Staff Profile: Gordon Watson, Survey Base Engineer

November 17, 2022 Time to read:  min

Get to know Gordon Watson, our Survey Base Engineer, as he takes the spotlight in the latest instalment of our Meet The Team series. Based in Aberdeen, Gordon joined the Rovco team in February, and it’s safe to say that he’s an expert in his field, with over 20 years of experience under his belt. We sat down with Gordon as he shared some insight into how he started out in survey, why he loves his job so much, and some sage advice he’d give to his younger self.

How did you start your career in survey?  

I’d describe it as a happy accident. When I finished school, I was heading to college to study computer programming, but I needed a summer job. My sister happened to work for a company called Racal Survey in Aberdeen, who were looking for someone to help in their stores; so I ended up working there for two weeks, which turned into six, and then I returned the following year to work in their logistics office. Upon completing my college course, I was looking for a job when the workshop manager at Racal called and asked if I wanted to work in his workshop; I thought that sounded interesting and accepted the offer.   

After Thales acquired Racal Survey, I ended up at Thales Geosolutions. After that, I spent a year working in drilling at Pathfinder Energy Services, because, in my mind, service equipment is service equipment – if it involves computers and it’s interfacing, it’s all very similar. Then, my previous manager from Thales reached out from NCS Survey and asked if I wanted to return to survey; there, I joined as Base Engineer and eventually supervised the workshop. It was a great place with amazing people, but I needed to stretch my legs and see what else was out there.  

When the opportunity arose, I joined Bibby Offshore as Senior Base Engineer, which was rapidly growing at the time, where I spent 5 years looking after survey equipment on three dive boats, two CSVs and much more. From there, I joined Oceaneering, where I ran and built a new survey workshop.  

Looking back on it, I’ve had various versions of the same job title since I started in the industry, but the job itself has never been the same.   

My background in computer programming has been useful throughout my career, as it provided me with an understanding of how technology works. 

I’ve always been fascinated by how things work and how they can be improved; if you look around my home office, there’s a 3D printer in one corner and a pile of parts in the other. Generally, there is always something in bits, I’m designing and printing a part for something or I’m building something in my garage!

What advice would you give your younger self when first starting out in the industry? 

Although my approach has worked perfectly for me, if I were to offer some advice, I would suggest studying electronics and software development instead of computer programming. Maybe even a mechatronics course.  In my opinion, those are the building blocks of technology and would stand you in good stead for the future.  

What attracted you to join Rovco? Why is Rovco such an innovative, forward-thinking company? 

Rovco is a company I’d always noticed on LinkedIn and thought sounded really interesting. A few of my contacts had joined the company, and I reasoned that if they thought it was a good place to work, then it had to be! I did my research and decided to apply, and then everything fell into place!   

It seems to be the type of company where we’re not resting on our laurels of “this is how we’ve always done business”, which is common in the industry. The team here are always looking for better ways of doing things. 

From the outside, Rovco appears to be a disruptor. And we are doing things differently; we are doing things more efficiently and providing better results for our clients by reducing risk and employing the best technology and the best talent available. That strikes me as the Rovco way. We’re not just thinking about the present, but we’re considering what’s coming in 6 months and how we can stay ahead of the curve.  

It’s also great to work in a business where you have a voice and can influence the direction; we encourage continuous feedback as a company and improvement on our own products. 

Can you provide some insight into your role at Rovco? What does your day to day look like as a Survey Base Engineer? 

My day-to-day job is different every day, which is why I love it! It’s really varied – on any given day, I could be on a quayside mobilising a vessel, setting up equipment for the next one, or working with the other teams within Rovco on what is coming next.  

My wife thinks I spend a lot of time talking to my friends on the phone, because that’s what it sounds like! I spend a lot of time engaging with third party suppliers, arranging equipment for projects, arranging testing, designing and building spread layouts of how we’re going to do it on the project – so that when the team arrives on site, they don’t have to reinvent the wheel because someone has already thought about it. So in general, I ensure that we have the right parts in the right place at the right time.  

I’ve often referred to survey as one of the best kept secrets in the offshore world – we’re needed for site consenting, pre-construction, construction, IRM, and decommissioning.  Basically, right through the life cycle of assets.   

Since joining the team, what has been your biggest challenge and what have you enjoyed the most? 

Equipment availability is always a challenge; there is a shortage because everyone is much busier than expected. We’re in a fortunate position just now in that the survey industry as a whole is extremely busy; but a rising tide raises all boats, so all the equipment is extremely difficult to come by.  

However, we are prepared to go out to market ahead of the game – we have long-term equipment on vessels, and we are making key investments in the equipment we need to ensure we can deliver to our clients.  

It’s an enjoyable challenge because it requires juggling a thousand moving pieces and making sure they line up at the port call date.  

What are your favourite things about working at Rovco? 

The people are one of the most enjoyable aspects of Rovco. Having freedom to collaborate with colleagues across the offices is great – for example, being able to work with the Vaarst team in Bristol, or the Rovco operations team in Aberdeen remotely is amazing.  

Being able to go see them when needed is a completely different mental space than working from my spare room at home!  You can do so much remotely, but sometimes there is no substitute for being in the room where it happens. 

The company culture is great. It feels like a very flat hierarchy where the CEO is very approachable; if there was a major problem and you needed to call him on Saturday, you could do that.   

It’s also encouraging that we’re paying attention to gender diversity in senior roles, as this is something the industry as a whole needs to improve on. 

I also like that we have a sustainability team; we care about more than just buying the greenest parts that we can find, we are also considering the big picture. 

What advice would you give to anyone looking to join the Rovco team?  

Reach out and talk to us. Make an introduction – if you don’t know anyone in the team, you probably know someone who knows someone in the team! If you need to meet any of us, we’re all very nice! Simply ask the question and see how your skills would fit in. 

You would expect to be welcomed in with open arms. It’s a friendly team to work with; I haven’t met anyone in this company who I don’t want to interact with. 

You will be joining a company that’s open, honest and collaborative. The people are willing to listen; we are willing to adapt and change and we’re open to new ideas. 

Is there anything that you’d want prospective clients to know about Rovco? 

So much is on the way! The technology we have in the pipeline is game-changing. The technology we are currently deploying is incredible too – prospective clients should really reach out and look at how they can leverage our platform, the benefits it can bring them and how our Vaarst cameras can enhance their operations. 

Our team also has capabilities that clients might not be aware of; for example, we have our own in-house inspection team now – it’s easy to believe that they are not part of survey, as inspection requires a completely different mindset. 

There are also a lot of extremely interesting and multi-talented people in the company, as you would soon discover if you asked the team onboard what other skills they have!  

If you could switch roles with anyone in the company, who would that be and why?  

Truthfully, I love my job!  

I’ve always been curious about the sales and marketing side of the business, in terms of how we accomplish it and hit people’s hot buttons. But I wouldn’t want to do it full time, as it sounds exhausting! People think the trade shows are just a jolly with drinks and fun, but it’s harder work than it looks! 

However, if I could trade places with anyone, I’d choose to work in the technology development side, so that I could see the tech before it becomes available to clients. In terms of making our products better and more effective, process improvement is also incredibly fascinating.

What do you get up to outside of work?  

Outside of work, my wife and I love holidays and adventuring. Prominent highlights of our recent travels include Memphis (we have family there, so they wanted us to visit before my wife was heavily pregnant), New York, and we explored California before the pandemic. We are also foodies – we build our trips around where we’re going to eat! 

And if we can fit in a show on our trips then we will.  Highlights recently have been Hamilton in London, and we managed to fit in a showing of SIX last time we were in New York.  

Aside from that, I enjoy building Lego models in my spare time, and I do a bit of design work, 3D printing, DIY, and spending time with my family. I also collect tattoos and ride my motorbike occasionally – I have a nice Ducati in my garage that never gets used, although with a new baby on the way it may have to turn into a second car! 

Follow Gordon on LinkedIn here

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