Career Insight: Software Engineer (Mine Planning)
In a nutshell, what do you do?
I work in the Strategic Planning group of a large mining company. We are responsible for generating “Life of Asset” plans which maximise the value of a mine over its entire life – sometimes over 100 years into the future!
My role is to use my software development skills to assist a team of mining engineers using complex scheduling software and advanced mathematical algorithms.
Why did you decide to become a Software / Mine Planning Engineer?
I’ve always had a knack for solving puzzles and understanding complex systems, which it turns out is very useful for understanding software. I moved into the mine planning discipline through luck and opportunity, and have worked with some very smart people who have guided my career.
What path did you take into it?
I was introduced to software development in secondary school, and it suited my interests in logic, problem solving and maths. The University of Southern Queensland offered a bachelor degree in Engineering with a major in Software, which I chose over a Maths and Computing degree. Having the formal engineering degree has helped me follow opportunities across other disciplines, which resulted in an opportunistic move into the Mine Planning field after uni.
Since then I have specialised in transforming mining engineering concepts in software logic, working with a range of mining, civil, environmental and process specialists.
What, in your opinion, is the best bit of being a Software / Mine Planning Engineer?
Day to day problem solving, learning new skills from very smart colleagues.
Every job has its downsides. What do you think are the worst bits?
The mining industry is very volatile, which results in a level of job uncertainty during the downturns. I’ve tried to counter this risk by taking roles which can give me skills common to a wide variety of industries. While documentation and writing reports is never fun, it is the most valuable part of the engineering process and is a requirement for working in a successful team.
Is it what you expected when you first started out – and what’s different?
I expected that I’d be working with others who have similar software skills to me. While I could pursue roles in other software development teams, I have found that being in a diverse team of different skills has been more challenging and professionally rewarding.
What do the public least understand – or mistake – about what you do?
Writing software is only a small part of the process. A lot of work goes into understanding the exact problem to be modelled, what are the limitations of the program, documentation of the program for users and future maintainers, and how to prove that the solution is correct.
Within the mining discipline, there are a number of competing economic, environmental, geotechnical and logistical constraints which impact how a mine is operated safely.
What kind of people tend to do well?
Detail-oriented people, with practical problem solving skills. Clear communication is essential for working in a professional engineering team and interacting with a wide range of people.
Finally, any advice you’d offer to people looking to get into this line of work?
Engineering degrees are very flexible, and software is used in almost every aspect of modern life. Having even a basic understanding of logic and simple programming can give you a huge advantage in applying problem solving skills.