Gordon McMahon - Through Life Support Engineer - Thales OME

Issued: Tue, 18 Aug 2020 00:00:00 BST

Tell us a fun fact about yourself

I love music and play bass guitar.

Tell us about your career journey so far

Much to the discontent of my parents, I wasn’t very good at school; I left in 6th year with 1 higher, a ’C’ in Chemistry.

When my friends started applying for universities and work placements, I started to realise I was quickly becoming a “grown-up” and had little career prospects so I looked back at my qualifications and picked a credible subject that would get me into college; That happened to be engineering.

I always liked taking things apart and seeing how they work so engineering seemed like a good fit. I also had a keen interest in music at the time and spent a lot of time modifying my electric guitar so I though electronics was the way to go.

I enrolled and was accepted for an HND in Electronic Engineering at Bell College (now part of the UWS) where I developed an aptitude for programming. My lecturer was distraught when I told him I wanted to build a guitar amplifier for my final year project rather than utilise my programming skills. It taught me a lot about analogue electronics and I ended up with a brilliant little guitar amp at the end of it.

Following on from this, I went to Glasgow Caledonian University to continue my studies. There was the option of a BSc or a BEng and I was told that the BSc was more ‘hands-on’ than the BEng so I opted for BSc(Hons) Electronic Engineering and for my Honours project I took my HND design for a guitar amplifier and made some vast improvements based on the knowledge I had gained.

This got me an upper 2nd class grade and set me up for a career in electronics.

I spent about a year stacking shelves in my local Co-op before my first big engineering opportunity arose. Most of the jobs I was looking for at the time involved competency tests which I always tended to get flustered with and probably missed out on some great opportunities.

I got a phone call from a recruiter with regards to a position in Faslane Naval Base working on the navigation systems for the Vanguard class submarines. I was really looking for a design based job but given that I hadn’t had a very successful year, I figured “what’s the harm in finding out some more about it”.

I went for the interview and really hit it off with my soon to be boss as he had a keen interest in programming languages and loved to hear about all the programming I had done during my studies. A week later, I was offered and accepted the job.

I spent 7 years working up and down the UK and travelling back and forth to the USA supporting the Vanguard submarine program.

The work was varied, which I loved but the travel took its toll so when a job came up with Thales in Govan, I jumped at the chance.

I have been in Through Life Support with Thales for two years now providing engineering support to various manufacturing lines

What was your favourite subject in school and why?

I did a subject called Technological Studies – it was a very hands-on subject with a lot of practical work. We used a program called Croc Clips to simulate basic electronic circuits which helped develop my interest in electronics. 

What subjects/qualifications are useful for your role?

They say the core requirements for engineering are English, Maths and Physics. Believe it or not, I think the one I use the most is English. I have spent a lot of my working life providing reports to customers (both internal and external) and I would argue that conveying a high level of professionalism in these reports is just as important as the information you are providing – it goes a long way towards your and the company’s reputation.

Maths is a great tool, especially in a situation where all you have in front of you is a voltmeter and a notebook. You could argue that everyone has a calculator on their phone but you’d be surprised to find how often you’re not allowed a phone in specific areas.

I can understand why Physics is important in engineering but it is not a subject I have to think about on a daily basis. Understanding the flow of electrons is all I really need; any more than that and its back to the books.

What is a normal day in your role like?

It’s hard to say because my work varies so much but here goes…

This first thing I do in the morning is check my emails. If there is any new work or emerging issues, this need to be scheduled and prioritised, often involving meetings with Manufacturing Engineers, Design Engineers and Cell Leaders.

Once I have planned my day, I get to work. More often than not, my first stop is the manufacturing line where there will be failed product in quarantine for me to diagnose. I’ll use my product knowledge and electronics skills to quickly identify root causes and provide recommendations to the manufacturing team in order to clear the fault. Depending on the severity of the issue, I may have to provide a brief report to the “Design Authority” (The local product expert) explaining my methods and reasoning.

Next I could be involved in validation exercises; this is when a design has been modified or a new product is used in the current design, in order to ensure there are no issues with the changes; it needs to go through a set of proofing procedures. It’s my responsibility to plan and manage these validations.

There are other tasks I will get involved in but if I have validation work to do, this usually takes up the majority of the day.

I don’t spend a lot of time at my desk so I normally dedicate an hour or so at the end of the day to catch up with paperwork and let my manager know about any ongoing work.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

Variety. I have quite a short attention span so it works for me to be involved in a lot of little projects as opposed to one big project. As a Through Life Support Engineer, I can be involved in any stage of a product life cycle from design to decommissioning.

Can you suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work? 

Have a look around; the majority of things we use in modern life contain some sort of electronics. The next time you turn on your TV, have a think about how the signal gets from your remote to the screen; the next time you ask Alexa something, think about how she understands and reacts to your voice; the next time you’re listening to music or gaming with your headphones on, think about how the sound gets to your ears. It’s all electronics.

If you are interested in electronics:

There is an app on the Google Play Store called “Circuit Jam” which demonstrates current through an electronic circuit:



There is also a really great “Instructables” article on how to make a basic electronic circuit from a pizza box (check out the Troubleshooting/Questions/More Info section first):



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