Case study

Systems engineer — Zeeshan Zafar

Zeeshan started his career in systems engineering out of curiosity, but is excelling in the role. He enjoys applying strategic thinking to large-scale projects and working in multidisciplinary teams

How did you get your job?

After graduating with a MEng in Mechanical Engineering from De Montfort University, I came across WSP while searching for jobs online. Of all the positions listed, I chose to apply for a role in graduate systems engineering. I hadn't heard of systems engineering as a discipline beforehand, and applied for the job out of curiosity.

A particularly memorable question from the group exercise at the assessment centre was 'how would you choose to use government investment in the rail industry to improve it?' This focus on strategic thinking fascinated me and helped me decide to pursue a career in systems engineering.

What's a typical day like?

In a nutshell, my job is to make sure all the bits and pieces of engineering design on a railway fit together and operate as they should.

I'm currently on secondment, working in the client organisation High Speed 2 (HS2) as an interface manager on Phase One of the programme. I look after the engineering interfaces between the main contractor and designers to ensure that they're being identified and managed properly. This allows for an integrated design to be produced and reduces the risk of the design being modified later on when it would be much more expensive to do so.

On a normal day, I have multiple meetings with different engineering teams and designers to discuss current design developments and high-risk items that need resolving.

When not in meetings my work includes writing Interface Control Documents (the documents that formalise an agreement between two interfacing parties) and reviewing designs to ensure a technical solution has been agreed between client and designer/contractor.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I enjoy meeting new people - having the opportunity to solve complex engineering problems with some of the brightest minds in the industry is very satisfying. Working at a strategic level within multidisciplinary projects allows me to think outside the box and look at the project as a system. This type of blue-sky thinking combined with engineering logic is something not offered by many other engineering disciplines.

Working on large-scale projects, such as HS2 or East West Rail, provides plenty of opportunities to learn and be challenged. The WSP Systems Engineering & Integration (SE&I) team has helped me learn by putting me in challenging roles with the right support, so that I can learn while taking accountability for my work.

What are the challenges?

The biggest challenge for me in this role is my limited knowledge of railway engineering, as it wasn't a subject that was covered in my university degree. I've been in the industry for three years, but my colleagues are experienced and it sometimes takes a while to catch up with their thinking. However, their insight gives me plenty of learning opportunities.

In what way is your degree relevant?

I learned skills during my degree which I use on a daily basis. My most relevant skill is a 'system' mentality, which allows me to think about the bigger picture when developing ideas. I honed this skill while working on a student team, designing the car chassis which brought an entire car together. Every design change I made affected other team members' designs for their parts of the car. I had to think about the whole car as a system and integrate others' designs with mine.

I'm using the same skills but on a much larger scale, to help integrate different areas - such as track and bridge design - to make sure a railway can operate.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I've moved from mostly assisting project work to undertaking whole areas of systems engineering myself. I've had real project experience from day one, am trusted to manage and deliver my own work and have been given the responsibility of a manager after just three years, which has allowed me to mature personally and professionally.

My immediate career ambition is to gain chartership status with the IMechE and get a Certified Systems Engineering Professional (CSEP) certification from the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE). Both of these qualifications will give me international recognition as a systems engineer and allow me to work at a higher level.

Any advice for aspiring systems engineers?

I'd recommend studying a Bachelors or Masters degree in mechanical, electrical or systems engineering. You could also study courses such as engineering management or design management, or complete a degree apprenticeship, which WSP offers.

Find out more

How would you rate this page?

On a scale where 1 is dislike and 5 is like

success feedback

Thank you for rating the page