Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

My job explained: Mechanical design engineer

My job explained: Mechanical design engineerChristopher Browne designs sonar equipment for navies around the world. Find out more about his job in the defence industry.

Can you tell us a bit about your job?

I work as a mechanical design engineer for a defence company. The area of the business I work in designs, develops and supplies sonar equipment to the Royal Navy and exports products to navies around the world. My primary role is design engineering and providing projects with design support, but I also specialize in stress analysis, particularly finite element analysis.

Can you describe a typical working day?

A typical task involves receiving or developing a requirement specification for a product we wish to design. From this an initial design can be developed. This design is then finalized and manufactured. Prototypes of the design are tested before putting the product into service with a full set of safe usage instructions. So depending on the phase of the design I am working on that day I could be writing up requirements in Word, creating concept designs using CAD software, engaging with sub-contractors to get a design manufacture, testing prototype products or observing first fits of products looking to improve them and verify the usage instructions.

Why did you choose the career path you have taken?

I have always had an interest in engineering and mechanical engineering was the most comfortable fit. The company I decided to work for made the work I would be doing sound very interesting and offered a very strong graduate development programme. For me the main criteria in choosing to work for the company was varied and interesting work and the opportunity to develop.

What qualifications do you have?

I obtained a 2:1 BEng (Hons) in Mechanical Engineering with Aeronautics from the University of Glasgow. In the first couple of years of my career I obtained a MEng in Mechanical Engineering from the Open University.

What other skills do you need?

On the job my primary development has been in CAD and finite element analysis software, developing my skill in these tools to use them as efficiently as possible. I have also undergone significant development in soft skills training such as giving presentations and working in teams. The software training was specific to my role, but the soft skills development has impacts throughout my working life.

What’s the best bit of your job?

I like the creativity involved in my role and the responsibility. I regularly work on challenging projects and it is up to me to develop a solution to a problem. This allows me a wide scope for creativity. I am also ultimately responsible for my actions so I am given significant responsibility in affecting the outcome of a product.

What’s the most challenging bit of your job?

The most challenging aspect of my role is probably the learning curve. I work with a group of very experienced engineers and while I learn quickly, there is a lot to learn. This can sometimes limit my perspective when developing a new product. However, I combat this by engaging regularly with the team to get their insight into tasks and by listening to the team develop myself at the same time.

Was it hard to get your first job?

I didn’t find it too difficult to get interviews. I had a good qualification from a good university, so most companies were eager to have me come in for a chat. However, given the quality of the companies I was applying for and the level of competition, the interviews were often quite extensive and I took a little while to adapt my interviewing style and prepare correctly for interviews. It was a learning curve.

What advice would you have for people who want to follow in your footsteps?

A general bit of advice would be to get your hands dirty. It is very often the case that graduate engineers come from university with lots of academic knowledge, but very little hands-on experience. Having some hands-on knowledge is a great benefit, so I would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to work on their or their parents’ cars to do so, or become familiar with standard tools and how they are used. These people would be in a better position than someone who didn’t have any familiarity.

Looking specifically at interviews it is a good idea to do some research on the company you are being interviewed by. Have a think about how the subjects studied at university apply to that company and how you would use your knowledge in the role you have applied for. If you are applying to a more academic role, such as stress analysis, then it is a good idea to have a practical understanding of the maths. It isn’t necessary to know a six -age first principles derivation of a formula, but knowing what Young’s modulus means in practical terms, or what the difference is between a material with a low Poisson’s ratio and a high one are considered relative basics.

The final bit of advice is just to relax: the interviewers are not trying to trip you up or catch you out. They want to know as much about you and your experience as possible so be honest and if you don’t know an answer to a question ask them to explain the question a bit more or say you don’t know.

Related links