Colin (right) pictured with his brother James after a rugby game for his team Ponsonby “Hustlers”,
who went on to win the Auckland under 85kg rugby championship in 2019.
How did you get into engineering?
I grew up on a farm in Ireland and, from when I was small, always enjoyed the operation, maintenance and repair of the farm machinery.
Like so many engineers, I loved working with my hands and as a child I remember one of my favourite books was “How Things Work”—a visual encyclopaedia of how everything works. It covered everything from trains to planes to washing machines to the international space station—I absolutely loved it!
In school, Maths was not a strong point of mine, however Physics was my best subject and I once scored in the 99th percentile in an aptitude test for Mechanical Reasoning. Knowing this is what lead me to pursue a career in engineering.
Where did you study?
After school I attended Dublin City University, on the north side of Dublin and studied Manufacturing Engineering with Business Studies, a combination of two degrees. It was vastly mechanical / manufacturing engineering modules with some business modules mixed in.
I find the topics I learned at Uni very useful as a mechanical engineer. So much of what we design is constrained by manufacturability and by reducing the cost of manufacture. I find having knowledge of how to run a business is also quite valuable and allows you to see “bigger picture” when working with clients.
What do you enjoy most about mechanical engineering?
Making things work and seeing ideas come to life. I find it very intriguing to think about the amount of thought that goes into the design of everything around us. No matter where you look, every product required some consideration into its manufacture, assembly, functionality, strength, safety, maintenance, disposal etc.
I think in some cases it can be relatively easy to come up with a good idea, but far more challenging to make that idea work and that is what I enjoy.
What engineering experience did you have before you came to Caliber?
After spending a year at Uni, before the summer holidays, I emailed my CV to dozens of engineering companies, seeking experience—be it a day, a week, a month, paid or unpaid. I largely got ignored but did get offered a 10-week opportunity in England, working on a factory assembly floor, putting machines together.
It was very valuable experience and, for the first time, got to see internal workings of a factory. I also got to witness first-hand the hardship, cost and difficulty created when a mistake is made in the design office, which gave an appreciation for the importance of attention to detail in design.
I then did an 8-month internship in Kildare in Ireland at a place called Cross Engineering. They did mostly agri machinery but also a lot of equipment for biogas electricity plants. As it turned out, 2 weeks before I started the Design Engineer left to go work somewhere else, so the design office was empty when I started and I ended up filling the role of Design Engineer for the 8 months of my internship. I was completely thrown in the deep end! I did have supervision from the other engineering managers there, but largely worked alone. It was great experience and it made me realise that I really enjoyed design engineering.
After finishing my degree I worked for two years as a Mechanical Design Engineer for Distag QCS, an OEM based across Ireland and the UK. They did some of their own manufacturing but largely imported from Asian and European countries. It was a small-medium sized company and the Managing Director really trusted me in designing what was required—often starting from a basic sketch on paper. I developed three or four original products in my time there. A lot of the design is done in Ireland and then outsourced and so I was able to get a lot of experience of bring products through the full design, prototyping, manufacturing, and outsourcing processes.
I then went travelling in Central America for two months before arriving in New Zealand, applied for work at Caliber, and here I am!
What makes working for Caliber different from the other engineering companies you’ve worked for?
It’s definitely the variety of work and experience that makes Caliber so great, getting to work in completely different companies, different industries. Even if the placement is sometimes only a month or two, you still get a great insight into somewhere different. It is great to be able to learn from different industries and can carry that knowledge across to different jobs.
There is also a strong emphasis on interpersonal and social skills. Due to the nature of being thrown into a completely new office, in a new industry with new products and new people, you have to be really comfortable and willing to communicate and ask questions.
What does a typical day for a Caliber engineer look like?
I usually try to be at my desk by half 8 at the latest. I start off my making a list of what I am doing, what I plan to do, and what I plan to achieve by the end of the week. I’d usually communicate with which ever other Caliber engineer I’m collaborating with and ensure we’re on the same page, not overlapping on work, and are both agreeing on designs. We have a team meeting at 10am every day with the full client team, a full team discussion about what was happening, any issues, any urgent deadlines coming up.
The last project I was working on I was using Autodesk Inventor, with a client that required a very very high level of detail in their models. This was quite time consuming as literally every single component had to be modelled, everything down to the last cable ties and wire loom, which was labour intensive from a CAD point of view but an enjoyable challenge.
Any particular project or industry you are interested in? What does your dream project involve?
Recently I have become quite interested in the aerospace industry and follow a lot about Rocketlab and SpaceX. I am also a big fan of Elon Musk and his method of thinking from first principles. Achievements at Tesla and SpaceX are evidence of what is possible when applying this mindset and attitude.
A dream project for me would be bringing a world changing idea to life. Something that has a long-lasting positive impact for society and/or the environment would be really exciting.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
I really enjoy spending time with friends and family— I’m usually quite a social person and being around others is where I’m happiest. I also play rugby for Ponsonby under 85kg grade which is not a grade that exists in Ireland at all. I really enjoy playing at this grade because it offers a fast paced and skilful brand of rugby which is competitive but social and also carries a much lower risk of injury. We won the Auckland championship last year which was awesome. I also enjoy music, I’m currently learning the piano and got the opportunity to play and sing at my brother’s wedding in Feb which was great.