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From mechanical engineer to controls developer

This mechanical engineer changed from his life-long dream of being an engineer to developing control procedures as part of Team ALICE.

I can hear you gasping for breath and asking, how on earth, or rather, why on earth did he make such a radical change in career? He must be crazy, right?

Well, actually not too crazy. Let me tell you how this all came about.

As with many teenagers, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be, when I grew up. Well, that's what I thought anyway. I wanted to be an Engineer! I am blessed with a mind that is rather good at processing anything that is mathematical. I excelled at math, physics and chemistry at school, and grew up with a father who believes in fixing things. All things. Nothing is thrown away. If it is broken, you fix it. You even collect other people’s broken things, and fix that too! So naturally, I chose to study Engineering. I just wasn't sure which field of engineering I was going to specialize in, Electrical, Chemical or Mechanical? I eventually settled on Mechanical and loved (nearly) every day of my four year degree at the University of Stellenbosch.

I hail from the Eastern Cape of South Africa, which is the epicenter of the South African motor industry. It is not quite Detroit, but when you grow up where I did and have a degree in Mechanical Engineering, you want to build cars. Right? It was thus a natural first step for me to work at General Motors (“GM”) after I graduated from university. But right there, in my first job as an Engineer, I already started to think about other career options, without even knowing it. I quickly discovered that I also find other areas of business very interesting. Whilst working for GM I started playing around with a bit of software development. I attended a Visual Basic course in the evenings and used this new-found knowledge to develop an application for the GM Engineering department to house and access all our vehicle design specifications. This was my first step on a new career path, and I didn't even know it.

I am sad to admit, but I got bored quite quickly in my first job. In my second year with GM I signed up with the University of South Africa (“UNISA”), to study commerce in my spare time.  My life was again filled with a new challenge. Well, that's what I thought for a while. I enjoyed learning new things, things about the business world that I didn't even know existed. I was an ace in Economics and excelled in all subjects that required anything remotely close to math such as Statistics and Financial Modelling. But far too soon, this new challenge wasn't enough to fill the whole in my professional soul, and I started to look for other work opportunities. A very exciting opportunity came across my path in the form of a career with Accenture.

At the time, Accenture recruited many engineers, and "re-chipped" our brains to become Business and Technology consultants. I say "re-chip" with tongue in cheek, but to an extent there is some truth in that statement. Accenture shipped me off to St. Charles just outside of Chicago, Illinois where HTML, PHP, VB Script and JavaScript were crammed into our heads over the course of a couple of weeks. This was the time of everything Dotcom 2001. My exposure to IT systems and software development grew by the day. Over the course of 5 years with Accenture I learnt a great deal about systems and processes. I spent countless hours on projects implementing ERP systems such as SAP and Oracle and building data migration tools. The working hours were tough, really tough sometimes, and after 5 wonderful years I needed a break. I needed to sleep. Again, tongue in cheek, but really, I needed a bit more sleep.

When I received an offer from PricewaterhouseCoopers to join their Data Management group, I took it. Again, without truly realizing it at the time, I took another step on a new journey that would lead me even further away from my core engineering roots.

My role involved a lot more auditing than what I expected. I quickly learned a great deal about finance and auditing. And about data. I had quite a long career with PwC, spanning nearly 15 years. In that time I underwent a number of small career changes or tweaks if you like within the firm. After completing a course in Cambridge, UK in Financial Derivative modelling, I ventured into the world of Black-Scholes and Monte Carlos. If you need to look this up, don't bother, you won't find it interesting. But for someone like me that loves mathematics, it felt like I had found heaven!

My time with PwC then took me to London where I worked as part of the PwC Global firm, developing in-house data analytics tools. The year that I spent in that team, changed my life forever. I got stuck in application design work. I again got exposed to software development. I got to work with some of the most brilliant minds in the auditing business. My time in this role not only taught me new skills, but it allowed me to grow confidence. I discovered that I can do more. And when I returned to South Africa, I wanted to do more.

I set out to develop a bespoke financial journals analysis tool using the QlikView Business Intelligence software as a platform. The tool was launched with great success in 2017 and has been used on a very large number of audits. Let's leave it at that. But that little Engineering voice inside my head started to talk to me again. Again, I felt the need to take on a new challenge. It was pure luck that I started talking to the ALICE team, and together we realized that the little voice that spoke to me was ALICE calling me! And here I am - helping to build and refine ALICE. Developing controls. Everything that I have learnt to date has helped me to get to where I am now. It has helped me to be good at what I do.

Did I make a mistake 25 years ago when I first walked into the Engineering faculty in Stellenbosch? Absolutely not. Would I have believed it if someone told me then, that someday I would develop controls? Definitely not. However, thinking about the journey that I have walked the past 25 years, and the fact that I actually don't really like grease under my fingernails, I am probably a much better auditor than an Engineer! Just don't tell my wife, she actually thinks I can fix a washing machine...

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