My Engineering life Q&A: Barry Hyland
13 January 2020
'Millau viaduct, France, is an engineering feat that amazes everyone who sees it. '
Barry Hyland, chair of the North East Region, Engineers Ireland, spent many hours in the career guidance counsellor’s office, where he struggled to analyse his type, interests and where his future career path lay – but he did know that he enjoyed the challenge of dismantling.
Hyland is a Chartered Engineer specialising in business transformation and change management, design, consulting and delivery, integration and business process change programmes.
Currently, he is the commercial manager and strategic consultant at Expleo Group. Previous to that, he was the director of operations and owner of Change Management Ireland. He has also worked with ESB; IBM; Irish Water; Boyne Pinnacle and eircom.
1) When did you first become interested in engineering?
My first interest in things engineering was like a lot of others, when I was just a boy, curious to take things apart from about the age of seven.
I never seemed to able to put anything back together, but enjoyed the challenge of dismantling. Then in my final year at second level, I spent many hours in the career guidance counsellor’s office, where he struggled to analyse my type, my interests and where my future career path lay.
Having got over my first response which was to be a jockey, to which he replied I was too big, my next idea was a golf professional – I do love the outdoors. Once again a quick discussion on my golf scoring led us both to the conclusion that I was no Jack Nicklaus either.
So, when he suggested my profile was indicating a good technical brain, I thought, yes that sounds fun – so that was it! The following week I went along to the state training authority, AnCo, and they put me on an apprenticeship. I loved it and was hooked. I then went to college part time and progressed from there.
2) Who were the mentors who helped you on your way?
I have had many and varied mentors before and throughout my engineering career. First, when I was a young boy, a favourite uncle had his own business, and he encouraged me and guided me when exploring my dream future, including engineering.
Second, as I progressed in my engineering career, I was extremely fortunate to make the acquaintance of a former industrial engineer, who took me under his wing.
We met two to three times a year, and I used these occasions to tap into his experience, insight and ability to communicate and empathise – he taught me that the qualities of a good engineer are those that we find in the people we admire.
He had an extraordinary ability to inspire, encourage and challenge me to do more. At the time I found it quite hard to relate to, only as my career progressed did I realise the value of his direction and insight. He died more than 10 years ago and, like a good friend, I still miss his companionship.
3) Your engineer hero?
Steve Jobs. I think he motivated and led Apple to push the technological boundaries in mobile devices and technology. He was an innovator and engineer who routinely broke new ground.
4) An engineer you wish was better known?
Peter Rice. I am based in the northeast and it amazes me how few people in this part of the country know about Rice. For an Irish man to be fundamental in the design construction of so many world iconic buildings and structures and remains relatively unknown is surprising.
Recent television shows have helped to raise his profile in the public’s attention. He was a gifted, talented individual who was comfortable with his heritage and quietly extremely proud of his contribution to engineering.
5) Your idea of project heaven?
Some projects are more challenging than others, heaven is when you can see success, see the change and see the difference you have made.
Heaven is where we find things happen in a more planned, structured and predictable and expected way, risk is low and manageable. Outcomes are achieved and success is reachable. Can’t think I’ve ever been there.
6) And project hell?
When you feel constantly challenged, constantly struggling, not seeing the direction or way forward and ultimately not achieving the victory.
As engineers its inherent in our DNA to be successful at everything we do. Unfortunately, not all factors which lead to this success are in our control, so relying on others often does take us to that place called hell!
7) Have you any favourite feats of engineering?
Millau viaduct, France, is an engineering feat that amazes everyone who sees it. It challenges perspectives on so many levels, the structure, the height, length, how it stays put and travelling across, the view of the surrounding scenery is amazing. Landmark feats of engineering are there to be admired by all, Millau viaduct certainly meets that criteria.
8) What is/are the most important trend/s in engineering right now?
Sustainable engineering; engineers need to stay current and ahead of changing trends in environments, populations, materials and infrastructure to ensure projects are built to last and serve generations of the future.
This requires engineers to consider alternatives that may impact the cost of project outcomes; in the competitive environment this is clearly a significant challenge to overcome, but it must.
9) If you could, is there any one measure you would introduce to help improve the gender balance within the profession?
If I could, I would look to incentivise women to consider engineering by adjusting the too often misunderstood reputation of our profession.
Routinely the message and appeal of engineering is quite narrow, unattractive and typically outdated and according to recent research, fails to resonate with the more dynamic individuals coming out of second-level education.
Young people are the lifeblood of growth into each and every profession, so the engineering brand requires ongoing adjustments. We need to show that engineering is a modern, open and inclusive profession to get involved with and will provide a very rewarding career for boys and girls alike.
10) What book is on your bedside table?
The Rise and Fall of the British Nation: A Twentieth-Century History by David Edgerton It is a very relevant read in today’s chaotic backdrop of Brexit.
It outlines the many flawed economic policies pursued by UK premiers such as Margaret Thatcher – how could an educated country be so naïve and so insular and its people seem so gullible?
11) What is the one piece of advice you would give to somebody starting out in the profession?
The advice I routinely give to younger engineers is to focus and enhance their soft skills areas, for example communications and engagement.
Too often I have come across top class engineers who fail to have the impact they deserve, due to limited personal skills. Many other professionals seem more adept in these areas, I am not sure we appreciate this.
12) What is your favourite film?
Forrest Gump. I think the story the acting and in particular Tom Hanks are magnificent. I particularly enjoy the scenes around Forrest as a boat captain catching the Bubba Gump shrimp … so funny.
13) If you weren’t an engineer, what might you have become?
If I wasn’t an engineer, might have been a pilot and would have loved that career also. I passed through all the interviews and exams and was an option I seriously considered taking up immediately after secondary school.
Finally the financial commitment forced me to consider other options. My passion from a young age was flying, so this would have been fun, but I have never regretted my change of direction.
14) What is a typical day for you?
I’m up early at 5.45am. I shower, then have some juice and tea, grab the train to the office before 8am, have some coffee, attend meetings, more coffee, more meetings, email time, lunch, even more meetings, time to do something, home on train between 6pm and 7.30pm; then it’s time for dinner.
Of course, my wife and two daughters take up so much of my time each day. The weekend is purely for downtime.
15) What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
‘Don’t write or reply to emails when you are angry or emotional’ – so true.
16) What do you do to relax?
I play golf – now off a handicap of 14. I enjoy the garden; travelling with my wife – we recently went on a Caribbean cruise which I really enjoyed. I also like to meet friends; watch the occasional film; and I love sports. I’m keen on rugby, football and politics!