Why I became an Engineer – Nigel Orr
Posted: January 22, 2018
As part of Proserv’s continual support of the UK’s Year of Engineering initiative, Nigel Orr, Proserv’s Chief Technologist, explains why he became an engineer.
My interest in Engineering began at an early age. Aged 10, I still remember the satisfaction of fixing a radio my sister had thrown away, and then a couple of years later building my own radio from an electronics set. Many evenings programming early personal computers quickly followed. I found the opportunities to be creative and try things out with electronics and software were huge, and through some books, mistakes, minor injuries and small fires, I started to expand what I could understand and build.
At secondary school, my technical interests developed to include stage lighting, sound, and home automation (starting with a string and pulley system around my bedroom to open and close my curtains from my bed). When I started looking at university and career options, Electronics was an obvious choice even though I didn’t understand what made it ‘engineering’.
I found the course (MEng Electronics at the University of Edinburgh) hard work but very interesting. I learned a lot more about how electronics works, as well as the ‘engineering process’ which meant I could design things with more confidence and that they would work with less frustration from ‘trial and error’.
My first job after obtaining my degree was at an audio-visual company, where I spent a lot of time maintaining equipment and finding and fixing faults in broadcast and concert sound equipment (from microphones to large mixing desks). That was a really useful complement to my studies as I got to see how real products looked inside, what made them robust and reliable in practice, and all the mechanical and user interfaces that are needed to make electronics useful.
Since then, I’ve worked on a variety of products and in research, including defence, water testing, audio, high temperature electronics and acoustics, and it’s still exciting when I see one of ‘my’ designs in catalogues and in use. I also still develop software and electronics in my spare time, (although home automation has moved on from curtain strings to motion sensors and heating and lighting controls). That’s because sometimes it’s satisfying to make something because you want it or because you can, rather than because it would be popular or because it would be profitable.
My favourite times in my engineering career are when I work with a talented team of people who can do things I can’t, and produce something genuinely new or better that people appreciate and use. Recently at Proserv, that has included a new diver communications system (NASDive) using the latest Voice over IP and Software Defined Radio technologies. As well as much clearer communications, it is designed to accommodate future advances in diver monitoring and safety. I’m looking forward to seeing it widely used in the oil and gas industry. The development made good use of my skills, supporting the engineers developing the product with my software and electronics experience.