Two Engineers at RWDI Celebrate Career Milestones
Not only is RWDI one of Canada’s top ranked employers (for the 15th year in a row); we also have some of the best mentors. In November, two of RWDI’s own received the Mid-Career Award from the University of Guelph Engineering Department’s annual awards ceremony.
To celebrate this career milestone, we looked back at their career highlights, achievements, favorite projects, and how they got into engineering in the first place.
Aimée Smith (2022 winner), a building performance specialist and “accidental engineer,” and Dave Bullock (2020 winner), a lifelong tinkerer and builder of teams, companies, and innovative solutions, have vastly different career paths. Somehow, at RWDI, they have both found their place, their passion for innovation, and a commitment to finding solutions to complex environmental challenges.
Read their stories below:
What made you choose engineering?
I do a lot of speaking events at women in STEM conferences, and there I often describe myself as an “accidental engineer.” In high school, I had a passion and strength in math and science and had planned to apply to University for environmental science programs.
So, my guidance counsellor asked me if I had considered applying for environmental engineering programs. I had no idea what engineering was. I didn’t know any engineers, and no one in my family was an engineer. And he told me, “scientists study the details of the problem. Engineers develop the solution.”
That sounded great to me so I applied to the engineering programs instead and I guess I’ve been developing solutions ever since.
Engineering is in my DNA. My father and grandfather were both engineers. For me, I’ve always been a builder, a tinkerer; I was always creating or building stuff as a kid. I loved to take stuff apart, see how it worked, and put it back together. I was also the first kid on my block with a Commodore 64. This intersecting with the love of building things mixed with the love of technology, it’s kind of an obvious place to land.
In a way, computer and software engineering is something that in one way or another has always been there in the background my whole life.
What was your early career like? When did you join RWDI?
This is another great story! I did my undergrad at the University of Guelph, and I ended up taking a tour of RWDI in one of my second-year courses. And immediately, I wanted to work here. I just thought the work that they were doing was so interesting and important. So, as I was finishing my fourth year, I applied. And… I heard nothing. Not a peep!
So, I went and did my masters, which was a good experience for me. I learned a lot of valuable skills. And as I was completing my masters degree, I applied to RWDI again. And this time, I immediately heard back. I started my job 2 weeks after I finished defending my master’s thesis, and 22 years later, I’m still here!
Wow 22 years! That’s a huge commitment, how did you manage to stay engaged this whole time?
Well, I certainly didn’t think I would be here for this long. I’ve always been a curious person and a constant learner. I’m the kind of person who gets itchy if I’m not learning new things or if I get too comfortable. I’m always pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I often tell the younger staff I work with or others that I am mentoring, if someone offers you an opportunity and your first instinct is, “I can’t do that,” then you should say yes. Because this is an opportunity to grow! This is where growth happens. That’s been my motto throughout my career and that’s how I stayed interested at RWDI and fulfilled.
I feel like I’ve had about 8 different jobs but all inside the same company. I started out as an engineer in one of the technical teams (exhaust dispersion), then after a few years, I wanted to understand how we win work, so I got involved in business development and marketing. I was doing research, trips, conferences, just more interaction with clients to develop relationships.
I have also always really enjoyed mentoring and developing staff and I had an opportunity to get more involved in leadership, so I started leading teams and developing people. From there, I moved into different management roles which allowed me to contribute more in terms of strategic direction and growth strategies.
When I took on my current role, it was a role that was just being created at the time and would involve leading a team of people in a role that also didn’t yet exist. That was certainly a challenge and I learned (and continue to learn) a great deal from all the members of my current team. I have also been on the board of directors for the last six years, which is also something that challenged me, it was a huge learning curve.
Dave, same question, what was your early career like? When did you join RWDI?
After graduating, I spent a few years in software development. Mostly, I was working in industrial automation.
And then something changed. I started to enjoy more of the product management side of my work. And that is what really launched me into the startup world. Back in 2005 I founded a startup – and for the next 15 years that’s mostly what I was doing, it was a series of founding companies and building early-stage companies from the ground up. I got involved in all kinds of industries, from sports wagering to children’s entertainment, through to telecommunications, to smart cities, and tech consulting.
I loved the notion of building something from the ground up. The early-stage chaos of startup environments was really motivating.
In 2019, I joined RWDI Ventures. It was an exciting opportunity, because instead of starting startups on my own, I could help RWDI leverage the incredible ideas and innovation that permeated throughout the company into startups. With RWDI, I had the wind at my back of a global wind engineering firm – I had a back office that can take care of finance and HR, while I focus on building companies. It was an exciting prospect.
What are some of your career achievements? What are you most proud of?
Two of my favorite things I love to do are work on projects and work with clients. I love to develop and support the design process or bring ideas into reality.
Visiting cities and places and seeing the buildings and projects we’ve worked on coming to life, it’s a good feeling. I worked on the new Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site and when I visit New York and see the cooling tower plumes coming from the top of that building, I recall how I spent months of my life studying those cooling towers. It’s such an iconic building and even though that work is just a small piece, it’s neat to say I was a part of that. Seeing skylines of Boston or New York and seeing all the buildings I’ve been a part of...it makes you feel like you’re a part of something bigger. It gives you that job satisfaction.
Something else I’m really proud of is the recruiting and mentoring I’ve had a chance to do over the years. Seeing people grow and develop in this company and knowing I’ve supported that growth – that makes me really happy.
Just the number of industries I’ve had a chance to be a part of – whether its addressing climate change, smart cities, or entertainment TV – building companies in all of them and helping find solutions in each.
In a lot of these companies, I’ve had a chance to develop and mentor teams. Seeing how many of those folks took that experience and became entrepreneurs themselves, is a source of pride. Seeing all those little sparks turning into brush fires turning into big career paths into entrepreneurial endeavors – it feels good to be a part of that.
What were your favorite or most challenging projects you’ve worked on at RWDI?
Two of the most challenging and interesting projects I have worked on were related to the Boston Central Artery, or “Big Dig” Project in the early 2000’s.
But what stands out to me the most are the big learning experiences. Any time I lose sleep over a project, or I think “we’re never going to figure this out,” and then somehow, we figure it out...those are the projects that stand out because they are testaments to the amazing folks we have here at RWDI that will rally together through those tough moments with the confidence and collective belief that we can do it. That is what being exceptional is all about!
Most definitely starting Songbird and Particle One stand out for me during the pandemic. When we started RWDI Ventures, it was with a very clear vision around building startups related to RWDI’s core expertise, so that would be planet and climate-related.
Then when the Spring of 2020 hit and the pandemic started, it was amazing to see how fast we were able to pivot all of Ventures to focusing on the pandemic. It wasn’t what we thought we would be working on when we started Ventures, but it became pretty clear early on that this is the biggest existential crisis of our time. If we’re working on anything other than this, it felt like we were working on the wrong thing.
We just knew we had to be working on this problem. So, we pivoted an entire team and built two successful and impactful companies – Songbird and Particle One – to solve indoor ventilation and COVID testing challenges. We legitimately made an impact – we helped protect Canadians and keeping businesses open.
None of us came from med tech, so that was really cool to see everyone come together and enter a completely new space.
I think any time I’m being part of the solution, it’s really challenging and rewarding for me.
What does the future hold for you? For RWDI?
Honestly, I don’t know! And that’s the best part. I think we’re embarking on an interesting number of years coming up at RWDI. We have an exciting growth plan. There will be opportunities along the way but, it’s hard to predict what that will look like.
The whole reason we’re here is because we want to be working on building companies that are authentically important to the future. In terms of climate change, the planet, and overall wellness. I think our hope is that we’re going to be able to look back and see a bunch of companies that had meaningful impact on those issues.
You know, RWDI has always been good at the consulting lens (they know how to work 1-to-1 to create an impact). And that’s been true of the last 50 years. I think for the next 50 years, at least at RWDI Ventures, we’re looking at how do we scale that impact 100x by creating products and tools to leverage our expertise and know-how related to climate and planet to help even more projects.