Project Manager Q&A
Andy is a Project Manager at Firstco. He has worked on a number of key projects, including; Cooling the Tube and NATS, the UKs leading provider of air traffic control systems.
Why did you become an engineer?
I grew up on a farm in Monmouthshire South Wales. My Dad was an engineer and he used to repair a lot of machinery so I virtually grew up in his workshop. At school, I was good at Maths, Physics and those kinds of subjects. I was always going to work with technology in a hands-on role and I gravitated towards computer systems. I love to develop and build things, which is a neat way of explaining what engineering is.
What’s your engineering background?
I’ve been in this industry for about ten years now. I did a Systems Engineering degree at Warwick University (2001-2005) where the course had a real-world focus.While I was a student I worked part-time for a company in industrial automation, which is how I got into this sector. As a graduate a lot of my work was in factory automation and process industries such as the steel works in South Wales. Before Firstco, I worked for one company: Control Systems Services, Newport, and Tata Steel was one of our biggest customers.
When did you join Firstco?
I joined Firstco in June 2013 after I was persuaded to move to London by my lovely wife. Firstco represented an ideal opportunity to develop my career into new markets and larger projects, whilst making best use of the skills and experience I had developed.
Tell us about some of the key projects that you’ve worked on?
The first project I worked on was Potable Pumps at Heathrow where we upgraded the water distribution system around the airport.
One of my major projects is Cooling the Tube with London Underground. I’m the Programme Manager and work with an innovative team focusing specifically on keeping the heat down, constantly looking at new ways of cooling everything. I get a lot of job satisfaction from jobs that have societal benefits. The Cooling the Tube project has a very tangible impact so I have a sense of pride.
Other projects include a safety system on London Underground. We set up a system to trip/cut the power if anyone falls on the tracks. We upgraded an existing trip system to support the multi-million-pound major redevelopment of the sub-surface lines (Circles, District, H&C, Metropolitan). The upgrade required a remote means of controlling and monitoring the legacy system from a new operations centre. The system was designed and installed to meet rigorous safety standards.
Network Rail has an internal Research and Development team looking at innovations they can make on the railway. Cable theft is a major issue so we are exploring how they can work without cables, looking at wireless communications. It’s cutting edge work so there is a lot of job satisfaction
I’m currently the Project Manager on a major new project with NATS, reviewing and upgrading the electrical management system that powers the air traffic control equipment at their Portsmouth centre. I’m currently putting the team together and the project will run for over a year.
What are your highlights from working at Firstco?
At Firstco, we’ve set up our research Technical Innovation Group which includes half a dozen staff who look at better ways of doing things. For example, how do we turn emerging technology into opportunities for us? This research group gives me another creative outlet. I also mentor a few of the junior members of the team and enjoy seeing them achieve their full potential.
What do you most like about working for Firstco?
Most companies claim to be people focused but Firstco really deliver on that. We recruit very well, employing people with a similar ethos. We look after people and there’s a lot of focus on training and development. Since joining, I’ve got an accreditation in Project Management and have also become a Chartered Engineer.
How has Firstco changed since you joined in June 2013?
Firstco has grown in size with a lot more staff and larger higher status projects. Our industry works on reputation and track record and Firstco is going from strength to strength.
What are your thoughts on the location of the office?
Paddington is very convenient for staff and clients. A lot of our work is on our doorstep: London Underground and Heathrow. This means you can meet clients easily.
Would you say that there’s a good social scene at Firstco?
The company looks after us very well by organizing a varied amount of social events. The nature of our work means staff split off into teams on projects so the social events mean we get to know each other. They include annual events such as a summer picnic and Xmas party plus everything from sport and film to theatre.
What do you like doing in your free time?
I’m a keen sportsman, playing rugby for a social side in London and working with a rugby-based charity, School of Hard Knocks. I enjoy an outdoor lifestyle, and like to take the opportunity to get out of London with my free time. Being based in west London makes it easy to get back to family and friends in Wales, and allows me to enjoy the best of both worlds.