Marcus decided very early, in fact in high school, that he wanted to be an engineer. And a collegue’s of his mums suggested he be an engineer in the ARMY. Initially he laughed it off, but the seed had been planted. Over time the idea really grew with Marcus and he came to the realisation that being an engineer in the ARMY was exactly what he wanted to do.
The opportunities that I’ve had in the army have just been fabulous
Extra discussions during the episode
Future: Cyber, Artificial Intelligence, Space capabilities
I think that for engineers to remain relevant into the future for engineering to remain contemporary, cyber, space and artificial intelligence are going to be a big part of that knowledge base for engineers
Advice: Be open to new technologies and new ideas
Give it a red hot rip
The Army Aboriginal Community Assistance Program (ACAP)
one of those rare opportunities for soldiers to deploy in Australia and help Australians
General Sir John Monash
an inspirational leader during an immensely complex and challenging time
Major General Marcus Thompson was born and raised in country Victoria. On graduation from the Royal Military College in 1988 he was allocated to the Royal Australian Corps of Signals.
He served in a variety of command, regimental and Special Operations appointments including; Command of the 3rd Combat Signals Regiment, secondment to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) as the Senior Advisor Defence Policy and Operations, Headquarters Special Operations as the Director General Special Operations Capability, and Commander 6th Combat Support Brigade.
Major General Thompson was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours List. He holds a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering with honours from the University of New South Wales, a Bachelor of Business from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, a Masters Degree in Defence Studies from the University of Canberra, a Masters Degree in Strategic Studies from Deakin University, and a PhD in Cyber Security from the University of New South Wales.
Major General Thompson currently holds the appointment of Head of Information Warfare for the Australian Defence Force.
This is a “close” copy of the words that were spoken during the Podcast, Season 4 Episode 20
It is not 100% accurate.
The guest was Major General Marcus Thompson
Marcus: [00:00:00] I’ve been an engineer for some time. I ended up doing my officer training first and then doing my engineering degree, whereas the normal convention is to do the degree first and then do the officer training.
[00:00:10]Mel or Dom: [00:00:10] So it was your mom’s friend who suggested that you joined the army to become an engineer. Was it something that they did themselves or was it something that they saw in you that made them want to do this?
[00:00:24]Marcus: [00:00:24] he was a mentor of mine and a colleague of my mums. And he had a fabulous story. He had lied about his age to join the army during world war II and got to Singapore just in time for the surrender. Spent three years working on the Burma railway, but stayed in the army afterwards and had a long career in the army.
[00:00:44] And so it was very quick to recommend that as a career choice for me
[00:00:47]Mel or Dom: [00:00:47] and the rest is
[00:00:48] Marcus: [00:00:48] and the rest is history that’s best part of 34 years ago.
[00:00:51] Mel or Dom: [00:00:51] And do you remember the first project that you worked on as an engineer?
[00:00:54]Marcus: [00:00:54] I found myself once I finished my engineering degree and I did it a little later. You know, I mentioned that I did the officer training first and I was a captain before I had the opportunity to actually go back and fulfill this goal I had of studying engineering and ironically, I ended up doing electrical engineering.
[00:01:09] Whereas my original goal had been civil engineering.
[00:01:12]as I graduated I was posted into a role in acquisition. so I was acquiring Systems and capability for our electronic warfare and our special operations capabilities.
[00:01:25] it was more of a systems engineering task than anything else. but acquiring these smaller capabilities and then integrating them with the largest systems, in some very niche and very important high tech, military capabilities.
[00:01:39]Mel or Dom: [00:01:39] is that kind of what you were expecting that you’d be coming out of doing an electrical degree? Cause it doesn’t sound like it’s what you’re expecting.
[00:01:49]Marcus: [00:01:49] you know, in the army, we tend to have the opportunity to do, as we’re told. Um, and so that was the , that was the role that was, that was chosen and, and it was a, it was a sensible choice by the career managers at the time. You need people in those jobs who can talk systems, who understand the technology, who have been practitioners themselves, and so can do all that interpreting and understanding, and then all the commercial aspects as well. It’s perhaps not a conventional graduate engineer role, but certainly none of those skills that I’ve picked up in my degree were wasted.
[00:02:19]Mel or Dom: [00:02:19] So you said that you were planning on being a civil engineer and you became electrical. Was there something during your officer’s training that actually made you switch?
[00:02:28]Marcus: [00:02:28] so I joined up thinking that I wanted to join the Corps of Engineers. and it was during my training that I decided that actually my preference would be to join the Corp of Signals. And the Corp of Signals is the organization that provides all of the communications and ICT capabilities for the army in a deployed setting.
[00:02:48] So all of those satellite communications and radios and computer networks and, and all of that. And, it wasn’t necessarily the case when I was a junior officer, but now you’re looking to think, goodness, me. I mean, all of our combat platforms are digital. you know , fighter jets and major fleet units in the Navy and combat vehicles and the army.
[00:03:06] I mean, these are digital platforms, they are extensions of the network. And so, the Signals Corp function is just becoming more and more and more important, especially when we think about our ability to, you know, we need to defend ourselves in cyber space and we might want to generate affects, against a potential adversary and cyberspace as well.
[00:03:24] And from an army perspective that’s all been grown within the Corp of Signals. And so, I’ve just bridged 30 years there. when I was in my training at the Royal Military College at Duntroon. You know, it was what Signals Corps does at every single level of command in everything that army does, and therefore the opportunities for a diverse suite of postings that actually attracted me to Signals Corp. and so when the opportunity came up to, as a captain to study engineering degree full time. The logical decision was to pursue an electrical engineering degree once I actually got to choose my subjects, it was all about communications and network engineering.
[00:04:05]Mel or Dom: [00:04:05] It sounds like it was good that you held off a little bit instead of jumping straight into the engineering side and then going through officer training that you did it reverse. So I’d say fate taking a little bit of a hand there, so that was great. But, you’ve touched on a little bit.
[00:04:18] You want to tell us about where you are now? What sort of stuff you’re working on?
[00:04:23]Marcus: [00:04:23] Yeah. So I’m currently the Head of Information Warfare for the Australian Defense Force. and so I’ve got, with a fabulous team, I’ve got what we call capability management responsibilities for military cyber, electronic warfare, intelligence surveillance reconnaissance , commander control, and what we’re calling a space services, which is a satellite communications and position navigation and timing. and I’ve also got responsibility, at least at the moment, for the development and pursuit of our artificial intelligence capabilities for the combat force.
[00:04:58]Mel or Dom: [00:04:58] Oh, is that all?
[00:05:00] Marcus: [00:05:00] yeah, so, so it’s quite the, it’s quite the portfolio. And, with a fabulous team that is a group of incredibly smart, technically proficient, men and women. It’s a lean team, but we’ve been really making headway since the Information Warfare division was established in July, 2017.
[00:05:20] So I am the inaugural Head of Information Warfare for the Australian Defense Force, albeit at the time that we’re recording this, I’m down to about nine weeks left in that role.
[00:05:30] Mel or Dom: [00:05:30] Oh, wow. So you’re nine weeks away from retiring.
[00:05:33]Marcus: [00:05:33] Well, we don’t know yet. It’s, um, the, uh, quite, quite possibly, my successor has been named, and I remain unplaced for 2021. if that means that I’m heading out of the permanent ADF, then that’s, that’s fine.
[00:05:46]I’ve had a fabulous run, its been a great career and I’ve come a lot further than I thought I would, when I was a young Lieutenant who knew everything. yeah, I’m now an old Major General who realizes, he knows much less than I did when I thought I did when I was at yeah, When I was a Lieutenant. so the, the opportunities that I’ve had in the army have just been fabulous and I went into my officer training straight out of high school. And here I am almost 34 years later with some fabulous experiences under my belt, an engineering degree under my belt, a business degree under my belt, a couple of Masters degrees, and a PhD. Yeah. Just all these great opportunities that I’ve had. and if the powers that be decide that this is the end of my career, that I’ve had a great run and I’ll gladly step aside.
[00:06:28] So someone else can have a go.
[00:06:30]Mel or Dom: [00:06:30] I almost want to talk to you in six months, time to find out.
[00:06:34] Where are you now? What are you doing? what is a retired Major General ended up doing?
Marcus: [00:06:40] so what I think of as one of the biggest challenges facing engineers, and where I think engineers can really contribute, it’s not one single challenge.
[00:06:48]right now our nation is facing several Big strategic challenges that everyday Australians are experiencing. clearly with the COVID-19 pandemic, I mean, that is a massive, massive challenge for our society, for our community, for our families, for ourselves, for a nation.
[00:07:04]there’s the health challenges that with that, there’s the economic challenges with that. And concurrently, there are some big geo strategic challenges, with our region , and the Indo-Pacific being reshaped. and I think quite frankly, engineers can contribute very positively, from a national perspective, to addressing those challenges.
[00:07:25]I think engineers as problem solvers a re ideally placed to be putting their minds to these economic challenges.How do we adapt industry?How do we create new industries to keep our economy going or to really charge our economy?
[00:07:42] what are some of the new health technologies that might help us live with COVID-19? If it sticks around for as long as some of the commentators are saying. and indeed, how can engineers as problem solvers, contribute to Australia’s national interests in these geo-strategic challenging times?
[00:08:01]Mel or Dom: [00:08:01] something that’s come up a lot of times on this podcast is sometimes engineers are not seen as being at the table when solutions are being discussed. Do you feel that engineers are well placed to face the challenges that are facing society now?
[00:08:19]Marcus: [00:08:19] I do, I do think engineers are well placed to contribute positively to a lot of these societal and national challenges. I mean if we talk about my pet topic of cybersecurity. I mean, we need people thinking about security by design.
[00:08:34] We need cyber security baked into information technology and operating technology, right from the very get, go. I mean, this is a genuine cross disciplinary challenge that requires a truly cross-disciplinary response. And it’s not just electrical engineers or civil engineers or mechanical engineers or software engineers, or, you know, pick a discipline of engineering.
[00:08:58]cyber, as an example, is relevant to every single discipline of engineering. And so. Engineers as problem solvers need to be getting their heads into that and assuring the security of their designs, of their products, of their services. And just with that example of cyber security, if we extrapolate that out, engineers as problem solvers, can work is cross disciplinary teams, can work with other professions, technical and otherwise to cohere teams into workable solutions and I think that degree of pragmatism that engineers bring , that problem solving, that level of technical analysis, these are core skills for engineers. the development of frameworks and systems, these are core skills for engineers. and I think all of that makes engineers incredibly probably well-placed to be taking on problems, large and small.
[00:09:54] Mel or Dom: [00:09:54] So how can we support engineers to sort of get them moving into those roles and taking up those challenges?
[00:10:01]Marcus: [00:10:01] I think I just laid out the core skills of engineers and, and, and I, and I think engineers know that. The key, you know, as you’re saying, Mel is getting a seat at the table, getting a voice at the table. Now some folk are happy to speak up pretty quickly, whether they want to be heard or, or not, but that’s not everyone.
[00:10:18]so I think that there is a narrative here that needs to keep being told.to encourage, people who might not fully appreciate the skill sets that engineers bring, to encourage them to include engineers at the very, very early stages of planning or incident response to help work through these problems, large and small.
[00:10:38]Mel or Dom: [00:10:38] cause is it something that the… whilst you’ve been in the army or any of the forces, they actually look to their engineers for the solution. say that it has more of a benefit for the engineers in so far as they’re already being pushed towards the front to come up with the solutions.
[00:10:55] Is that something that the forces provides that traditionally you wouldn’t get in normal engineering practice?
[00:11:00]Marcus: [00:11:00] Well, the military is just, a little different their Dom because all Officers, certainly all army offices are trained as planners, as problem solvers. The ADF is, The Australian Defence Force is nothing if not a training organization and all of that training leaves Officers and indeed senior noncommissioned officers and junior noncommissioned officers, leaves a very well placed to be working through military problems. of course what engineers do in the military is deal with some of those more technical problems. We’ve got civil engineers doing all sorts of construction and nation building tasks in Australia and all around the world.
[00:11:40]we’ve got mechanical engineers and aeronautical engineers keeping our fleets of equipment and aircraft or helicopters in, in Army’s case, keeping all of them then going, we’ve got electrical engineers running power grids at our deployed setting as well as running communication systems.
[00:11:57]there’s any number of applicants that these folks are addressing the more technical problems whilst contributing and bringing that technical knowledge to that broader look at problem solving. and let’s, let’s not forget Dom, the military gets some of the toughest problems on the face of the planet, and are expected to resolve them.
[00:12:16]Mel or Dom: [00:12:16] Well, I think that’s the thing as well for engineering. It’s probably just the best grounding because the problems that you will come up against and nothing that you’d ever even contemplate, particularly in regards to the timeframes and the issues , you need to deliver it is life and death.
[00:12:34] The situation. It’s probably it’s engineering that you’ll never see anywhere else.
[00:12:39] Marcus: [00:12:39] Yeah, correct. I’m forever talking about army engineering, where our engineering, it occurs in the middle of nowhere, with absolutely no support. We have to bring absolutely everything with us, all of that power and cabling, all of our own systems, all of our own plant, there’s no sort of in the factory engineering for army engineers.
[00:12:58]Mel or Dom: [00:12:58] So the challenge is that engineers are needing to rise to the challenges of society that are many at the moment. What do you see as a blocker for engineers being able to do this or succeed in helping society in that respect?
[00:13:14]Marcus: [00:13:14] Look, I don’t think there’s anything Specifically holding engineers back. I mean, I think, within Australia engineers know that they are well trained. I think that society values, engineers and engineering. There’s no blocker.
[00:13:28]I think the challenge becomes maintaining that narrative that we talked about a little earlier of just what engineers bring and what they can bring to problem solving that might, maybe away from the bench.
[00:13:41]Mel or Dom: [00:13:41] So what do you see as the future of engineering then?
[00:13:45]Marcus: [00:13:45] Yeah. I’ve got a pretty firm view on this. I mean, I spend a lot of time thinking about cyber. I spend a lot of time thinking about space based capabilities. I spent a lot of time thinking about artificial intelligence, and I think quite frankly, those three , groups of technologies, if I can describe them that way, I think those three groups, are a big part of future. In fact some would argue they’re part of our today, rather than being future capabilities or emerging capabilities.
[00:14:13]and as I was saying earlier with regard to cyber, I mean, these are genuinely cross disciplinary technologies. they are cross disciplinary challenges that require truly cross-disciplinary responses. and I think that for engineers to remain relevant into the future for engineering to remain contemporary, cyber, space and artificial intelligence are going to be a big part of that knowledge base for engineers, irrespective of the engineering discipline that someone will be focused on. I might just add , specifically with regard to the cyber. I mean, Engineers Australia’s recognized this and, you know, and created, a cyber engineering community of practice, for exactly this purpose.
[00:14:56]because the engineering that goes into cyber capabilities doesn’t neatly fit into any particular current engineering discipline. it is a truly cross-disciplinary capability or the suite of capabilities. and so, we’ve recognized that with the creation of a cyber engineering community practice,
[00:15:16]Mel or Dom: [00:15:16] do you feel that the current engineers have the skillset to respond to this cross-disciplinary requirement?
[00:15:22]Marcus: [00:15:22] I think certainly the younger engineers do, because they’ve grown up on cyber and artificial intelligence is already a part of their lives and part of their thinking. The challenge of course is to remain curious and to not rest on your laurels.
[00:15:37] As I, as I say that every graduate group that I speak to is that graduation is the start of your journey, not the end. it is in many respects, the start of your learning journey, not the end. and so the onus is on every individual.
[00:15:51]and this is a cross, um, the board here, not specific to engineers. you know, in these technical fields, it is critical to stay current, to keep reading, stay curious and constantly invest in your own knowledge and the development of your own knowledge.
[00:16:07] And that’s how you stay current. And that’s how you stay contemporary.
[00:16:10] Mel or Dom: [00:16:10] Yeah, I agree with you for your regards to that. Stay curious, because if you’re curious about things, you’re also going to Start taking in information outside of your field of practice and those other disciplines that also interact with you. And it just helps to make you a more rounded engineer. The more you learn the greater your knowledge, but the more enjoyment I think you get out of it as well. Cause you learn all these things, particularly in regards to the other services and the other disciplines that all just add to the suite knowledge that you have as you go along.
[00:16:42]are there any other things that you would say to engineers who were just starting out?
[00:16:46]Marcus: [00:16:46] Oh, absolutely. Give it a red hot rip, you know, just to just, just get out there and have a go, You know, stay loose in the saddle. don’t get religious about particular ways of doing things. Be open to new ideas, be open to new technologies and give it a red hot go of course, in a safe manner.
[00:17:07] Mel or Dom: [00:17:07] Yeah. And would you recommend Going through the military in regards to studying engineering, is it something that you’d suggest for young engineers out there?
[00:17:17]Marcus: [00:17:17] Absolutely. I hope this conversation might give listeners a taste of what the opportunities are in the Australian Defense Force for engineers. and I think that irrespective of whether someone joins the Navy, the army, or indeed the air force, the opportunities for engineers in many, many disciplines of engineering are just huge. you know, there are long successful careers available to engineers in the Australian defense force. and quite frankly, for anyone who’s interested, if you got to, defensejobs.gov.Au you’ll be able to see plenty of information about what the opportunities are for careers in engineering, in the defense force.
[00:17:58]Mel or Dom: [00:17:58] I have to admit I was flirting with the idea in high school to join the military as well. So it’s like, I think if I had of heard this podcast, like 20 plus years ago, I probably would have been having a very different life trajectory right now. Yeah. I can safely say if I had more time again, I’d probably would have gone through, look at this.
[00:18:17] You’ve converted a bunch of 40 year olds, so let’s say,
[00:18:21] Marcus: [00:18:21] Hey, it’s not, it’s not too late.
[00:18:25] Mel or Dom: [00:18:25] okay, seriously, we might talk about that later. So just to wrap up, what’s a piece of engineering that has impressed you.
[00:18:32]Marcus: [00:18:32] I love tech. so any funky tech has the potential to get me excited. but the one engineering effort, if I was to name one that I just, I just. Love and reflect on all the time is, um, a couple of years ago, I had the privilege of being a brigade commander in our army.
[00:18:53] I commanded the sixth brigade, which amongst other capabilities… lots of intelligence and electronic warfare and target acquisition capabilities and some air defense also includes ARMY’s construction engineering capability and that capability every year would send about 50% of it would deploy to a remote Aboriginal community somewhere in Australia and for about five or six months run engineering, product objects to improve the lives and the wellbeing of that community. And in 2016, when I was commander six brigade, the team up to Laura in far North Queensland about five hours Northwest of Cairns. And they put in a new sewerage system for the town did road repairs. They put in foot paths to get the kids off the highway. they put a roof over the playground for the school. they did a community center and a couple other more minor jobs for the community. soldiers Love what they do and we get the chance to go to all parts of the world, and you know, ultimately help people in need, but that program, the Army Aboriginal Community Assistance Program, ACAP, is one of those rare opportunities for soldiers to deploy in Australia and help Australians and that work with those remote Aboriginal communities, it’s just something that is, uh, it’s humbling to see and I, I find myself, you have four or five years later reflecting on that quite a lot.
[00:20:17] Mel or Dom: [00:20:17] That sounds amazing. It’s wonderful to hear as well. Cause they’re the kind of things that we’d never know unless, um, yeah, so yeah, it’s, it’s wonderful that those sorts of, programs are going on for the army as well. And so, and just to finish up, do you have an engineer that you admire?
[00:20:35]Marcus: [00:20:35] All I’ve always been a big fan of General Sir John Monash. Whilst a civil engineer, of course, it’s like high for me to admire a civil engineer, I think, I think. But you know, just what a fabulous leader. an inspirational leader during an immensely complex and challenging time. what he brought to warfare, how he broke the stalemate of the Western front. It’s just a fabulous story. I mean, that is an engineer at an engineer’s absolute best. and bringing those engineering skills to the conduct of warfare and quite frankly, bringing world war one to an end.
[00:21:09]just an amazing leader, a fabulous engineer. his people adored him and all of that. I could read about him all day.
[00:21:17] Mel or Dom: [00:21:17] Yeah, Yeah. he’s definitely an engineer of his times that met and excelled the challenges.
[00:21:25]Marcus: [00:21:25] and his mindset, his thinking his approach to finding new ways of, of fighting. I think that if he’d had cyber capabilities and artificial intelligence and space-based capabilities, I reckon he would have used them pretty well too, just quietly.
[00:21:39]Mel or Dom: [00:21:39] thank you so much for being on so much for joining us tonight.
[00:21:42]Marcus: [00:21:42] Now that’s, my absolute pleasure. I’m a big fan of what you do and obviously I think these opportunities for the membership of Engineers Australia, and indeed beyond the membership to others, it’s a fabulous way to invest in our development, share ideas. And quite frankly, to talk about what we do engineers.
[00:21:59] Mel or Dom: [00:21:59] Exactly. Thank you so much for those kind words. Thank you so much.
And thank you for listening to Engineering Heroes as we present the new dawn of engineering challenges for Engineers Australia. Your hosts have been Melanie and Dominic De Gioia. You can view this episode’s show notes or learn more about our podcast by visiting our website, www.engineeringheroes.com.au
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