aware of in other seemingly not connected areas. Biology, neuroscience, complex systems, predictive analytics are just some examples of recent experiences for me. In many cases we find the problems we thought were unique to our area have been solved in other disciplines.
- Collaborate and network and where possible encourage a team approach as an alternative to working on your own. In industry all our projects are managed as Integrated Product Teams (IPT’s); the IPT members bring a diversity of ideas and skills.
- Develop a curiosity about things and always explore alternatives; try not to lock onto a solution too early as it locks out your ability to come up with sometimes better and more realisable alternative solutions.
- Learn to be a Systems Thinker; it is not something that universities generally expose you to, so this generally comes from further studies or short courses. The power of having a systems perspective is extremely powerful and is how industry generally approaches problems. This allows trade-offs to be made and in the process better solutions to be realised. Systems Thinking is universal and is not constrained to a particular domain or discipline.
- Learn to gauge the capabilities of the people around you? On more occasions than I care to admit I have found myself at an impasse on a project where I was the technical lead. In trying to figure out why things were not progressing on a particular project, a friend suggested that I conduct a personality analysis of out technical team; I was certainly a bit hesitant but eventually conducted the analysis in a group forum with the team where we shared our personality profiles; this was very revealing and a lot of fun. The result is we all realised that we had a team of starters but not finishers; we quickly recruited some engineers with the right profile and successfully completed the project. So know who you are and who and what your team members are capable of contributing.
- Learn the art of ‘Asking the Right’ questions; this is a key aspect of critical thinking leading to the solving of complex problems. For example; What if? Why? Can you explain? Can you show me? Can you prove it? The measure of a good question is that it requires an explanation in response and not just a yes or no response.
- In my view the most important aspect for you now is to learn self management; this to me is a defining leadership attribute. I would encourage you to in your reading to devote time to read about the various aspects of leadership for a context of your own behaviours. Self management also encompasses your family, and ensuring they get the high priority in your life they deserve.
There is a critical second aspect to Self Management that I also need to bring to your attention, namely, knowing who you are and where you fit in. We looked at this earlier and I cannot over emphasis the need to understand your own personality and capabilities. We have a view of this and it is generally wrong. In a very confronting example I had been doing a leadership model in some MBA studies where you were provided a tool to assess your own personality; feeling very confident of myself I shared this with my wife and our middle daughter. In very short time they knocked me of my pedestal and gave me the bad news that who I thought I was and who I actually am is quite different. I also discovered that who I am at home and at work when under stress is also different. So valuable lesson learned here; ask others for their views and know who you really are.
The area of self management is not a small task and in many respects a start to a lifelong journey of learning.
Finally, an area I took far too long to learn and pay attention to is safety!
Many organisations are unaware of their responsibilities in this area as are the engineers and senior managers of these organisations. Nothing in my undergraduate training alerted me to the fact that when you design a product or structure that you also have to ensure through the design, that the product or structure is safe to operate and maintain. In recent times this has been captured in OH&S, now WHS Regulations. So I urge at this early stage of your career to sit up and take notice of this area. Also be aware that just because the customer has not specified safety as a requirement does not mean it is not a requirement! We take safety for granted when we board a commercial aircraft, but what about when we operate a washing machine, use a hair dryer. It is still about the safety of the design.
On this sober note I will close.
So once again congratulations on your great achievements in graduating today and may this be the first step in a long and rewarding career and family life.