Meet Zoran Watkis

UTech grad is engineer at LNG plant

Sunday, April 14, 2019

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Zoran Watkis, the 23-year-old project engineer and operator at LNG company New Fortress Energy (NFE), knew from an early age that he wanted to contribute to innovation, and that he wanted to make an impact. That's what fuelled his decision to study mechanical engineering at the University of Technology, Jamaica, from which he graduated with first class honours in 2018. It helped too that his brother, also a qualified engineer, provided him with invaluable mentorship and guidance in their native St Ann.

His friends and colleagues describe him as ambitious, tech-savvy, committed, fun-loving, dynamic, collaborative, and possessing an inquisitive mind.

Watkis is stationed at NFE's Monteo Bay power plant, where he says no two days are the same. He sat down with Jamaica Observer's Career & Education last week to talk about his job, the field of engineering, the future of LNG, and to offer advice to aspiring young engineers.

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C&E: How long have you been at NFE and why did you choose to work there?

I began my career at New Fortress Energy on August 6, 2018, a few months before my graduation from UTech. The decision to work at New Fortress Energy was an easy one. NFE introduced LNG to Jamaica in 2016 with the building of the Bogue Terminal here in Montego Bay, and this earmarked the creation of Jamaica's LNG sector. As a university student in engineering, I was very curious at this new phenomenon and wanted to learn more, and most importantly, to be part of the historic transformation taking place in my country. I'm super excited about being a part of something new that is making big, positive impact on Jamaica. I'm not only able to develop my skills in this area, but I'm also able to contribute to the growth of NFE and be part of history.

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C&E: What's your role and what does a typical day look like for you at NFE?

ZW: A typical day for me is never like the day before, which is exciting. Central to my role as an LNG engineer and operator is leading and contributing to engineering projects, from inception to completion. I have been fortunate enough to be involved in several small-and large-scale projects across the company to date. My daily responsibilities include progressing each engineering project that is being undertaken at the terminal, as well as monitoring and improving the reliability of the terminal's operations.

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C&E: How have your studies at UTech prepared you for real life at NFE?

ZW: UTech provides a hands-on, world-class engineering programme that has equipped me with all the knowledge required to pursue a career in engineering. Although LNG is a relatively new energy source in Jamaica, I have successfully been able to apply learning from UTech to the field.

Engineering ethics were also an integral part of my studies. As an engineer, it is essential that we behave in a manner befiting the profession. UTech taught and instilled in me the moral obligations I have to both clients and the wider society. This has helped to guide my daily decision-making while working at NFE.

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C&E: Why did you choose the particular sub-branch of engineering?

ZW: Mechanical engineering is one of the oldest, broadest and most developed sub-branches of engineering. It allows you to get a general or a comprehensive understanding of the various engineering principles, after which you have the option of narrowing in on a specific area of interest. So, this was an excellent place for me to start and really hone my curiosity while I transition into a more specific discipline.

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C&E: What would you say to young men and women who are trying to make up their minds about a career in engineering?

Don't limit yourself or your thinking. Engineering is a very broad and dynamic field that allows you to experiment and fully express yourself. Indeed, it is not short on challenges —but show me a field that's free of challenges! At the end of the day, the feeling you get (the feeling I get for that matter) from overcoming these challenges is indescribable and pushes me to move on confidently to the next, as hard it might be. Also, with technology driving everything that we do every day, engineers continue to be in very high demand because there will always be a need for invention and innovation.

C&E: How do you see Jamaica benefiting from NFE?

ZW: Energy diversification is an integral part of any country's sustainable development. New Fortress Energy has already contributed greatly to this by delivering Jamaica's first source of LNG. The benefits of this project are extensive. LNG produces significantly lower carbon emissions than many other fossil fuel alternatives, such as diesel. The use of LNG helps to reduce Jamaica's carbon footprint and has an overwhelmingly positive impact on the environment. LNG is also a significantly less expensive and cleaner fuel alternative than conventional fossil fuels, widely benefiting the country's economy.

Perhaps most impressive about New Fortress Energy, is its commitment to be a socially responsible company, which I see as a spin-off benefit of LNG. I'm happy to be part of a company that continues to improve the lives of everyday Jamaicans by investing in communities — whether through scholarships, skills training, job opportunities, and a number of other ways.

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C&E: Can you point to a philosophy that has shaped who you are today?

ZW: This has always been to “work smarter, not harder”. My parents instilled an excellent work ethic in me from very early; something for which I am forever grateful because engineering lends itself to this philosophy — its overall aim is to make life easier for each of us. In addition, some of the most successful people in the world are those who make the most efficient use of their time, so I'm constantly looking for ways to improve my productivity in the workplace and even in my personal life.

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C&E: What's the most impactful advice you've received to date?

The single-most important piece of advice I've received to date was from my elder brother, who told me: “Don't be afraid to make mistakes.” As human beings, we all have a natural fear of failure which, at times, can be paralysing and can stifle our creativity. We may have the most ingenious idea, but be plagued by self-doubt; “What if my idea doesn't work?” “What if I make a mistake?” “What if my plans fail?”

What we often do not realise though, is that failing to act is often the biggest failure of all. Being innovative in engineering, or in any field for that matter, demands that we are continuously prepared to try something new. Otherwise, we place limits on our own success if we are unwilling to take calculated risks or act on an idea. So instead of looking at our mistakes as failures, take valuable lessons from them and use that to make our next move better. As Henry Ford once said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

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