This edition's Member Spotlight features George Larkins, Project Director at Arcadis and President of the UAE Chapter Sub-committee.
When did you first know you wanted to be an engineer?
Growing up before mass produced plastic toys, I was playing with Mecano (pre Lego), mechanical train sets, hill trolleys and bicycles that needed continual maintenance. I was constantly building toys or helping my father with house or car maintenance and was naturally attracted to engineering without realising it.
My first recollection of engineering as a profession was during a visit to Wellington Dam (just outside Collie in Western Australia) as a 9 or 10-year-old. I was overawed by the massive concrete structure (large for the early 1960’s) and asked my father who built it. He responded with “its built by engineers”, at which time I decided this was the path for me and have not looked back since.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
I can recall a few that have stuck with me over the years.
Firstly, pay attention to the detail but don’t sweat the small stuff. It sounds contradictory but is not really. In other words, understand what’s important and ensure it is correct.
Secondly, read the contract and read it again. Know what is required, which is often different to what you think is required.
Thirdly, learn from your mistakes, of which there will be many.
And lastly, put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to understand their world view and perspective of the issue at hand.
What are your top two career highlights?
A continuous personal highlight has been working with people from all over the world with differing backgrounds and perspectives, all contributing in different ways to the team goals.
From a project perspective, the highlights have been:
- The Hyatt Hotel in Adelaide, which was the first major building I designed as lead structural engineer.
- The design pressures working in Kuala Lumpur in the 1990’s property boom, working with a small enthusiastic team which designed some 20 high rise projects up to 55 storeys in a period of a couple of years.
- More recently, working in Dubai since 2003 and being part of the construction of even taller, technically complex buildings up to 120 storeys, the design or construction of which would have been impossible without the explosion of computing power and advanced materials.
How does being Chartered assist in your career?
It’s been indispensable. Being chartered is the engineer’s international passport for recognition in other jurisdictions and at a project level by people who are not familiar with Australia. It promotes confidence with employers, clients and local authorities.
What advice do you have for graduate engineers?
Do what you enjoy, be passionate about it and have fun doing it. Get involved, be energetic and go the extra mile to do more than is expected. Understand how your work integrates with all of the others. Communication is the key and developing your personal skills is as important as technical knowledge.
A university degree is but the start of a continuous learning process which will be non-stop throughout your career. Engineering will be a totally different space in 20 or 30 years and the rate of change will continue to be exponential. You will end up doing fabulous things that are not even thought about at the moment, so be alert and look for opportunities, both personally and technically in your work. Embrace the change, be part of it and push the boundaries for constant improvement for a new and better world.
How has the profession changed over your career?
Technical advances during my career have been unbelievable. I have been doing things recently that I could never have dreamed about when I first graduated, mainly attributable to increased computing power and developments in advanced materials. As a result, projects continue to become larger and technically more complex, and the consequences (both positive and negative) on both the community and individuals also continue to increase.
At the same time, community expectations have also changed and the profession is moving steadily from self-control towards statutory regulation. The role of professional bodies, such as Engineer’s Australia is therefore increasingly important as the profession’s voice to ensure that responsibilities and accountability are properly balanced.
Who (living or dead) would you like to sit next to on a plane and why?
This is the most difficult question, as there have been so many great people over the generations.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates is one person I would like to spend some time with. Not only due to his vision in developing an open architecture for computers operating systems, but also his philanthropic efforts to use his good fortune to help overcome some of the key social and humanitarian challenges facing the world as a whole.
What was the most recent thing you have done to promote the profession of engineering?
The most recent events have been a joining the Advisory Board of the engineering faculty at the University of Wollongong in Dubai UOWD, and giving presentations on the benefits of Engineer’s Australia membership to students.