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GHD Australia

  • 1,000 - 50,000 employees

Susmitha Suresh

Be bold and take risks

What's your job about?

GHD is an international engineering consultancy, meaning we provide technical advice to our clients, broadly in the sectors of water, energy, environment, property and buildings, and transport. To explain what “technical advice” means, consider the fact that every piece of infrastructure that is built goes through a number of phases between when the idea is borne to when it becomes operable.

  • The need for something is recognised
  • Consideration of a number of solutions
  • A rough sketch of what an appropriate solution looks like
  • Refining the details of the rough sketch
  • Construction of the infrastructure
  • Operation

Through each of these phases, we as the engineers provide input based on science/facts to our clients (typically governments or private developers) so that they can make informed decisions on where and how to spend their money. We also have non-engineers in our organisation to translate our engineer-speak to normal English and make sure that the people we’re building things for are happy with the work that is being proposed/done. 

I’m a “Water Engineer” so I specifically work in the realm of water, wastewater and stormwater systems – think along the lines of pipes, pumps and PRVs (pressure reducing valves, mentioned here purely for the sake of alliteration). There is no typical day at work. Sometimes, I’m designing things, other times I’m monitoring things being constructed. Or, I’m writing a policy paper to change the way things are done in the longer term. No day is “usual”. 

What's your background?

I was born in India and grew up in suburban Sydney, Australia. I had a pretty typical childhood of beaches in summer and roaming around Town Hall with my friends after school and during the holidays. I think my University years were really what formed my identity. I worked part-time all-year-round while studying so that I could save and travel overseas/go to gigs during semester breaks. Most of the part-time work I did was either tutoring (university or high school students) or retail (overtime rates during the Christmas period funded most of my overseas trips). I got an internship with GHD in my third year over the summer and that extended to a part-time job while studying in my final year. After graduation, I spent two months backpacking through Central and South America before commencing full-time work. Traveling made me realise that I was far too curious about the world to stay put at home. After returning, I spent a year working full-time at GHD Sydney before relocating to the Water team in Wellington. Being in New Zealand has been an incredible experience and Wellington is a truly beautiful city. Work-wise, the projects are similar but I’ve been more involved in design and construction monitoring here (much-needed experience for me) compared to Sydney where I did more high-level water infrastructure planning. 

Could someone with a different background do your job?

I think anyone can do my job. It doesn’t require specialist math skills or a deep understanding of dark matter. It requires you to pay attention to the world around you and be comfortable with thinking deeply about complex problems. It requires you to have resilience and patience when the answer is not apparent. You need to love problem-solving and be able to multi-task – that’s pretty much it. 

An engineering degree requires you to be able to do some math and physics so that you can develop some appreciation of the science behind what we do but being an engineer is so much more than that. 

What's the coolest thing about your job?

I love solving problems together with my team. A lot of my work involves coming in on a Monday morning, finding out something has gone wrong and then realising as a young, inexperienced engineer, I have no idea how to fix it. So I reach out to the Senior Engineers in my team and propose a number of optimistic, borderline crazy solutions. They usually kindly and patiently explain to me why each idea would/would not work and then draw upon their own vast experience to share a story of how they’ve dealt with something similar in the past. Then, together we try to come up with a new solution for the problem at hand and off we go, on to the next. Real cop-show vibes.

What are the limitations of your job?

Paperwork and bureaucracy. At least 40% of all work is filling out forms/getting approvals/paperwork. But the reality is, this is apparently true for most jobs at present. I think this is because a lot of industries are still transitioning from physical record-keeping to digital. This transition is complex as it involves the rebuilding of systems and processes. Until the new processes become fully established, individuals within organisations struggle to navigate between the old and new resulting in a bureaucratic mess. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel! I think once the transition is complete, we can all finally get back to doing our jobs.

3 pieces of advice for yourself when you were a student...

  1. Become digitally savvy – learn to be comfortable using software – you don’t have to know all the programming languages that are out there but you should be able to know your way around a computer. It doesn’t matter what industry you work in, digital literacy will be assumed knowledge in the future and will save you a LOT of time with work. 
  2. Be bold and take risks – try as many things as you wish/can in University, even if you don’t think you’re great at it. Self-liberation is only well and truly achieved once you rid yourself of fear of failure. 
  3. Invest in your friendships/relationships – being in your 20s is REALLY fun but it is also a phase of immense flux and you will find yourself in a number of unfamiliar and challenging circumstances. You will definitely need a human trampoline to catch you when you fall. And you will, a number of times.