Structural engineer

Mike Otlet

Mike Otlet designed the Millennium Stadium with its retractable roof. He's now a director of Atkins Design Company and leads huge projects across the world.

Name: Mike Otlet

Job title: Structural engineer

Your job:

If you imagine a building was a person, we'd effectively be the people who designed the bones, the bits inside that hold you in place. The architect would be designing the skin on the surface and the mechanical engineer would be designing the pipes and the blood flows. But with big engineering projects, like stadiums, we actually do most of the work. Maybe fifty per cent of the project is all to do with making the thing stand up.

The Millennium Stadium, Cardiff

The parts that go in first, the foundations, concrete and steelwork, are all designed by us. Where it goes, how big all the bits need to be, and the quality, whether it needs to be high grade steel or stainless steel, are all down to the engineer.

Why this job?

I wanted to be an engineer for many years. I've always been interested in big engineering projects like bumper trucks and scrapers and things like that, and I thought I was going to be a civil engineer originally.

I always fancied designing ports and dams and never realised that there was this thing called a structural engineer who designed the steelwork and supports for buildings.

It was only really after I'd been to university in Cardiff that I discovered there was this other side of engineering.

Skills required:

Projects worked on
  • Designed the retractable roof on the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff (1999).

  • The Daegu Stadium in Korea, built for the Fifa World Cup (2002).

  • The Faro Stadium in Portugal, built for the UEFA European Football Championship (2004).

Anybody could be a structural engineer as you can build up your qualifications bit by bit. You have to go to university, or study for a number of years, to become chartered, and that's the qualification. But you can come in from school and start almost immediately at doing drawings and then start to do calculations.

We always look for people with A-Levels and GCSEs and who then go to university, but we also employ people straight from school. Everyone perceives an engineer to be a guy who has a spanner, oil and bits and pieces everywhere, but we're not like that at all. We're actually quite precise in what we have to do. Engineers come in all sorts of forms.


It's lovely when you see a stadium filled up with people on the first day it's opened, it's really, really good.


Did you know?

A lot of this work we do best standing up. I don't know why that is, but when you get four or five people standing with different whiteboard markers and you're all scribbling on the wall, you produce different ideas and different people will chip in. It makes a really enjoyable few hours trying to figure out how to put all this stuff together.

Every project has its low points. It's always the high point where you win the project and start designing it. You then work your way through the design process and you produce drawings so that the contractors can price it and start building it. Then you get on site, and normally it starts ok, then you get to the low point.

You find things become difficult, things don't fit together like you'd hoped they would and people start shouting. You work through that low point until everything's resolved then get back up to the elation when you finish the project off.

To get through those low points keep looking for the motivation, keep looking for the answer. There's always an answer somewhere.

Advice to young people?

Come and have a go for a week. Do some work experience in an engineering office. They're all over the country and we always welcome young people.

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