Air Force Officer Ryan Kell chats to us about the need for engineers in leadership roles
I think engineers are inherently good decision makers, because they’ve got the mindset that’s developed through education.
Engineers would add much needed value in society.
an understanding of what it is that engineers contribute to society
Ryan believes that all the work that is being done to encourage students into the STEM fields will lead to a wider range of people entering into engineering, which will naturally bring in more natural leaders.
you’re going to have people that have a natural innate leadership ability, you’re going to attract more of them
Links discussed during the episode
Ryan ran into Karen Andrews MP at a high school reunion function. She is a mechanical engineer who embodies the move into leadership that Ryan speaks to us about.
The SR71 Blackbird is a piece of engineering that Ryan greatly admires.
Elon Musk is someone who Ryan admires.
he is all about the future. And he is all about what’s next. And what is humanity going to look like in 20/30/50 years.
About Ryan Kell
Squadron leader Ryan Kell is an aeronautical and armament engineer in the Royal Australian Air Force.
So you are sort of military first in your approach to things
Ryan has held a number of roles within the Air Force as an engineering manager for fighter aircraft maintenance and as an explosive ordnance disposal team leader. In 2013 he worked as a counter improvised explosive device specialist and bomb scene investigator in Kabul, Afghanistan.
During his time for achievement during combat, the US government awarded him the Bronze Star Medal.
Air Force values its engineers, because of … the engineering mindset
Ryan’s current role is as the executive officer of number 65 Squadron, which is the RAAF’s airbase recovery Squadron who conduct the Air Force’s civil engineering and bomb disposal activities.
action the solution, military training does go down that path.
This is a “close” copy of the words that were spoken during the Podcast, Season 2 Episode 4.
It is not 100% accurate.
The guest was Ryan Kell.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
Mel De Gioia 0:26
Hi, welcome to season two, Episode Four of Engineering Heroes, a podcast that chats to the incredible engineers that are shaping our society and battling out challenging issues.
Mel De Gioia 0:37
I clearly remember the very first real job I had, and a specific day of training. At this training day, we were all asked one of those silly hypothetical questions. If you and a group of people were stuck on a deserted island, what is the one thing you should bring with you? Now everyone was saying matches or inflatable boats or things like that I don’t remember specifically, but I do remember the answer the trainer gave. So apparently, the single most important thing to bring with you to get off that island was leadership. I’m shaking my head even as I recount this, but it honestly made me realise and it stuck with me still to this day, that every situation in life, there are leaders and there are followers, and who should be the leader and who should be the follower is very important in the success of getting off that island. But at the end of the day, someone has to step forward and take on the responsibility of that leadership role. Otherwise, you ain’t going nowhere.
Mel De Gioia 1:38
My name is Mel, my co host and our podcasts resident engineer speaking to us from the trenches is Dom. Today’s guest believes that if engineer’s step into society’s leadership roles, the world would be a much better place. Dom, over to you, let’s get cracking.
In this podcast, we often speak about the role engineer’s play in keeping people safe, how the work they do affects the lives of entire communities, how their day to day activities are shaping our world, and how the majority of people don’t even know they do it. I think it’s safe to say that our guest tonight plays a greater role in the safety of his fellow colleagues this country and honestly the world as we know it than any other tonight. Tonight we’re honoured to be speaking with Squadron Leader Ryan Kell of the RAAF. Ryan is an aeronautical engineer who has held a number of roles within the Air Force as an engineering manager for fighter aircraft maintenance and as an explosive ordnance disposal team leader. In 2013. He worked as a counter improvised explosive device specialist and bomb scene investigator in Kabul, Afghanistan. During his time for achievement during combat, the US government awarded him the Bronze Star Medal. Ryan’s current role is as the executive officer of number 65 Squadron, which is the RAAF’s airbase recovery Squadron who conduct the Air Force’s civil engineering and bomb disposal activities. Definitely a new one for this podcast. Thanks for joining us, Ryan.
Mel De Gioia 3:09
Hello, everyone. Glad to be here.
Mel De Gioia 3:13
This is amazing. What was the moment you decided that you wanted to become an engineer?
So no specific moment, but I’d probably say I guess similar sort of story to most people through high school sort of was sort of lean toward science, technology, math. So I think Yeah, yeah, I was sort of looking at jobs at the end of high school sort of was it was actually leaning towards civil engineering. But then yeah, applied for for the Air Force to go down to ADFA, the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra. To be honest, it was the easy option. But it turns out it was a good decision.
And was there a reason for that sort of got you to apply for the Air Force
Mel De Gioia 3:52
Do you mean the airforce specifically or the military
just the military in general?
So my brother really wanted to be a fighter pilot. So he’s sort of…
Mel De Gioia 4:03
Yeah, older brother. Yeah. So he started doing it for the cadets when we were at high school. And I sort of did that with him just I guess, because it was the thing to do. And then yeah, I suppose really enjoyed the, the stem, the aeronautical aerospace, sort of aspects of it, and looking at aircraft and how they work and what they work. That was something that I enjoyed. And then when looking around at options at the end of high school, one that was there was to be an engineer and Air Force. And I thought, yeah, be fairly interesting. And then to the working sort of, in the weapons space, I guess High School kid. Yeah. It’s really cool. So yeah, that’s, that’s where it went.
So it’s just yourself and your brother? Was there any other military background?
No, not really. So it I guess, older history? My my grandfather on my dad’s side was in the Army during World War Two. Yeah. And then sort of nothing. And so my brother and I, not really, okay, so you know, normally really a big military family at all
for a lot of people I’ve spoken to as well sort of side for engineering, getting into the military is like the honey pot is just, there’s so many amazing roles, and so many different things that you can do that you’d never be able to do anywhere else with any other company or any other business studies. Did you find that it was sort of like a wealth of all these different types of things you can do?
Yeah, so the variety is definitely there. So I’ve sort of worked some desk jobs in offices doing sort of paperwork style stuff, but not technical engineering, more just military staff work. I’ve had jobs, yeah, walking around flight lines of fighter aircraft, supervising guys preparing and loading bombs, and bullets and missiles and that sort of thing. And then yeah, have been a jobs were on the ground dealing with unexploded bombs, or improvised explosive devices and that kind of thing. Yeah, there’s a massive variety.
So cast your mind back, you get through engineering, what was the first project that you worked on as an engineer?
first job out of uni, they send you off to one of the big air bases, you get experienced to have a flying Squadron works, how a higher headquarters unit works, how some of the engineering, and logistics sustainment units work. So for the first year, you sort of get a bit of breadth of experience across all of those and how they work together. So I didn’t specifically do that, I opted to stay around in Canberra, and I had one of those desk jobs, where it wasn’t really engineering focused, but it was based on countering IED. So the improvised explosive device, which at the time was, was a really huge threat for the Australian forces over in, in the Afghanistan theatre. So that that was my first job. So I only had 12 months doing that. But it was it was, yeah, really good eye opener to how it is the Israeli Defence Forces business, what they do, what was going on current operations, and then sort of what opportunities are out there that I could sort of try and try and work in the latest stage?
Mel De Gioia 7:09
Have you kind of moved out of that engineering space, then because that is a big thing, where
it’s a pretty common thing, unfortunately, with engineering that you you get out of the hands on stuff and just have these natural progression through the industry where you end up in management roles, because it seems as though engineering minds are really well suited to, to managing people and operations
Mel De Gioia 7:30
is that where you’re at with your career?
A little bit. So I actually changed jobs. At the end of this year, I’m moving down to Canberra, and going into a project engineering manager role for weapon acquisition for the new Joint Strike Fighter. So that’ll be Yeah, really interesting change of pace, interesting change a job. And I guess that’ll probably delve more into the technical aspects of acquiring weapons that meet the user requirement and that sort of thing.
Mel De Gioia 7:55
Okay, so you really do move around a lot with the skill sets required within the military.
Yeah, it’s really good for that the variety and the opportunity to go and do stuff is yes, it’s more than some of my engineering mates that didn’t go through the military have been, or had the chance to do.
Mel De Gioia 8:15
Do you actually align yourself as an engineer, first and military second? Or is it military first? And then entities second? If you know what I mean?
Yes. So you are sort of military first in your approach to things and you’re, you’re sort of leading a workforce of people. For engineers, that’s technical people that do maintenance on aircraft, for for logistics people, a lead that people who specialise in supply chains, and supply of equipment. If you’re if you’re a pilot, and you get to the appropriate level, you you lead a bunch of pilots, when they actually go and do they fly?
Mel De Gioia 8:55
I say I say yes, that does make sense.
Do you find it because people always say that with engineering you, you sort of developed an engineering mind in regards to the way that you process information? Do you find that the military side of it as well complements that or is it’s like an extra over on the top that kind of heightens the the engineering side.
So it’s a little bit of both, I’d say. So I really placed a huge amount of value in, in education as an engineer, because it gives you the thought processes to be able to analyse the problem, actually understand the problem in the first place, and come up with an appropriate solution. And then action, the solution, military training does go down that path. But a lot of its focused around understanding the organisation how we do business, as well as the leadership and management aspects of managing people, most Air Force officers as soon as you graduate, you’re in charge of a team of people. So it’s, it’s not entirely common for that to be that to be the case, especially I guess, for graduate engineers, typically, they’re in a technical role, sort of crunching numbers and churning optimization processes until they are deemed good enough to be able to move to the next level where they start managing people.
Mel De Gioia 10:15
In November this year, the world engineers conference is taking place in Melbourne. Both Dom and I submitted abstracts, and they were both actually accepted for presentation. So on day one, and day two of the conference, we will be up there presenting a little hearts that and we would love to see you. If you’re planning on coming to the conference, perhaps look us up beforehand, go over to our website, www.engineeringheroes.com.au. Perhaps we could organise the meetup. While we’re down there in Melbourne, sign up to our newsletter while you’re on the website. And we’ll definitely keep you up to date on what’s going on. Let’s start delving deeper into what Ryan is really concerned about
I think greatest challenges. And I guess it’s part of why you guys do what you do engineers being I guess I don’t want to say respected, revered is probably a bit too much. But an understanding of what it is that engineers contribute to society, the way I see it, is the human race sort of since caveman days, the only reason that we’ve got to where we are I go from survived through is through engineers, the technology that they developed the steps and leaps and bounds that have been opened that technology by engineers and what engineers do, and I think I think that’s probably underplayed a little bit in society at the moment. So I think I think that’s a massive challenge.
Mel De Gioia 11:42
Do you think it’s always been that way, though,
if you look at even Johannes Gutenberg, so the printing press, massive, massive leap forward in technology, and that sort of revolutionised knowledge and information. And likewise, the Industrial Revolution, what we don’t do is, I guess, focus on individual people, we sort of understand how good these things off a society, but it’s sort of like, they’ll magically happen, whether we pay attention or not. Yeah.
Yeah, it’s very much an unsung heroes in the background where one day it’s there. And then everyone takes it for granted. And no one actually stops and goes.. and thinks to themself, hold up a second. How did we get that? Yeah, there’s all these things that just happen. Yeah, no one really pay as much attention to it. I think, actually, it’s part of all the things that are going on the mind for 50 years since the moon landing, there was a there’s a video I sort of all the things that have come about because of that we’re doing is by the moon landing, and you kind of never thought of that. And they were over there. Yeah. So it’s just, it’s all those things in the background, the people just take for granted.
Mel De Gioia 12:47
What you’re saying is that it doesn’t get engineers, and they need to appreciate the role that engineers do.
Yeah, I think a little bit and and I think what that’ll lead to, I guess, would be having more engineers in, in sort of the public space. So getting engineers that are policymakers, decision makers, politicians, because I don’t think there is enough of that. And I think engineers can really value add in that space.
Yeah, We’ve spoken before about getting engineers to, not necessarily fill the table, but definitely be at the table when those decisions are being made. And I know it was speaking with Trish white, that was one of the things that that she sort of mentioned that there needs to be more engineers in politics and in those, those key roles, because there’s people that are dealing with these massive issues, and they don’t understand the issue. And you need an engineer in the mix to be able to explain just exactly what it means and what’s going on so that people can make better decisions in regards to the choices they’re making for the future.
Yeah, I agree with that. 100%. And I guess not not just in terms of providing the technical advice on what’s out there, having engineering not only in providing technical advice, but also through the decision making process, because I think engineers are inherently good decision makers, because they’ve got the mindset that’s developed through education. When you’re analysing a problem, your understanding the variables, your understanding the governing equations, in your understanding the output, I guess, a good example of momentum fairly regularly making decisions on things that the unit gets up to, is not technical in nature. However, having an engineering mindset, I can sort of treat the workflow within my team as a system. So you’ve got inputs, you’ve got outputs, there’s governing equations there in the middle. And that could be the strengths and weaknesses of your team. Or it could be how it is that you got your business. So that’s some value that I think engineers bring to it is being able to look at a workflow, look at a decision as a seminar understanding the inputs, yeah, how the informations process, and then what the output needs to be.
Mel De Gioia 14:57
is your career path, leading you to that leadership role that you’re saying that engineers need to get to know are you putting your money where your mouth is?
The thing about an engineering career in the military is, so the military is quite a hierarchy or rigid structure. And so for you to progress through that structure, you get promoted through the ranks after spending after gaining a amount of experience at each rank. Now, the difficulty is, like Dom was talking about before is that the higher you go up through the ranks system, the more of a leadership and management type role you play, and the less directly technical you are. Yeah, however, it was Air Force values its engineers, because of exactly that the engineering mindset, the decisions that they make their management leadership style, as you go further up the ranks. Value adds significantly to the organisation.
Mel De Gioia 15:35
Look at, you know, how do we get engineers into leadership roles? What is a possible solution? How would we do this?
So in, in the public space, so I suppose touching before on respect, or awareness of the profession, or there’s been a fairly large push over the last, I guess, five to 10 years that I’ve been aware of it towards, sort of STEM in school, so pushing a lot of people towards those science, technology, engineering, mathematics, education, which sort of leads into a career path. So the good part there is that you’re going to get a wide variety of people involved in STEM careers. And I suppose because of that, you’re going to have people that have a natural innate leadership ability, you’re going to attract more of them. If you sort of put stem out there and encourage people to go down that path.
Mel De Gioia 16:55
I love that I like I like the way that you’ve tied in that we’re actually already walking to down the path of solutions is actually I already been done and be starts at a very young age, like influencing a lot younger, it’s not something that you can talk to people, when they’re in high school towards the end of high school saying, Hey, get into engineering. It’s something that you need to do really early on.
Yeah, I agree. And I think there’s, I guess, enough enough programmes sort of, sort of going down that path, which is really good. But then I suppose it’s probably on the experienced engineers out there to want to promote that and to to guide and mentor and develop the engineers that are out there now. Because typically, and I suppose probably when I got into engineering and Dom you might agree or represent it. But engineering was typically for the sort of the geeky guys that really good at science and maths, love Star Wars. But not typically great with people.
Yeah, me too, hands up. But yeah, it’s like I think an engineer who is good with people is actually a really powerful person. And if you can, if you can, push them and grow and develop them into the appropriate leadership positions, and potentially towards policymaking and politics, then the I think that would genuinely put put the world in, in better stead.
Yeah. I agree with you completely on that. And we’ll just, yeah, based on that, what do you think you? What do you thoughts on the future of engineering? Where do you? Where do you think it’s going?
So with, with the amount of technical development going on, and things like artificial intelligence, I think there’s a lot of technical engineering design work is going to become a lot less mandrollic and a lot more automated, I guess, even in the last 20 years, looking at the development of CAD and sort of computational fluid dynamics, and for another element analysis, sort of software tools. So almost 100%, negate the requirement to crunch numbers by hand. And anymore, I think we’re going to end up going the same way with technical design work. So we’ll have AI programmes that can actually conduct design work. But to be honest, they probably exist on I’m not in a very technical space at the moment. So I don’t really know engineering is going to be more valuable in that public policy, leadership space. The benefit of having engineers in the public policy and political space, is that they like to like to operate based on facts. And typically numbers don’t lie. And you can quantify what is in the best interest of humanity. So if we’ve got engineers thinking about what is quantifiably The best thing for the people, then I think we’re going to have much more successful public policy and even politics, it’ll, it’ll reflect in politics, we won’t be thinking so much about the four year election cycle will be thinking a lot more about the the 20 or 30 years plus of where current policy is going to take us.
Yeah, that’s a really good point. It’s true, because it, it does, it takes the grey out of a lot of things as well, when you know, if you if you have engineering engineers analysing things, were they’re taking it from the black and white design workflow process side of it, then it doesn’t lead to better? Well, I think I’m a little bit biassed in this. But I think, better decisions, as well and sort of more informed decisions to nothing. And I think that’s one of those things at the moment where society as a whole is looking for leadership, who can actually back up what they can say and actually in and really understand what it is that they’re doing for the, for the betterment of society as a whole, not just for their own their own devices. So I agree with you wholeheartedly. I think that’s definitely the future of engineering. Yeah.
Mel De Gioia 21:01
What would you say to people who are going to step into that future of engineering,
I guess, start off by saying think big, you’ve got a huge career ahead of you, you can go in so many different paths. Don’t just focus on that grad job, or the job after that grad job. Think 20 years. Plus, think about where you can end up and what you can contribute to society. Don’t don’t get stuck into into making money. I guess it’s easy for me to say because I’ve got a cushy government job right. But honestly, I think that’s it, it’s I think the you can contribute a lot more than designing a skyscraper or making a bunch of money off of designing a bunch of condos on some spare land. There’s a lot bigger things that engineers can contribute to. And I suppose to go on from that. It’s not that people aren’t doing that at the moment. I was lucky enough to run into Karen Andrews. MP. Yes. Minister for Industry, science technology. I was lucky enough to run into her at a school alumni type thing for my high school in Burleigh Heads. Yeah,
Mel De Gioia 22:08
Yeah, a little. A little bit. Yeah. So it was good. And yeah, I got talking to her. And it turns out, she’s a mechanical engineer. She was the first female mechanical engineering grad at QUT. Like, I suppose if I hadn’t had the foresight at the time, I should have. Yeah, pick her brain on on why it is that she decided to go from Ethical engineering into politics. Yeah. Because she’s, she’s made quite a career out of it. And she’s done quite well. And now she sits on the cabinet.
Mel De Gioia 22:37
Absolutely, yeah. No, she’s definitely somebody who is the embodiment of what you’re talking about here. What engineers need to do that engineer who steps into the leadership roles and the leadership roles for the country, right. I’m not talking about leadership roles for a team or anything, I’m talking about a country leadership role. So yeah, she’s walking the walk and talking to talk. But this is I can’t believe we’re actually already at this point. But we’re going to wrap up with some rapid fire questions. And I’ll just start it off with what’s the piece of engineering that impresses you.
So so on on my guess, and aircraft guy, I do love aeroplanes and how they work and why they work and, and just the look of them as well. And I guess there’s a few a few aircraft that sort of stand out number ones got to be the Yeah, the SR 71 Blackbird? Yeah, the big the big, angry looking black one real sharp, pointy nose, sharp edges. Sort of stealthy, was pretty revolutionary. Considering was designed in like the 60s or 70s.
This amazing still find crazy that the the they were flying around in the 60s, they seem to be the heyday back then for aviation, some of the things that were built, although that being said, maybe there’s other things to the flying in the skies that we don’t know about yet. But yeah, well, when they were flying, no one you? Yes, so. Yeah, yeah, they are still just an amazing piece of engineering to look at. I could just gorgeous point. Yeah. Yeah, I agree. Yeah. Just to finish this off. Do you have an engineer that you admire?
I think I’m pretty sure he’s come up before but I’m a little bit of an Elon Musk fanboy? Yes. So I not so much. Like I wouldn’t like to work for the guy. But I think his vision, like he’s, he is all about the future. And he is all about what’s next. And what is humanity going to look like in 20 3050 years. And he seems to be one of the few people that are really working towards that at personal expense to a point. So he’s, he’s not purely about the profit with that kind of thing. He’s about advancing humanity. I’ve got a lot of respect for that.
Mel De Gioia 25:00
He’s definitely he’s hearts in the right place. I think. In the end, he is what you say. It’s like he’s always trying to advance society and throw out ideas out there and go, let’s try it this way. Or,
I know, people put new terms on everything and say, so people are disruptors. But I kind of look at it more that it’s it’s always good to have someone from outside your industry step in and go and say, why aren’t you doing things like that? Because it when you’re in your own industry, you’ve been doing the same thing over and over and over again, that you so used to that, and that way works? And that’s what you do? It’s not until you have someone who sort of steps in and goes, why aren’t you doing that? It’s so obvious, but can’t you guys see that you meant to be doing that? Yeah. And you said watershed moment, you know,
Mel De Gioia 25:51
I think in a way, that’s what he’s doing in that is throwing out these ideas that someone will like, That’s not right. But I see what we can do that, like that’s interesting. And for that, yeah, it’s it’s quite good. Oh, yeah.
Mel De Gioia 26:08
Thank you so much for being on the show tonight.
Thank you. Thanks for joining us.
No, I was really glad to come on. Thank you. Thank you for for having me on.
Mel De Gioia 26:16
It’s been great. Thanks for that.
Mel De Gioia 26:19
And thank you for listening to season two, Episode Four of Engineering Heroes. What do you think? Do you agree that the world would be a better place if more engineers were at the table in a leadership capacity? What would society look like then?
Mel De Gioia 26:35
Next week, we speak to an engineer from the UK who chats to us about engineering energy ecosystems, she reminded Dom and I lot about Francis Norman from NERA, the National Energy Resources Australia. He is Episode 35 in season one and you can find his details at our website www.engineeringheroes.com.us/35. If you want to keep up to date with our latest information and find out more about today’s show, your best port of call will always be our website. That address again is www.engineeringheroes.com.us. Now if you enjoyed today’s show, go until someone It’s that easy to show your support for engineers everywhere. We look forward to you joining us next week when we bring you another interview with one of our engineering champions.