Michal Dymet is the chairperson of Engineers Ireland Cork Region and works as an executive engineer in the Regional and Local Roads Design Office at Cork County Council.

He graduated in 1999 with master’s degree in civil, structural and environmental engineering from Poznan University of Technology and before taking up the post in Ireland he worked in the General Directorate for National Roads and Motorways in Bydgoszcz for more than seven years.

Michal Dymet, chairperson of Engineers Ireland Cork Region, with director general Damien Owens.

Dymet has been a Chartered Engineer since 2002 and is a member of the Polish Chamber of Civil Engineers as well as being a CEng MIEI with Engineers Ireland.

"Many opportunities presented since my graduation – some of which I decided not to follow, like a remote place in Western Australia or Basingstoke in the UK," he says. "However, one I decided to check out, was the contract for an executive engineer with Cork County Council, where I have been since 2006.

When did you first become interested in engineering?

It is hard to tell if it was conscious or unconscious decision to become interested in engineering, but as a child I assembled and disassembled toys (mostly disassembled beyond a point of no return), so the answer may lie there. I only know about this from the photos that my parents kept, but nevertheless... Next thing I remember, one Christmas, I got an electric alarm clock/timer – which I had to put together, wire, and solder first. This was brilliant, I could use all those nice-looking pieces like resistors, capacitors, and the three-point rotating resistor to set the timer, etc.

My father is an electrical engineer, so he made loads of these things himself, like the bespoke mechanism to make the Christmas lights blink in different patterns – which also required soldering, had many spinning plates, and made a constant clicking sound (today any Christmas lights we get would have these features automatically included). We had lots of stuff like that scattered in drawers around the house; besides, one had to be creative at those times as most things were not available for purchase.

Who were the mentors who helped you on your way?

Most importantly, my parents; my father is a retired electrical engineer and my mother worked in a chemical laboratory initially, before moving to roads construction and a roads and materials testing laboratory – so there are plenty of examples within my closest family network.

Professionally, the first two mentors I met during my early years in employment. One of them is a great bridge engineer I was working with on a few projects in Poland and the other is a friend to this day, a very clever road designer who taught me the importance of the thoroughness of road design.

When I came to Ireland my first mentor was my line manager, senior engineer and fellow CEng, FIEI with Engineers Ireland who taught me the specifics of the design works here. My previous line manager, a very experienced engineer in the areas of environment and water contracts and, specifically, long-term construction contracts management, was a great and very patient mentor.

Today, John Slattery, senior engineer and CEng FIEI with Engineers Ireland, who has spent some of his career in the public sector water services and is now leading the Regional and Local Roads Design Office, is my newest mentor.

Mentoring is very important for our continuing professional development as engineers. This is reflected in Cork County Council CPD guidelines/policy document and implemented in both informal and formal ways across staff.

Your engineer hero, or the nearest you have to one?

Gabriel Narutowicz: a Polish engineer, hydroelectrician, professor at the Polytechnic Institute in Zurich, and the first president of the Second Polish Republic who was assassinated after a mere five days in the office (December 16, 2022, marked the centenary) by an oppositionist while visiting an art gallery in Warsaw.

He was one of the pioneers who electrified Switzerland, country without natural fossil resources but rich in fresh water and mountains, which allowed them to become the great power in hydroelectrical energy production of the time, by using his expertise in engineering construction of many hydroelectrical power plants.

Rudolf Modrzejewski

Another name is Rudolf Modrzejewski (or better known as Ralph Modejski) who became America’s great bridge engineer, specialising in rail bridges and rail roads. He was a son of the greatest polish stage actress Helena Modrzejewska who had to emigrate to America mainly for political reasons.

Nikola Tesla comes close as well, even though he was not just an engineer but mostly an inventor, unorthodox in his approach and very creative thinker.  

What are your favourite engineering feats?

There are so many amazing works done across the world that listing those is bordering on impossible. There are ancient and historical structures like Newgrange, Pyramids or Roman aqueducts which are the clear evidence of the excellence of our ancestors.

Some of those structures are of a real value to people who directly benefit from those such as a Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam, Channel Tunnel or Panama Canal. Others seems to be more for show, to prove what engineers can deliver but impressive nevertheless – such as Burj Al Khalifa or the Palm Islands.  

What is/are the most important trend/s in engineering right now?

Engineers must be conscious of the whole lifecycle of their work, 7D approach like, hence the emphasis on sustainability; digitalisation; reducing the carbon footprint; the circular economy,; the shift in prioritisation of AI and machine learning; the application of the internet of things and blockchain; all blurring boundaries between industries, moving beyond testing.

Leading by example, it is essential to encourage the future generations to take up engineering. As I mentioned above, the development of AI and machine learning can certainly take away repetitive and routine tasks – but who will train those networks, who will adapt them to make sure their evolution is not taking the wrong turn? That is a task for the next-generation engineer.  

What are your favourite book/s? And what are you currently reading?

This question links quite well with the last one about relaxing. I read novels mostly, went through the series of Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher and Scott Mariani’s Ben Hope, but I liked Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari very much.

I read polish contemporary authors like Chmielarz, Bonda, Twardoch as well. At present, by recommendation, I am reading Fintan O’Toole’s marvellous book, We Don't Know Ourselves, about all things political and otherwise.  

What is the one piece of advice you would give to somebody starting out in the profession?

An engineer is a problem solver, so work constantly on improving your problem-solving skills, including soft skills and remember to learn from mistakes. I have heard this not too long ago from another very experienced engineer talking to students that perhaps engineering is not for everybody, but you can’t be told – you have to make the decision yourself.

Seek out answers from professionals, mentors, lecturers as early as possible to understand in an informed way the choices and decisions ahead. Also, quoting our president John Power: “For our engineering students and young graduates, we need to ensure they appreciate that engineering is about understanding the impact their work has on the world around them and over the whole lifecycle of that work” . 

What measures do we need to take to help improve the gender balance within the profession?

Continuously emphasise, highlight, endorse – ideally by an example – that engineering as a profession is not just the ‘boys club’, especially to school children and young students. I have been involved in Engineers Ireland's STEPS programme and have visited third and fourth class students wearing my chain of office.

All of the children have asked – but it was more prominent among the girls – whether there were any female names mentioned on the chain of office. It has been a great surprise for them to hear that there were female chairpersons, including my immediate predecessor, Valerie Fenton.

I think the common image of an engineer, especially a civil engineer, is somebody dressed in reflective clothing with hard hat and dirty boots, occasionally jumping over the muddy puddles, which gives the impression that all an engineer does is the site work. It may be very common within some engineering fields but not all of them and, besides, even civil engineers might split their time between the office and site, with site visits happening only occasionally.  

Looking back over your career, is there any project, or particular time in your life, that stands out?

I can identify some key moments in my career where the learning curve become very steep for a period. First surprise was immediately after college when that initial realisation settled that not all I have learnt in college has anything to do with day-to-day work.

The next surprise was arriving in Ireland and trying to figure out how things were done here. This was challenging enough not only because of the language difficulties but also because of the different laws and their application in solving day-to-day problems.

Sometime later, I joined the private company which put loads of emphasis on showcasing, training and speaking publicly to a variety of mixed audiences. This not only pushed me out of my comfort zone but again put my language skills to the test.

At that time, along with other roles as an editor and a teacher I was also an influencer and put a few videos out on YouTube. When I thought that nothing could be more challenging than talking to the public in various parts of the country – I couldn’t have been more mistaken. In a follow-on job, I had to convey very complex technical terms to farmers and business owners within Co Cork and, with so many local accents, this was extremely demanding.

Looking back, all in all, it was a great stepping stone and prepared me for my current role where writing reports and interactions with elected representatives and the public happens frequently.

From a work perspective, a few projects delivered recently were fulfilling, such as the Mallow boardwalk; pedestrian and cycle facilities along Ballinrea Road in Carrigaline; and the signage of the EuroVelo 1 470km cycle route throughout Cork county.  

Is there any engineer you wish was better known?

That question itself sums it up quite well, I think. Engineers stay in the shadows, away from the limelight and frequently work in the background. There are many engineers out there who do important and highly responsible work but are not known widely because most of the time their work is not the shell or façade which comes to view first.

All of them should be better known but one name comes to mind: Frank Sprague who was an American electrical engineer working later with Thomas Edison.

Frank Sprague

Sprague was mostly known for his work on electric tractions but he also introduced regenerative breaking, which uses a motor which, in essence, returns power back to the mains by converting kinetic energy of a moving object to electricity. This is widely used in trams and elevators, but a similar idea is now also part of a Formula 1 racing car – adding extra horsepower to an already very powerful engine. 

What is a typical day for you?

My typical day is great, every time. Obviously, an agenda depends on many factors such as an inbox relating work, volunteering, private stuff and so on; also, depending on the time of the year, the amount of daylight, activities both individual and joint of those close to me and so on but I always take the optimistic view and always assume that every day is a great day.  

What are your favourite films/TV dramas?

I stopped watching TV a while ago and do not really have much time for it. Whenever I do look at something, I enjoy documentaries. A few years back, I watched Hidden Figures which portrayed a team of female African-American mathematicians who played an extremely important role during the early years of the US space programme.

What was striking for me was that despite the segregation and discrimination, they crossed all gender, race and professional lines to establish themselves as true heroes who dreamt big and accomplished the almost impossible.  

What is the best piece of advice that you have ever been given?

Don’t overthink it – as I tend to do trying to cover all possibilities, exceptions and so on while forgetting on the way that schemes need to be delivered physically and not just on paper or in the model, and most definitely not just by talking about them. 

What do you do to relax?

Read, cycle and walk. I find music always relaxing but, lately, it is mostly listened to while driving.