13 March 2019
In 1979 Apple introduced the first ever spreadsheet program to the world. Technology has come a long way since then. Mark Avellino, who started his Siemens journey that year, has ridden the waves of technological change by keeping three things constant: being open minded, not being afraid to ask and being humble.
He talks to us about his three principles and other standout experiences from his amazing 40 years at Siemens.
What did you do before Siemens?
Siemens was kind of my first job. I’d worked for VicRail for about three months as a signalling engineer and didn’t feel it was right for me. Just before that, I’d finished studying electrical engineering at RMIT and so wanted something that suited what I’d studied for. One of my old uni professors actually told me about a job going at Siemens. And I thought to myself “what the heck is Siemens”. I called and came in for an interview and the rest, as they say, is history.
What was your first impression of Siemens?
I didn’t know anything about the company. When I went in and was being shown around, I was overwhelmed and thought “look at everything this company does – it’s amazing”. I was a young engineer and was excited with the opportunities offered at Siemens. This is something I see even today – many people who don’t know Siemens and even some who do know parts of it, are not aware of the scale of our operations and everything we do.
It’s great that we’re now educating people at institutes and universities with initiatives such as the PLM grants as it helps increase awareness of our scale.
What has been the biggest game changer in engineering in the last 40 years?
CAD/CAM drawings and simulation are a game changer for our industry. Before we were desk-based (still are, but in a different way), prototyping and sharing concepts the old fashioned way. Designs took a long time to finalise. Access to design software meant a rapid acceleration in prototyping and speed to market. It also meant we could work on design concepts with teams based anywhere in the world.
And how can I forget the joys of communicating via Telex – sending text-based messages over a public switched network. We had to get forms in triplicate signed off by our commercials and technical colleagues and then give it to a Telex operator who would type the message and transmit it via the telephone network. It’s great to have that speed of process reduced so we can spend time on things that matter – like finding solutions for customers. So when I hear someone complaining about how long things take, I just think to myself “you have no idea how fast it is now”.
While this isn’t a major technology change, earlier, all product brochures and technical information from Siemens was almost always in German, so I had to learn the language to understand the latest technology available. This was before Siemens decided to go after the English-speaking market and have their materials translated.
What’s been your favourite or most memorable project?
As a young engineer, I went on site and worked under difficult conditions with the customer putting pressure on us to deliver. When the job got done, it was so satisfying – especially knowing you have achieved a result.
When I gained more experience and started working on larger projects such as the ANZAC frigates, it came with a lot of responsibility and different level of pride as I was part of a global team and the project was high profile. We delivered something that many Australians recognised. I’m proud to talk about that. At Siemens we are often part of many such projects that make a big difference to many people and communities. Sometimes we need to take a step back and reflect on this.
Another incident I remember is from the 80’s when we had a customer problem on a site and we just couldn’t make something work consistently. We were constantly analysing and trying different scenarios to solve the problem. The customer was expecting 24/7 operation so we decided to do a dog-watch (round the clock shifts) for a few days.
The lack of sleep and solutions was getting us very frustrated. After a couple of days, we went driving off-road for a bit where I hit a bump causing my colleague to hit his head on the roof. And just then, he figured out what the problem was. We drove back to site and fixed the problem and the system worked like a charm. And we got some sleep. This goes to show that answers and solutions can come from anywhere.
At Siemens, we often talk about customer experience and the importance of these relationships. How has this evolved through the last four decades?
In many ways, the customer focus and importance hasn’t changed – our goal is still to anticipate customer needs and to give them what they want. However, the platforms of engagement have shifted to more virtual collaborations and less face-to-face communications. In the past, these customer meetings and interactions helped us gauge facial expressions, body language, etc. This gave us feedback and helped us manage people accordingly. While technology has had a great impact on our ability to stay connected to customers, I still place a lot of value in face-to-face interactions.
Now in the age of digitalization, how do you feel Siemens has evolved?
Siemens was laying the foundations of digitalization about 15 years ago, well before it became a buzzword. We were doing things like neural networks and intelligent use of data years ago. Siemens has always been a good thought leader and we have a lot to offer so it’ll be good to formalise our leadership by showcasing early adoption to industrial cloud platforms and other applications.
What are your tips for young graduates and engineers?
- Be open minded. Be like a sponge and focus on learning from the diversity in the organisation. There’s so much the company can offer in broad areas. Understand what other divisions do and what they offer because customers will want to know more about the brand and you need to be the face of the company – not just your own offerings.
- Don’t be afraid to ask. There’s a lot of experience out there – doesn’t matter if it’s short or long-term. Digital applications were new for me, but I asked one of our technical graduates for advice and he was happy to help.
- Be humble. It’s nice to enjoy your successes and be recognised for them but don’t gloat over it. Think about the fact that you’re working with an organisation and team to deliver a result. Don’t develop an “if it wasn’t for me” attitude. Understand and respect the contribution your colleagues contribute to the company success.
- Don’t be afraid to take the initiative. Some people get intimidated. But if you show initiative, you get supported. Ideas can be good or bad, but you need to go get that silver plate. Look at the possibilities and go for it.
- Challenge too. Understand what you’re doing and why. This will determine your outlook and give you a better understanding of other people’s needs.
- More customer time, the better. Build the network as you won’t know when you might need them, especially as people move roles.
Mark Avellino is Food and Beverage Business Development Manager at Siemens Pacific.