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Alisdair Irvine – Mechanical Engineering BEng, BAE Systems

Alistair Irvine

What degree course did you study

Mechanical Engineering (BEng).

Why did you choose that particular degree course?

Personally, I had no particular career path and 'fell' into engineering. Throughout school my strengths were in Maths, Sciences and Design & Technology and this lead me to study STEM based subjects at Sixth Form. To me, Engineering was all about taking those STEM subjects and applying them together into the real world, which is why I chose it as my degree.

Tell us about your employer

At BAE Systems, we provide some of the world’s most advanced, technology-led defence, aerospace and security solutions.

This includes:

  • Manufacture, development, upgrade and in-service support of combat aircrafts, combat vehicles, submarines and complex warships
  • Naval Ship Repair & Support
  • Design and manufacture of weapons systems and munitions
  • Supply of cyber, intelligence and security capabilities to government agencies

Originally I was brought into the company as an Industrial Placement Systems Engineer. I completed just over a year on the Industrial Placement scheme, undertaking various placements and understanding how everything I had learnt in my academic career fitted into the real world. I was fortunate to experience different areas of the business and provide genuine business support to ship upgrade periods, resolve real large scale engineering issues and design and implement solutions. I rejoined on the graduate scheme and have been supporting a multi-million pound upgrade on one of our warships. The project has been a fascinating blend of pure engineering coupled with understanding how we can logistically, financially and commercially complete the job. It's been really exciting to see how proper engineering tasks get delivered in the real world when you have large stakeholders involved.

What attracted you to this position?

I was attracted to BAE Systems because it is a highly reputable and well known large engineering company. I knew by joining a company such as BAE Systems that I would get a broad exposure to engineering, with plenty of opportunities to learn something new.

What are the key skills you learnt at Warwick that have helped you with your career to date?

More than anything, I found University teaches you how to manage your time and work with various personality types. Whilst you are studying towards your chosen degree, there are many soft skills that University teaches you that prepares you for the real world. University is very good at making you adapt to uncertain or changeable scenarios, and that adaptability is exactly what you need to be able to work with various projects teams and various personality types of different ages, experience and opinions.

What has been your greatest career challenge to date and how did your experience and skills help overcome it?

My biggest career challenge so far has been just the shear amount that I still need to learn. Whilst I have now worked for BAE Systems for 3 years, every time you look at a new piece of equipment or work with a new team, it's all about how quickly can you pick something up and understand it. My experience so far has lead me to always ask questions, and whilst this sounds simple, this skill is one that I would really push University students to start doing with lecturers/staff. Being comfortable to ask even the 'silly' questions has helped me massively gain more experience and be able to make an impact sooner.

What top tips would you give to students looking for a career in your market sector?

Be enthusiastic in engineering and get ready to be able to work in a dynamic environment. Have an understanding of how the whole engineering lifecycle works, because one of the great perks of engineering is that you get to work on a project right from the start, all the way to the end. Enjoy owning your work and being able to stand by it.

What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were applying for jobs?

The engineering is not just limited to pure, technical engineering. Engineering can overlap with many other functions, and whilst there is scope to stay within the pure, technical engineering side of things, if you want to breach out there is plenty of overlap between engineering and other functions, even within this company.

Any additional advice or comments?

Always. Ask. Questions. Apply for anything and everything and do every interview/online test etc. that comes your way. Even if you don't think 'it's for you,' these opportunities will gain both your experience and help you understand what you really enjoy.