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Amir Sheikh-Warak MIStructE

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Amir Sheikh-Warak became a Chartered Member in 2018. Here he discusses what inspired him to become a structural engineer and what membership means to him.

What inspired you to become a structural engineer? 

I’ve always been fascinated by systems and solving real-world problems. I was never into crosswords or puzzle games with pre-set solutions but loved coming up with original and imaginative creations. 

As a kid I enjoyed building things with Duplo, and then later Lego, Meccano and Kinex. Crossing the Severn Bridge and later the Second Severn Crossing was always a highlight when visiting my family in Wales.

At school I excelled at physics and design and technology so I decided to take Civil & Environmental Engineering at Imperial College London. To be honest it was a difficult choice! I just loved learning around these topics – the application of science, maths and imagination to solve problems. 

I have been a structural engineer for six and a half years. Time has gone so quick and I feel like I am still scratching the surface!

What are the greatest achievements in your career?

There are many projects that I am proud of but the one thing that comes straight to mind was heading to site early one saturday morning and watching two 27.5m long, 130 tonne transfer beams being installed on a project that I’d been working on since the start of my career. 

These beams and their cantilever node piece went through a lot of design and development. I spent a lot of voluntary weekend time getting it right, printing life-sized pieces to make sure the pieces fit together and that there was enough access for bolting the connections and the architectural requirements. 

I followed its progress as it was built, visiting the fabrication yard and then finally its installation on site. Too bad they’re covered up now  at least I know they’re there! 

How would you define structural engineering?

When I explain this to people I meet for the first time, I say that I’m the guy who ensures buildings stand up. I help achieve the client and architect’s vision – and I help choose what materials to build it from. 

It’s the art and science of building and keeping a structure upright and safe during construction, over its life-time and during demolition. It’s a collaborative effort. 

Without a structural engineer, people would be guessing what was required to resist the forces of nature (wind, earthquakes etc) and the loads imparted on it (by people, cars etc).

Who should become a structural engineer? 

Anyone who has an interest problem solving and science/mathematics. It’s a very broad and flexible career.
At university I was naively worried at one point about being stuck in an office five days a week for the rest of my life - I didn’t have to worry after all! Structural engineering suits anyone who would like to have variety and flexibility in their work. 

Some days are spent outdoors on site and some visiting clients, architects and other professionals. And when in the office you get to do a bit of mathematics, some drawing/sketching, managing people, a bit of programming and computer modelling, report writing and researching/learning new things as required. 

If I get tired of one thing or if my interest wanes I can often have enough projects running in parallel that I can switch tasks to what I feel like doing that day.

I think that’s the great thing about structural engineering as a career. I love having that variety. But I know others who like to focus more on computer modelling or managing projects, working solely on site or in a research and academic role. That’s what’s great about it – you can make it into the career you want. 

What does Chartered Membership mean to you?

Chartered Membership means the recognition of my peers and other professionals, confidence in myself and extra responsibility. 

It was hard work getting there and it took a lot of time and sacrifice but it was oddly enjoyable at the same time!

I did have a mentor and the help was invaluable. I also attended IStructE preparation courses and every six months I would sit down with my Line Manager to check I was still on track. 

Graduate Membership was great preparation – it gave me a network of common interests and goals and a guiding hand in knowing what’s out there in the world of structural engineering. 

How do you interact with the Institution?

I attend Regional Group events, and many at HQ  - what I like is the variety, breadth and depth of the events and courses on offer. I mainly attend the technical talks and seminars but have enjoyed the more social and keynote events too.

I tend to use all the resources that come with membership. For work I mainly use the library and technical resources online and in The Structural Engineer. On a personal level, I love reading the Verulam section of The Structural Engineer to get different opinions, debate and the extensive wisdom and experience of engineers on various topics.  


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