17 December 2019
In five short years Bisrat has advanced from Assistant Project Manager in Qatar, to Digital Transformation Lead at our Global Design Centre in India.
We recently caught up with this young rising star to hear his inspiring career story and get his top tips for career progression.
What does your current role entail?
As a global business, we’ve set a digital transformation agenda, and our Global Design Centre (GDC) is at the heart of that plan. My role is to lead it! Working in a truly global team, we are creating high-impact services that we can scale and deploy to support our businesses across the world. In this way, we can efficiently start up and deliver projects and ultimately provide our clients with market leading solutions that ensure good data is at the heart of everything that we do. These services focus on how we create, manage and use our design data, and we’re establishing teams for design reuse, automation and information management
How did you start out in Engineering?
From an early age I’d never been able to sit down and quietly read a book, but anything hands on excited me. I really enjoyed my time at university, I had to work very hard but realized that I excelled when learning by doing and very visual, not just theoretical academia. Vital lesson for me was to understand how I learn and work best - advice I would give to everyone is to give a lot of thought to ‘how you learn best and excel.’
I managed to secure an industrial placement and it was during my placement that I really found my passion for the built environment and the power of working in teams with different perspectives and skills set.
My work placement set me up well for my final year at Uni and give me a clear path of travel for my fledgling career.
After Uni, I worked as a structural engineer for a while, but it wasn’t right for me, so I then tried my hand at project management and Building Information Modelling (BIM).
What drew you to Atkins in the first place?
After two years I wanted to expand my knowledge and explore the world, so I applied for a position at Atkins in the Middle East. I got the job as an Assistant Project manager on Doha Metro Goldline
,which was the largest project at Atkins at the time.
After 6 months I was promoted to BIM Manager. I remember it being scary – I was a 25-year-old, leading the overall implementation of BIM on the project. Around the same time ahead of my mid-year review, Atkins identified me as a high performer and put me on a key talent and leadership program that helped accelerate my professional growth.
How has having a mentor at Atkins benefited you?
It’s just so important to have a good mentor. As part of the program, Paul Shepherd-Smith, from the Middle East senior leadership team, was brought in to sit on my annual professional development reviews. I had no idea at the time that this introduction would lead to me working in Africa, India and travelling the world.
Paul helped me get in front of the right people and by just being exposed to his expertise, I was able to learn how senior business leaders think, work and operate and it really forced me to reflect on my own skills and abilities and see where I could improve. As the project in Qatar was wrapping up,, Paul became MD of Africa operations. He could see my drive, ambition and work ethic and so called me up and asked if I wanted to join him in Kenya as Integration Manager. I happily agreed, looking forward to this new challenge, and I was on the plane within weeks.
What has been your career defining moment?
Definitely the opportunity in Kenya & Tanzania, leading the integration of newly acquired businesses. Over nine incredible, challenging months, I worked together with my colleagues in the Middle East, Africa and the UK, integrating all operations and branding to be in line with Atkins Global.
The role took me outside of my comfort zone as it was more operational and corporate focused. However, I gained a deeper understanding of how Atkins, a complex multinational company, works. I’ve started seeing things through an organizational lens – always keeping people, technology and governance in the back of my mind.
What did you do when the new East Africa business was integrated into the global business?
I enjoyed Kenya, so I said yes to an opportunity to stay on to head up Digital Engineering for our East Africa
business. My goal was for the business to become a launch pad for innovation and technology. The team were extremely quick to embrace new tech and new ways of working. Skipping the 20th Century’s fixed-line of technological development, we used Leapfrog Technology to rapidly scale our digital capability. It was a case of just adopting the latest tech and running with it. It was exciting!
Tell us about troubleshooting in US, UAE & Canada
Over the past few years, I have specialized in the development and implementation of BIM & Digital Engineering on major infrastructure and transport projects. When it comes to major projects, the need for robust project controls and a single source of truth is key to the successful delivery of the project.
On several occasions, I have been parachuted into business critical $multi-billion projects in order to assess and optimize the delivery approach through implementing robust digital solutions to enable effective design coordination and progress reporting. These projects include: -$5 billion LRT project in the US -$2 billion metro project in Dubai -$800 million LRT project in Canada I'm very appreciative of the confidence and trust that my colleagues and the business have in me to apply my expertise and add value to these flagship projects.
Since you’ve been at the business you’ve worked in over eight countries, how have you coped with the challenge of change?
I enjoy being outside of my comfort zone. Starting from scratch in a new country, learning a new culture, getting into a new social group, and making new connections are all things I relish with each move. As I’m a people person, these things really appeal to me. I sometimes think moving to a new country is the same feeling you had during the first 6 months of University and fresher’s week, where you’re constantly out of your comfort zone and putting yourself out there to experience new things and people. It’s surreal and exciting at the same time.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I am in a very fortunate position where my personal and professional lives are very aligned where I can travel and experience new things as part of my work and geek out on technology and engineering. However, after Dubai I knew it was time for a break to renew my sense of energy and excitement. As I had spent a long time away from friends and family, I decided to take a short sabbatical and had some pretty exciting adventures along the way too!
And you climbed a volcano?
I am originally from Ethiopia, so when I went travelling, I took the opportunity to explore outside of the capital Addis Ababa. One of the places I visited was called Erta Ela in Northern Ethiopia. It’s the hottest place on earth reaching temperatures of over 50˚C. We travelled during the coolest time of day, 40˚C, crossing the salt valley in 4x4s and then made the treacherous trek to the Sulphur mines. The landscape really felt like Mars with the trippy colors of yellow, green and blue. Then we climbed up to see one of a few lava lakes in the world, which was like looking into a massive, bubbling cauldron. And then I was ready to get back to work!
What made you decide to make the move to India?
I gravitated towards working in the GDC in India because it’s the only part of our business that works with all parts of our global business delivering projects and technological solutions. India has always been an interesting place for me, so I wanted to take the opportunity to explore the country.
I’d always heard so many exciting things about the GDC and have since discovered why Bangalore is referred to as the ‘Silicon Valley of India’. I was really excited to get involved at the GDC, and the opportunity has not disappointed. It’s a brilliant part of the business to be a part of. Working together with the team, we’re creating new services and improving processes that will transform what we do all around the world!
How do you make a difference through what you do?
My seniors have said, “You really know what you’re doing, only problem is there’s only one of you. How can we replicate you?!”
So, I’m actually making the biggest impact by taking on a leadership role to coach, mentor and support others. In India, I have a team which I coach and mentor (and they coach and mentor me). We’re pulling together and what can I say, they are the dream team! I can only hope that I can provide the same support to others which I have been lucky enough to receive from all the amazing teams I have worked with.
What is the biggest single thing the India team have taught you?
Stay hungry & happy. Their drive to acquire new skills, knowledge and experience is amazing and very refreshing. It’s a similar type of energy to our teams in Kenya.
How would you like to see the industry changing in the future?
There are so many people out there who would do well in our industry, but because they don’t have the grades, degrees or contacts, can’t get into the career. I feel we need more diversity of thought, backgrounds and skill sets. It would be fantastic to see more creative and entrepreneurial-minded people. For example, in some cases, Apple and Google have dropped their requirement for degrees. Atkins has also been widening the pool, by offering different types of apprenticeships and is open to people from different backgrounds with transferable skills.
What one thing would you advise doing to progress an early career?
A big reason that I’ve excelled in my career is because I truly enjoy what I do and because of that I naturally listen and learn from others’ experiences and use it to accelerate my own development. My dad always used to say, “Make your own mistakes, or learn from others’ mistakes!”
And any parting advice for those who love to travel?
People always say, “You’re so lucky!” when they hear about my experiences! But I tell them you can do it yourself, if you really wanted it. However, I've noticed that people tend to focus more on the reasons why they can’t do things. Just say yes and say yes quickly! Don’t think about negatives, they’ll bring you down and you’ll miss the opportunity.
Our industry is going digital and this means we can collaborate from around the world, and engineering is a career that can take you anywhere.
Want to work in a place where you can put your hand up for opportunities and be supported to succeed? We’re hiring! Apply now.