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Karen Hull

Karen Hull Principal Software Tester

Be Inspired Series

Ian Wilkinson

Head Of Technical Advisory Unit
Invest NI

What does your job entail?
I assess the main technical and technology related issues facing Northern Ireland businesses and help them to address these. In some cases that means looking at how companies can take advantage of an opportunity, in others it’s advising them how to comply with extensive EU technical legislation at minimal cost.

I also manage a highly professional team of engineers, scientists and programme managers to deliver technical advice and innovative solutions to businesses. Our overall aim is to ensure businesses are able to operate efficiently, effectively and improve their profitability.


Is it 9-5?
A typical day tends to be from 8.15am to 5.30pm, but frequently I find myself working outside these times. I like to think of myself as a helpful and approachable person so very often my official working day can be spent in impromptu meetings with businesses or colleagues to discuss issues or progress on a complicated project.

I really enjoy this people focused aspect of my work so I don’t mind too much that I then spend several evenings and parts of weekends catching up on emails or reading reports.

 
How did you get into this line of work?
I was the sort of child who, much to his mother’s dismay, had dismantled his brand new bicycle on the same day he became its proud owner! That mechanical aptitude and an enjoyment of the maths and science subjects got me interested in engineering.


Outline your career to date?

As a student I worked with the highly successful BE Aerospace. I really enjoyed working there and had the luxury of spending my core 9-5 time in the design office as a student engineer, with overtime spent on the shop floor seeing the designs become a reality. This confirmed that engineering was the right profession for me.

After graduating I worked as a stress engineer in Thales before joining Bombardier, ending up as a senior quality engineer.

In 1992 I joined LEDU as a quality advisor, encouraging small businesses to undertake various quality initiatives such as ISO9000.  In 2002 I joined Invest NI as technical executive and in 2006 was appointed head of the Technical Advisory Unit.


Tell us about your qualifications/training.

I studied mechanical engineering under the iconic Professor Gordon Blair at Queen’s University Belfast and graduated in 1983 with a BSc Honours degree in mechanical engineering.

In my first two engineering roles I took part in a professional development programme. It took four years but gave me a sound grounding in engineering and allowed me to go on to secure chartered status with the Institute of Mechanical Engineering. Since joining Invest NI, I’ve continued to engage in training programmes as I really feel that training can add value, but often it’s the on-the-job training that really counts.


What qualities are required for your job - personal and professional?

I deal with some major multi-national companies which are renowned for their research and development, as well as first time inventors. It’s important that I can talk to each person or company in their own language and ensure that I quickly understand the main factors relating to every individual type of project that is presented. Having integrity and being professional are essential qualities. Personally, I find that my years of working in industry really help me to empathise with businesses and see things from their perspective. As the Technical Advisory Unit has 15 staff, people management skills are also very important.


What are the biggest challenges and rewards of your work?

Ensuring we give the best possible advice to businesses, whether it’s relating to intellectual property or interpreting the machinery directive, can be challenging. This can be difficult as the path to securing patents or industry standards can be costly and time consuming.

The rewards are many and varied but overall, the level of innovation and resulting global focus of so many local businesses really makes me proud to be in a position to offer help and support to all those who contact my team.


What do you like to do in your spare time?
I do a fair bit of kayaking including the odd paddle over to Scotland and the Inner Hebrides! I’m lucky to have a nine-year-old son who loves canoeing, cycling and hill walking so family days out can be anything but relaxing! As my wife’s Canadian I’d feel cheated if I didn’t get a ski trip in the early spring.


Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.
I was part of the Northern Ireland K4 kayak crew that won two bronze medal positions in the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Scotland.


Who has inspired you most in your life?

Annalong scout troop leader, Norman Newell, now sadly deceased, was the greatest motivator. He had a fantastic sense of humour, viewed difficult situations as a challenge, made everyday activities fun and always looked on the glass as half full.  Above all, he pushed his Scouts to their limits in a way that always got the best out of them. I try to emulate his approach in work, and hopefully to some extent succeed.

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