A Personal Story: Find out why Owen O’Brien, Director & Associate Remedial Engineer has invested over 35 years working at JN Engineering
When did you start working at JN Engineering: July 1986
Can you give us a brief summary of how JN Engineering has evolved over the years?
I was employed as a Graduate Civil Engineer straight out of University and now I am an Associate Remedial Engineer and Director of JN.
I saw the ad in The Leader (the local newspaper) and when I rang up, the very first question I was asked was “Do you smoke?”, I answered “No”, and the response was “Good, this is a non-smoking office”, I came in for an interview with Trevor Punnett and Greg Jones. The rest is history!
A year or so later, Greg Jones bought the company from Trevor and it became Punnett & Jones. Eventually Col Nicholson bought in and it became Jones Nicholson, and now that Greg and Col are retired, we rebranded to JN.
What did your career growth look like?
I started at T.C. Punnett & Assoc., working on Civil designs for subdivisions and residential developments, stormwater drainage, detention tanks and flood studies.
I soon started to work on some structural engineering projects, and for a year or two I was working as a Civil & Structural Engineer (there is one unit complex on the North shore that I did all the stormwater & structural design & construction inspections for). I eventually concentrated on structural engineering.
In 1997, Jones Nicholson opened a Belmore Office, and I was asked to manage it, which I did for approximately 3-4 years with 5 staff. Eventually it was decided to close the Belmore office and combine in the ‘new’ Sutherland office (where we are today).
Due to my knowledge of Civil & Structural Engineering, approximately 10 years ago I started working on some remedial projects. As most building problems are due to water ingress, my understanding of the water flow and how structures were built, gave me a wholistic perspective and approach to the investigation of, and designs for remedial rectification works. 8 years ago, we decided to concentrate just on Remedial work and now manage a team of five
In 2015, the shareholders elected me a Director of JN, a position I am honoured to hold.
July 2023 is my 37th anniversary here, that’s more than half my life!
PS: Some younger staff remind me they weren’t born when I started working here!
How has JN’s working environment evolved over time?
It has changed a lot. In 1986 there was 9 staff, including me, in the Miranda office and we were just a Civil & Structural Consultancy, now we have 90+, a Multidisciplined Consultancy spread over a few offices.
Whilst we worked hard, the office was relaxed, fun and social, there were fortnightly lunchtime squash competitions and weekend sport/outing events for staff and partners, several times a year. There were practical jokes played on each other, things that are now unacceptable in the modern workplace. Trevor had 3 priority categories for completing projects: Urgent, Super Urgent & Super Duper Urgent!
As the company grew, we wanted to keep the friendly/social culture we had in the earlier days. This became challenging as the business grew, the more systems, structure and rules needed to be introduced, due to internal and external factors such as QMS / WHS, Government legislation etc.
The business is busier, structured better, with more staff, so we see less opportunity for physical interaction, however we do manage to have organised fun times. Although COVID and WFH days has now become the norm, I believe JN has managed to keep our core family friendly attitude towards work and a work/life balance.
How has engineering as a discipline changed over the course of your career, and how has JN responded to accommodate these shifts? (a historic lens)
Engineering principals have not changed, but the tools/technology we use to do our job has, meaning everyone expects things to be done quicker, whereas in the past, you were given more time to do your job.
Technology has been the greatest change in engineering and construction.
In 1986 there were no computers in the office, just an electric typewriter and programmable calculators (which you had to load the programs into via tiny data cards). All drafting was done by hand on drawing boards, and there were no mobile phones. If you were out of the office, you could not be contacted.
Then in the late 80’s the office got one computer for engineering programs.
Computers and CAD drafting/ plotting were introduced, we were amazed that the plotter could print a drawing in only 8 minutes!
Seeing a fax work for the first time was amazing.
Over time JN embraced technology and introduced new systems, computers, and programs, we were one of the early users of Revit (3D modelling/drafting).
Computers, programmes, mobile phones, 3D modelling, emails, scans, Bluebeam, internet, MS Teams conference calls and working from home, are all essential in today’s workplace.
In construction the improvement, development and use of new products, such as epoxys, sealants and membranes has been the biggest change in construction.
What do you enjoy about working with JN Engineering
The people and culture has always been a positive, plus you get to work on a wide variety of projects.
What have been your highlights?
Harris Park sink hole was a challenging highlight of my career. I acted as Parramatta Council’s Lead Consultant and expert witness for a sink hole that developed from an abandoned development site. I had the opportunity to sit in on high level Council meetings, review and respond to the developer’s consultants proposed solutions. I invested hours on the project; days, night and weekend work for about 6 weeks, but it was all stabilised in the end and looks good on my CV!
As a young engineer, in the days before mobile phones, I took Greg Jones’ (MD at the time) new company car to a site inspection at Maianbar.
Driving slowly down a narrow street looking for the property I was going to, I noticed a big Council truck coming up behind me, so I pulled over onto the long grass to let the truck pass.
As the truck passed me, I hit a ditch that the front passenger wheel fell into, deep enough that the back end of the vehicle was sticking up in air. I got out and saw there was no damage and I was so relieved, but I had no idea what to do next? How can I get the car out?
Just then the Council truck returned and offered to pull me out. So, they hooked me up, I got back in the car, put it in neutral and they pulled me out and back onto the street.
I was so relieved the car was not damaged, and “I got away with it”, that I did not realise the truck had stopped and I was still rolling backwards towards it.
Council workers started waving their arms and yelling at me to stop, which I did with about a foot to spare.
Did my inspection, came back to the office and said nothing to anyone.
It was many years later that I let it slip, but I have not thought about this in years!
What is the JN team like to work with? We have a core group of people that have worked together for a long time and get on very well, making work more enjoyable.
What kind of initiatives and programs are offered at JN?
It is great that JN invests in the next generation and our future through our interns and graduates.
JN has always embraced technology and continue to look for improvements.
I enjoy the social events, it is good to mix outside the office, the Golf Day is a tradition! Not to mention the pub lunches.
Why would you recommend JN to graduate engineers as a place to start/continue a career journey?
It’s a really great work environment, with a great work / life balance. You get to work with an experienced team on a variety of projects, and you never know, one day you might become a Director of the company!
Why have you stayed with JN and what makes it a great place to work?
People, (some clients), culture, variety of projects and work close to home has been great from day one. Also, it is great to see young engineers develop and grow around me.