Fake news and news about fake news is everywhere. A lot of people are talking about it, and a lot of people are concerned about it’s impacts. But have you considered the impact on the engineering industry if fake news became fact?
we’re on the wrong side of the fence, in a society where opinion is taken more seriously than fact is
What if a client believed the fake news over what an engineer said? What if engineers stop questioning the news and started believing facts that just weren’t correct.
Fundamentally, engineering is a science. We don’t always deal in hard, cold, black and white facts
Rowan believes it is an engineer’s responsibility to correct errors where they are evident. He quotes General David Morrison
the standard you walk past is the standard you accept
Rowan is concerned that people’s opinions are starting to matter more than scientific fact and engineering knowledge.
It’s a big challenge for engineering because the more we allow opinion to be more important than facts … the less credibility engineering has in general
Links discussed during the episode
Rowan’s favourite piece of engineering is La Sagrada Familia. Mel’s favourite podcast (after Engineering Heroes of course) is 99% Invisible and she had just listened to an episode they had released telling to story about this fascinating church. Have a listen!
Rowan quotes Lieutenant General David Morrison AO who is a fascinating human.
Sir John Monash is the engineer Rowan most admires. Mel loves that he has a number of statues around Australia to commemorate this great engineer. Read more about him here.
About Rowan Peck
Rowan is a Chartered Practicing Electrical Engineer who studied at University of Sydney and is also an Uptime Institute Accredited Tier Designer.
Over the years Rowan has worked with Esso, Baulderstone Hornibrook and Concrete Constructions. And for over 21 years he worked with Norman Disney and Young Consulting Engineers where he was a Director in the Sydney, Auckland and Canberra offices.
Rowan’s technical ability and organisational skills see him recognised by his peers as a leader in the industry.
He is the chair of the A/NZ Standards subcommittee and an Australian international expert member to the IEC for switchboards. He has presented at conferences around the world and he has been an active supporter and sponsor of Communities@Work ACT, Red Cross, UNHCR, Hartley Lifecare and the ANU Sol Invictus World Solar Challenge.
He is currently the Founder and Director of Mission Critical Systems where he continues to provide practical solutions to power system challenges, for facilities which must remain operational throughout their lifecycle.
Mel De Gioia 00:25
Hi, welcome to season two episode two of Engineering Heroes, a podcast that presents the incredible engineers that are shaping our society and battling our challenging issues. Fake News and news about fake news is everywhere. A lot of people are talking about it and a lot of people are concerned about its impact. But have you considered the impact on the engineering industry? If Fake News became fact? What if a client believed the fake news over what an engineer said? What if engineers stop questioning the news and started believing facts that just weren’t correct? My name is Mel, our co host and our podcasts resident engineer speaking to us from the trenches is Dom. Our guest today will talk about his concern that people’s opinions are starting to matter more than scientific fact and engineering knowledge. Dom, over to you. Let’s get cracking.
Joining us is Rowan Peck. Rowan is a Chartered Practicing Electrical Engineer who studied at University of Sydney and is also an Uptime Institute Accredited Tier Designer.
Over the years Rowan has worked with the likes of Esso, Baulderstone Hornibrook and Concrete Constructions. And for over 21 years he worked with Norman Disney and Young Consulting Engineers where he was a Director in the Sydney, Auckland and Canberra offices.
Rowans technical ability and organisational skills see him recognised by his peers as a leader in the industry. He is the chair of the A/NZ Standards subcommittee and an Australian international expert member to the IEC for switchboards.
He has presented at conferences around the world and he has been an active supporter and sponsor of Communities@Work ACT, Red Cross, UNHCR, Hartley Lifecare and the ANU Sol Invictus World Solar Challenge.
He is currently the Founder and Director of Mission Critical Systems where he continues to provide practical solutions to power system challenges, for facilities which must remain operational throughout their lifecycle.
Rowan, thanks for joining us.
Hi, Mel. Hi, Dom, thanks for having me.
Mel De Gioia 02:28
absolute pleasure, I can’t wait to get into this. I really want to know what made you decide to become an engineer at the very beginning.
So my dad’s an engineer, and that kind of gave me a bit of a role model, I guess. And he used to drag me around to building sites. And you know, when I was a kid, I’d be walking around on top of concrete reinforcing slabs and buildings. And he’d be checking outside inspections on the weekends and things like that we did, building jobs around the house, and all kinds of stuff. So I really got into city and I don’t know, just creating stuff, right. And then as I got into my teens, you know, sort of started thinking about what I wanted to do when I grew up. And there are a few possibilities. But ultimately, I knew that I just loved to create and build stuff and be able to look at it sitting on the desk or over there in the park or whatever and go, Hey, I was part of that. So I got a kick out of that. And I figured that doing something like that in my career might be a good idea. Definitely. Well, you also get to be in an industry where you leave your mark on society, too. So you come through to retire, you can sort of look back at all the projects that you’ve done and the wonderful things that you’ve done for society and, and how you’ve helped them. Whereas I don’t know a lot of other careers that necessarily can do that.
Mel De Gioia 03:50
You’ve finished your degree at Sydney Uni. And what did you do when you first came out?
back in the mid 80s, when I finished university and i i was like now but we had a lot of companies coming to universities for career shows. And you know, they’d come and do interviews and the rest of it. And I didn’t really know what kind of work I wanted to do then. But I knew I wanted to go out and build stuff, have some or be involved in building stuff. So I ended up talking to a series of companies and the ones that were more interesting were the ones that kind of allowed me to pursue that passion to create and be part of stuff that had some permanency about it. I end up going to Victoria with ESSO Australia, they had a pretty good program for graduates, I got thrown into the deep end on a really significant project that was worth something like, I don’t know, it was about a quarter of a million dollars a day in production. …. handling on two of the platforms to the oil platforms, right. So gas …, anyone who’s interested is pumping gas down oil wells to make the oil column liner is it starts to suck water up out of the ground as well. And the water handling is obviously to get the water out of the oil. So lots of instrumentation, lots of big equipment, pipes, pumps, compressors, switchboards, whole power gear, I was quite interested in the control side of it. And had the opportunity as a team of being there was one of the graduate who was the same year in as myself. She’s a chemical engineer. And she’s now head of engineering at Woodside in Perth. So it was myself, it was Melissa, there was a guy called Steve who was third year out of uni from memory. And the three of us basically split up the roles of being on the offshore platforms. For a period of pretty close to three months full time, at least two of us were there looking after getting this project up and running and commissioning and whatnot. So I had a great time doing that.
Mel De Gioia 06:17
Commissioning an oil rig. So you’re actually on it.
One of the platforms, no Commission, the oil rig Mel where we’re actually upgrading part of the production facility and commissioning the aspects of that that we have added.
Mel De Gioia 06:30
So the first job you had out of university was working on this oil rig, this is a huge, very accurately said you went really right.
I guess I learned probably I can think of two really important lessons I learned from my career in that first 12 months of doing stuff on offshore platforms. One was that I worked alongside a really experienced engineer who was getting close to retirement. And I learned a lot from him. But one of the other things I learned was never to assume I know what’s going on. Because at one point, in a project we worked on together, he made some assumptions. And I had basically done some homework with the electrician, the local electrician and the attrition about a few things because I could not understand the drawings and what was going on because they were a bit different to what I’d seen before. And it turned out that that particular project we’re working on had been built and designed differently to all the others in that area. So, you know, I learned not to make assumptions about how things work. And the other thing I learned, again, from one of the tradesmen I work closely with on the guests with project was that I might, I might be the one with the piece of paper on the wall degree. But that doesn’t make me the smarter in the room. Generally ever, unless I know when to shut my mouth and listen and ask questions and learn from people who have been doing the nuts and bolts of what I’m trying to figure out for most of their life. So, you know, one of the electricians, we were sitting there talking about how to solve a particular problem, one of the electricians just looked straight at me and said, Well, how do we make this work? You’re the engineer you should know, right? And that’s when it dawned on me that well, you know what? Sure, I’ve got a piece of paper, I’ve got four or five years of training at university or whatever, doesn’t make me all that smart from a practical point of view. And yeah, that’s those two lessons have stayed with me, right? Don’t make assumptions about what you think is going on. Go figure it out yourself. And be sure to check. And also never, never underestimate what you can learn from everybody on the team no matter what they’re role might be. Because I’ve got the experience in areas that you don’t necessarily. There’s great value to be drawn from that.
Mel De Gioia 09:09
Great lessons to learn very early on.
Yeah, I think particularly that second point is one that was spoken about previously to because I know that there’s been a few times on site where you stand there and just forget, well, how are we going to do that. And it actually stood there with a another trades person that I’ve worked with. And he’s dead company as well. He’d been on the tools for 40 odd years. And he sort of climbed off the backhoe and went, why don’t you do that, then that the two of us looked at each other and kind of went, Oh, yeah, what do we think of that? And it was just the fact that, yeah, 40 years experience of doing this, that he could see the things that you’d never say otherwise. Whereas I think a lot of the younger people, when they’re coming through, it’s almost as though they think they have to know everything. And they have a bit of a bit of a chip on their shoulder in relation to thinking that they have all the answers when more often than not, is, it’s better to find out from the people around you what their answers are, because it’s probably gonna help you with something
Yeah, I think part of the part of the skill of being a good engineer, particularly in electrical where I work, you know, and when things can go horribly wrong, right? Stuff blows up, and I’ve had things blow up in my face. That’s pretty scary when it happens. You know, equipment fails and goes bang, and people get hurt if you don’t get your wits about you. But one of the one of the valuable lessons is that, you know, what, you just listen to what people have to say, and the engineering role might make us a person who has to make the decision. But that decision should be about how do I do this safely. And I do this with minimal risk to everybody and everything in the company and whatever else is relevant to the situation. I’m not going to figure that out by myself, I need to get the whole team together and have that conversation because everybody’s got a different perspective. And the people who are physically doing the work, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s safe and what’s not. If you actually take the time to make sure their input is, is taken on board and valued. Yeah.
Mel De Gioia 11:11
If you’re as in love with our new podcast intro as we are, I just have to take a moment to give a short plug for Greg Grassi of SOJUX. He had an album released on the 31st of July, and from what I’ve heard of it so far, it sounds amazing. His details will be on our About page at our website, www.engineeringheroes.com.au Take a moment go and check it out. He’s a great talent. But the now back to our interview with Rohan,
kind of bigger picture problem for engineering for me, is, you know, anyone who’s kind of even half watching the news and social media and the rest of it knows that there are a lot of problems with the way information is shared between people. And so and the rest of it at the moment, which kind of results in people are exposed to the views, they already hold the which reinforces and opinion, and they are becoming I think becoming less and less able to filter facts from stuff that doesn’t make sense. Right. And that’s a problem for the engineering profession. Because fundamentally, engineering is a science. We don’t always deal in hard cold black and white facts. We also have a whole lot of risk games to play with, you know, lowest risk and this sort of stuff, right? But we are fundamentally a science, which has its basis in facts that you can go back to and say will, this is why this will work. And this is why this will not work. And here’s some reasons why you might take that approach or this approach. So where we’re on the, on the wrong side of the fence, in a society where opinion is taken more seriously than fact is taken. So that’s a bit of a problem for engineering. Because when we start talking to potentially clients, and then mostly it’s probably there that the problem arises, but also just having having debates with friends or in in social situations generally, more and more we can expect to be challenge that I will my opinions this and you know, as an engineer, my temptation is to say you can have whatever opinion your life say in your opinions, not with not with a pinch of salt, right? So that you don’t want to say that because all that does is early night people and they just go back to the sources that reinforce their opinion and conclude that you’re a crackpot and go away, right, which takes away from the respect of the people vision, even more so than we already have a problem with with this whole fact versus opinion. conundrum, right? So my sort of thought about that is that, and this is wider than just the engineering, right? This is a problem for society at large, because we’re more and more living in a technological kind of world where facts and science are becoming more and more part of every day than a lot of people realize. And to, to kind of wander away into an opinion based decision making process gets you in trouble.
Mel De Gioia 14:38
So how do we ensure that opinion doesn’t take over the science or the fact?
So one, one of the things that as an engineer, I think we all should be doing is just being aware that that problem exists. And the be ready to the critical thinkers about the information that’s presented to us? Does this make sense? Does this align with what seems right? You know, one of the things we learned in engineering is, I guess people still learn is, you know how to go about making a bit of a rule of thumb rough estimate back of the envelope calculation to check that somebody makes sense, right? You know, if somebody says to me, I need a $10,000 tank, just to use an example from, from your space, Don, I need a 10,000 liter tank of water over there. And I’ve got a three meter by three meter holder put it in, that’s not going to work, right. But there are quite a few people who wouldn’t recognize that they just say, well, you just make it fit night. You know, what’s the problem? Well, the problem is the volumes a bit big. Okay. So that’s, that’s a pretty simple example of where effect this is opinion can get you in trouble. You need to understand how to deal with those conversations. Because people don’t like to be told they’re wrong. That I’m I’d like to be told that the thing they believed for the last 20 years is basically rubbish. For whatever reason, they’ve come to believe it. But you do need to be smart enough to see through the problems, see through the false ones and the lies and the stuff that’s not based on facts, and to guide the debate in a way that helps people become critical thinkers. And ask them those questions about does that seem reasonable? You guys like to me on, on puzzling over this because it doesn’t sound right. And I just can’t put my finger on it. But if I think through this, and this, and this doesn’t seem like the right conclusion, right. And one of the things that I’ll steal from a recent Australian of the Year, General David Morrison was head of the army in Australia Defence Force. And he became very well known around the world for the attitude, he talked to equality within the Defence Force. And one of my favorite quotes from him is the standard you walk past is a standard you accept. And he’s context was if you walk past somebody who’s giving someone else a hard time because you know, they’re whatever they are different. Right? That’s, that’s basically if you don’t say anything, then you’re accepting that behavior. Right? Honestly, fundamentally, there’s any difference between that kind of context and the context that I’m talking about, where if I allow people to sit there and have a debate and come up with rubbish, based on stuff that’s clearly not factual and clearly makes no sense. And I say nothing. Or I don’t do something about it. And then I don’t necessarily want to say something right then and embarrassing in front of the friends. Right. But maybe I’ll take them aside later, whatever is right for the context ago behind and say something about that, then I’m just allowing that stuff to continue. Right? Yeah,
I think when a lot of people don’t look at this, or this will, so they’ll get so caught up in something, that they only see their side. And whether it’s a case of it’s, they believe so passionately. And unfortunately, sometimes for the wrong reasons, because they’re not looking at the bigger picture. And I think that’s part of the issue, too, that people just don’t take a beat to step back and go, Well, hold on a second, let me have a look at this. Logically, yeah, my because I get a lot as well, in regards to people who obviously don’t work in the engineering profession, who will give you opinions on certain things, and you, you feel like you go against them, you just kind of get shouted down because they’ve read an article in a magazine, which gives them a biased opinion on one side of the story. And it’s, it really comes down to almost being a really good consultant to sort of sit there with them a guy Well, actually, have you thought about these factors that are associated with it. So you can sort of pointing out that sometimes that what may work and why that location isn’t necessarily going to work and everything. Okay?
That’s a good way of looking at it. Right? It’s a big challenge for engineering because the more we allow opinion to be more important than facts, the more or the less credibility engineering has, in general, because we’re effect based fundamentally effect by science profession.
It was one of the interesting parts about becoming charted that one of the points ease, know your limitations. So also know where you go, you know what, I don’t know this. I’m not gonna try it. I’m not gonna try design. The switchboard cuz I’ve never done that. And yeah, mechanical engineer. So that’s not my place. And there’s a lot of people who don’t seem to know where that that lines drawn. And I think that’s a critical part of actually making sure that you are a good engineer.
Yeah. And one way to learn that is you spend a bit of time with with tradesmen, and you soon find out what you don’t know yet.
They’re happy to tell you.
Well, they are and then as long as you’re open to listening, yep, you will, you will learn a lot.
Mel De Gioia 19:53
Is there anything that you want to particularly make a standout point for decided people that are just starting out, in engineering
like I spent a lot of time interviewing and mentoring and coaching graduate engineers, when I became more experienced in the company I spent 20 odd years with, right. And one of the things I noticed was that the people who stuck at it and actually enjoyed what they were doing, all shared a passion about this same thing that I did, which was I want to create something that I can look back on with some pride and say, Hi, I was involved in that, right. So when I got around to interviewing graduate, like people who are in a final university, I used to ask a question, which I’m pretty sure no one could ever prepare for, but obviously, if they listen to this, they can. And that was I would just say to them, you know, not the usual or where you want to be in five years time and all that stuff that they get coached in, right? I would say. So. It’s a rainy weekend, you’re 13 years old?. What are you going to do for two days? Because I realized that one of the reasons I was passionate about what I do as an engineer, is my answer that question was I build stuff. And in my particular case, I built it out of Macondo, or anything else I could find, right. So I’ve always stuck in sores, I could spend a long time just creating things, and playing around and just having a good time, right? I reckon that if you want to be an engineer, and if you want to do anything, really in your career, but if you want to be an engineer, ask yourself some questions about what you are passionate about, when you are glad to have maybe 15. And what you found really interesting to do, because if you can get a career going, and this could be in a field of engineering, or it could be something nothing to do with engineering, right. But if you get a career going, that taps into that passion, you will be motivated, you be excited, you will want to do better, and you will want to help other people enjoy it as well as yourself. Right. So that to me is like, yeah, go figure out what to do on that basis.
Mel De Gioia 22:11
That’s such a great, I mean, even just asking that question. presented that question made me think, when I do you really cool question. That is a great question. Tell us about a piece of engineering that impresses you.
So for me, the most impressive piece of engineering I’ve ever seen, is designed by an architect. And his name is Antonia Gowdy. And it’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, which has been under construction. Now, I think I’ve got this ride for 130 years. really fascinating thing about that building for me is that the guy who designed it really understood form and function and how to use materials really simply an effectively. And if you ever have the opportunity to go to Barcelona, or even if you just look it up on a bit of a kind of a YouTube tour, right? There is a underneath the church, there’s a kind of a display or a museum for one of a better word, which explains some of the things that gouty did when he designed that building. And if you look upstairs, and if you’re a structural engineers, it’s probably incredibly fascinating. I’m an electrical engineer, I thought it was pretty cool, right? That the the shape of the columns and the way they set up and the way they connect to each other and support the roof, creates an incredible space. But it’s also really a light touch structure. As in there isn’t much of it. And you look at it and go, it looks like there’s nothing that’s not being used. And you go downstairs and there’s a model of how he designed this whole topology of the structure. And it was all done with basically sandbags and string. Right, upside down. Like, maybe you guys have heard of it. I don’t know, right? But if you look at that, and you contemplate that, and then go back upstairs and look at the structure, and you just realize, my goodness, these blacks a genius, right.
So there’s no other word for it, right? I mean, he created some amazing architectural works. But for me, that building and the way he designed it was the cleverest thing I’ve ever seen in engineering.
Mel De Gioia 24:28
One of my favourite podcasts is called 99% Invisible. And they did an episode about the story of lust, anger, lust.
Yeah, so grata familiar.
Mel De Gioia 24:41
Yeah. So they, they did the whole story about how it got started, and the journey of it, and it touches on the design elements. So yeah, it’s fascinating. So I’m going to include that in the show notes because the link to 99 Pillai cuz I think what you’ve mentioned, it will actually add an extra layer, when you even think about this building, because I know it does to me. And just to wrap up, who’s an engineer that you admire?
So this was a tough question, right? Because, obviously, and Tony god, he’s not an engineer, he’s an architect. So I couldn’t I couldn’t be a better person i would i would put forward is General Sir john Monash who was a world war one general with the Australian country, Australia Imperial force, sorry. And he’s a civil engineer. I couldn’t tell you what he designed. But I can tell you that he understood the value of taking a thoughtful approach to what you’re doing, and applying some leadership and ending up with an outcome that benefits people because his war record for Australia, it was completely different approach to what was going on with the, with the English leadership. He actually wanted to conserve his resources and not just throw the troops to the walls of the pile of bullets or whatever you want to call it. In a tragic stuff that went on in World War One. He actually sat down and thought about it. And, you know, I, I feel like he did that because he was someone who understood from his training that that wasn’t a really smart way to go about stuff. So he understood the value of resources, he understood the benefit of leadership in a different way to what was the norm at that time. And he was a pretty smart engineer along the way.
Mel De Gioia 26:46
He’s actually got a statue. I love this. I love engineers that have statues for them, and it’s done in Melbourne. Definitely a good one to look into, especially since he’s got his own statue. Thank you so much. I really just loved talking to you. Thanks for joining us.
Yeah, thanks Mel. Thanks, Dom. Such an absolute pleasure.
Mel De Gioia 27:10
And thank you for listening to episode 2 of Engineering Heroes. Rowan’s chat was really thought provoking for us. Engineers have such an important role in forming our society, and what happens when an engineer is convinced by an opinion, not fact.
Next week we will be speaking with an engineer who has pivoted her engineering career to start focusing on the importance of the next generation of engineers. Join us to hear what it is that she’s doing to make her mark within the engineering fraternity.
If you want to keep up to date with our latest information, or find out more about today’s show, your best port of call will always be our website. www.engineeringheroes.com.au
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We look forward to you joining us next week when we bring you another interview with one of our engineering champions.