System Safety

Reflections on a Career in Safety, Part 1

This is Part 1 of my ‘Reflections on a Career in Safety’, from “Safety for Systems Engineering and Industry Practice”, a lecture that I gave to the University of Adelaide in May 2021. My thanks to Dr. Kim Harvey for inviting me to do this and setting it up.

The Lecture, Part 1

Hi, everyone, my name Simon Di Nucci and I’m an engineer, I actually – it sounds cheesy – but I got into safety by accident. We’ll talk about that later. I was asked to talk a little bit about career stuff, some reflections on quite a long career in safety, engineering, and other things, and then some stuff that hopefully you will find interesting and useful about safety work in industry and working for government.

Context: my Career Summary

I’ve got three areas to talk about, operations and support, projects and product development, and consulting.

I have been on some very big projects, Eurofighter, Future Submarine Programme, and some others that have been huge multi-billion-dollar programs, but also some quite small ones as well. They’re just as interesting, sometimes more so. In the last few years, I’ve been working in consultancy. I have some reflections on those topics and some brief reflections on a career in safety.

Starting Out in the Air Force

So a little bit about my career to give you some context. I did 20 years in the Royal Air Force in the U.K., as you can tell from my accent, I’m not from around here. I started off fresh out of university, with a first degree in aerospace systems engineering. And then after my Air Force training, my first job was as an engineering manager on ground support equipment: in General Engineering Flight, it was called.

We had people looking after the electrical and hydraulic power rigs that the aircraft needed to be maintained on the ground. And we had painters and finishers and a couple of carpenters and a fabric worker and some metal workers and welders, that kind of stuff. So I went from a university where we were learning about all this high-tech stuff about what was yet to come in the aerospace industry. It was a bit of the opposite end to go to, a lot of heavy mechanical engineering that was quite simple.

And then after that, we had a bit of excitement because six weeks after I started, in my very first job, the Iraqis invaded Kuwait.  I didn’t go off to war, thank goodness, but some of my people did. We all got ready for that: a bit of excitement.

Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

After that, I did a couple of years on a squadron, on the front line. We were maintaining and fixing the aeroplanes and looking after operations. And then from there, I went for a complete change. Actually, I did three years on a software maintenance team and that was a very different job, which I’ll talk about later. I had the choice of two unpleasant postings that I really did not want, or I could go to the software maintenance team.

Into Software by accident as well!

I discovered a burning passion to do software to avoid going to these other places. And that’s how I ended up there. I had three, fantastic years there and really enjoyed that. Then, I was thinking of going somewhere down south to be in the UK, to be near family, but we went further north. That’s the way things happen in the military.

I got taken on as the rather grandly titled Systems and Software Specialist Officer on the Typhoon Field Team. The Eurofighter Typhoon wasn’t in service at that point. (That didn’t come in until 2003 when I was in my last Air Force job, actually.)  We had a big team of handpicked people who were there to try and make sure that the aircraft was supportable when it came into service.

One of the big things about the new aircraft was it had tons of software on board.  There were five million lines of code on board, which was a lot at the time, and a vast amount of data. It was a data hog; it ate vast amounts of data and it produced vast amounts of data and that all needed to be managed. It was on a scale beyond anything we’d seen before. So it was a big shock to the Air Force.

More Full-time Study

Photo by Mike from Pexels

Then after that, I was very fortunate.  (This is a picture of York, with the minister in the background.) I spent a year full-time doing the safety-critical systems engineering course at York, which was excellent.  It was a privilege to be able to have a year to do that full-time. I’ve watched a lot of people study part-time when they’ve got a job and a family, and it’s really tough. So I was very, very pleased that I got to do that.

After that, I went to do another software job where this time we were in a small team and we were trying to drive software supportability into new projects coming into service, all kinds of stuff, mainly aircraft, but also other things as well.  That was almost like an internal consultancy job. The only difference was we were free, which you would think would make it easier to sell our services. But the opposite is the case.

Finally, in my last Air Force job, I was part of the engineering authority looking after the Typhoon aircraft as it came into service, which is always a fun time. We just got the plane into service. And then one of the boxes that I was responsible for malfunctioned. So the undercarriage refused to come down on the plane, which is not what you want. We did it did get down safely in the end, but then the whole fleet was grounded and we had to fix the problem. So some more excitement there. Not always of the kind that you want, but there we go. So that took me up to 2006.

At that point, I transitioned out of the Air Force and I became a consultant

So, I always regarded consultants with a bit of suspicion up until then, and now I am one. I started off with a firm called QinetiQ, which is also over here. And I was doing safety mainly with the aviation team. But again, we did all sorts, vehicles, ships, network logistics stuff, all kinds of things. And then in 2012, I joined Frazer-Nash in order to come to Australia.

So we appeared in Australia in November 2012. And we’ve been here in Adelaide all almost all that time. And you can’t get rid of us now because we’re citizens. So you’re stuck with us. But it’s been lovely. We love Adelaide and really enjoy, again, the varied work here.

Adelaide CBD, photo by Simon Di Nucci

Part 2 will follow next week!

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