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Ummer Daraz MIStructE

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Ummer Daraz became a Chartered Member in 2018. Here he discusses his own career and the kind of people who make great structural engineers.

What inspired you to become a structural engineer?

I always had an interest in sketching things, particularly buildings and landscapes, and especially in watercolours. Then there is this curiosity I have in all things physics (and indeed maths).

In sixth form my career advisor heard the words "sketching, buildings, physics" and sent me to an architects’ office in the local council’s architecture department. There I came across huge drawing boards, T-squares and instant coffee. 

I was totally put off by the prospect of forever using rulers to patiently draw windows and doors. I ended up working in finance. After a few years behind a desk in a bank I decided that this was equally uneventful stuff and chose to rethink my career.

After a little research, it seemed structural engineering might be an option. That was confirmed when I actually started to enjoy the stuff I was learning on my degree course. 

During my dissertation research I got the chance to study three of the cornerstones of modern structural engineering; FEA, the Euler–Bernoulli beam bending theory and Euler’s buckling theory. I genuinely enjoyed learning about this stuff, right down to deriving the purest mathematical form of Euler’s second order buckling equation and its solution 𝜋2 𝐾l/𝐿2 . 

It is very satisfying to not only follow the maths but also to get your head around the concept intuitively. And to think, humble equations like these are what our modern world is literally built upon.

Now here I am running my own practise, with an exciting and growing client portfolio, some great projects to brag about and exciting times ahead.

What are the greatest achievements in your career to date?

My academic studies gave me a very good start to my professional career. I stuck around in London and was lucky to come across Parmarbrook, where I picked up the skills needed to survive in the London wilderness. 

Then I moved on to Fluid Structures where I came across my mentor, Mr. John Graham, and his lightbox, teaching me all sorts of crazy stuff like temporary works, and doing it all by hand. 

I got to design some cool stuff too whilst there, a personal favourite being the Portsoken Pavilion, made out of Coreten steel, at Aldgate Square (by Make architects).

There were also the jobs that put hair on my chest such as the Lancer Square project close to Kensington Palace (by Squire and Partners), with its massive double-storey basement and three buildings floating over. 

What does it mean to be a Chartered Member of the Institution?

Chartered Membership of IStructE is the prestigious badge of honour any good structural engineer should aim to achieve.

The attainment of Chartered Membership isn't easy, we all know about the legendary seven-hour exam. My advice? Get access to good coffee, batten down the hatches and go into hibernation mode for your preparation. There is no shortcut through it, you simply need to put in the hard graft. 

But the Institution is involved throughout your career – you start early as a Student Member, then use Graduate Membership as a “stepping stone” to Chartered Membership. Along the way you get access to The Structural Engineer magazine – which includes invaluable resources like technical guidance, business case studies and letters. 

How do you interact with the Institution?

Since setting up my own practice my free time seems to have contracted somewhat. I still have a keen thirst for knowledge though (CPD notwithstanding) and try to make time for the latest issue of The Structural Engineer.
The digital library is also great and ever expanding with new titles. There are some very useful courses run by the institution too. Last year I attended the Small Practitioners Conference at HQ and found it to be quite helpful. Courses aimed at small practices will probably always be in demand, I think. 

The institution has recently been shifting its focus on digital technology, and rightly so. I have always been into 'tech' and keenly follow digital innovations. The difference these days for me is I look for ways to improve my workflow, in the past it would have been to look for a better way to play Call of Duty.

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