How can you help make the world a better place as a mechanical engineer? Well, we sat down with the wonderful Sul Handuleh, to find out how he’s making better happen as Senior Mechanical Design Engineer at biotech Entocycle.
Q. Sul, thanks so much for joining us. Let’s kick off with the classic – tell us a bit about yourself.
So, I grew up in Bethnal Green, East London. I went to Brighton University to do my undergrad, and then Sussex University for my Masters. Both of them in mechanical engineering.
When I graduated I worked in this company that was in the oil and gas industry that had one of the best graduate programmes in the country. I worked with them for about a year and then realised it just wasn’t for me.
I’ve always had sustainability in the back of my mind so when I left, I joined a biotech which I worked with for almost four years, before then joining Entocycle about three years ago where I’m now senior mechanical design engineer.
Q. So what’s your typical ‘just making the world a better place as a mechanical engineer’ week like?
Well, the job ‘mechanical design engineer’ can mean loads of different things but generally, involves machinery, product and system design.
The design process starts off with defining a problem followed by research, then you outline a design specification. Once this is agreed upon by key stakeholders you diverge and generate many designs before converging on a few of them.
You build small prototypes of the last 2 or 3 ideas to see which works best in real life, you test them, and develop a full prototype of the one that performs best. You then test the full prototype over and over again and refine the design until you’re happy that it meets the design specification and that it solves the initial problem. It gets signed off and you write a project report, this then leads to implementation which can vary depending on the company and industry.
Where you are along the design cycle dictates what you’re working week looks like. You never get to work on one project at a time so you usually juggling many projects at different stages along the design cycle.
But the role can be stretched to be a really broad term and my work is definitely a lot different now at Entocycle than in previous companies.
In my first job I was designing small parts of a pump in oil stations or power stations. At my second, I was designing slightly bigger parts but still small parts within a machine, and I was redesigning this same part over and over and over again for different machines. . In a lot of big companies this is all you may do for many years.
Whereas at Entocycle, you get given a problem like “O.k. here’s a problem, can you find a solution, here’s the budget and here’s the deadline, go ”. And you figure it out. The first project I did for Entocycle was designing the new R&D space and office that we were moving into, which is almost a civil and architecture job.
But, as the only engineer at the time, I took that job on, which was so out there. And the next one was the climate control for it. It’s so varied that you’re always kept interested. So yeah, long story short I think there isn’t anything the same since I started.
Q. Before joining Entocycle did you have a lot of experience in or knowledge about sustainability?
So sustainability in general, yes. I knew of it but not in any detail or of any feasible solutions. I had studies about some of the tech but this was standard tech like solar and wind power. I was aware of the UN sustainability goals and it’s something that I’d heard a lot about within engineering. But, I guess I maybe wasn’t as aware of it as I should have been.
Q. So you didn’t feel like you needed to be a specialist to join the team?
Not at all. I certainly didn’t know anything about insects or specifically process engineering, it’s something that you can sort of learn as you go. Same with any other job. . If you have a solid foundation in your field you can transfer that knowledge to the world of sustainability.
Q. And what’s it like working for a purpose-driven company, as opposed to a ‘regular’ company?
Honestly, it’s like night and day, they’re just so different. Before, I was perfectly happy and I thought I could work in a big company like this forever, but I joined Entocycle and I realised it was so much better.
I don’t feel as though I’ve got a job anymore. I’m extremely proud of what I do and there is a huge level of the fulfilment. When you’re working for a big conglomerate you’re a small cog in a much bigger machine and you don’t see the full picture. But now I genuinely want to be here, because I really want to get these projects done and I can actually see the impact of my work on the company and on the environment.
Q. Would you ever go back?
Not out of my own choice. I would never choose to go back to a conglomerate-type big company. I think, in every aspect of it really, it’s better for me.
On a personal level, it’s massively rewarding, and professionally, there are so many opportunities to really progress your career.
I recently got my chartership, the highest accreditation in engineering. That was a really big deal for me because I got it at a relatively young age. I had to demonstrate five areas of competency and present five different projects which included leadership, innovation, problem solving, project management and ethics.
Of those five projects I wrote about, four were with Entocycle. I was only able to do it because I had taken a leap of faith to move to a sustainable start-up and was able to do so many different things I couldn’t at a big company.
Q. What is it that drives you? Why do you care?
So, I guess, it goes back to why I became an engineer in the first place. I wanted to be an engineer from maybe the age of fourteen.
When I was really young my oldest brother, who was an engineer himself, sold me the dream of being an engineer. The positive impact you could have, and of making sure that you’re adding some value to the world, you’re bringing something that’s good. Not being complicit in the destruction of the planet, or in practices that you’re not happy with.
I apply that general drive to my everyday life and that includes the work that I do, in being content and being fulfilled within a role where you have the biggest impact that you can have. Also my brothers and I would dream of going back to Somalia one day to help rebuild it after the destruction caused by the civil war – hopefully I’ll get there one day.
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