‘With an Engineering Mindset’ A Recent Graduate Helps Build Iraq’s Power Capacity
It was 2004 when a then-15-year-old Mahmood Wael Saeed was standing in his family’s house in Baghdad watching a handyman trying to fix a window lock that had come apart.
“He spent 15 minutes inspecting it and trying to find a solution, and I was watching him. I took a look at the piece that had fallen off, turned it 180 degrees, and showed him how it would fit. He looked at me and said, ‘How did you do that!’”
As Mahmood has since learned, that ability to problem-solve, sometimes by being able to look at a problem from a different angle, is a hallmark of what it means to be a great engineer.
Ever since, he’s been building those skills, beginning in secondary school and extending through his PhD thesis and his work today as a Graduate Management Program trainee with GE Power in Iraq.
While in primary and secondary school, as his window story shows, he would try to fix things around the house. “I worked with an engineering mindset in all these things.” So even though his father worked in healthcare and his mother in finance, he chose engineering. And when he learned that he had to have top grades in high school to be accepted in the engineering program at the University of Baghdad, he applied himself to his schoolwork even harder.
This was sometimes quite difficult because this was the mid 2000s and Baghdad was often rocked by bombings and other violence that forced school closings, particularly during his senior year in 2007.
Nevertheless, he attained high marks and was accepted into the university’s program, earning a BSc in mechanical engineering from Baghdad university. He went on to earn an MSc and PhD from the same university in applied mechanics.
He continued to earn top grades throughout his studies, ranking second in both his Master’s and PhD graduating cohorts.
“I was extremely lucky that the university was near my home, and that the security situation in Al-Jadriya was good compared to the rest of the city,” he says.
For his master’s degree, he optimized the design of a prosthetic femur bone. This issue was of particular concern in Iraq, he says, because so many people have been injured in recent conflicts.
He published many papers in numerous scientific journals and conferences, some of them published by IEEE, Elsevier, etc.
For his PhD thesis, he tackled a very different problem: aircraft wing vibration. He explored two solutions to mitigate the wing vibration.
That focus on vibration relates well to aspects of the work done at GE, where today a 29-year-old Mahmood is working at GE Power, as it helps rebuild and expand Iraq’s power generating capacity.
His academic work in vibration is relevant because monitoring vibrations is an important way that rotating equipment, such as turbines and generators, can be assessed in terms of performance and the need for maintenance or repair.
As a GMP trainee, he supports different teams within GE Power, and often works onsite at some of the major power plant development, repair or upgrade projects happening in Central Iraq, such as at the Hilla, Basmaya and Quds power plants.
The work at the 3,000-megawatt Basmaya Power Plant was some of the most interesting, he says, because he learned to really challenge himself in setting up processes to smoothly and fully collect technical information and data on the project. He had to gather information from GE Power’s partners on the project, including the firm building the plant and the end customer.
“Basmaya is Iraq’s largest combined cycle power plant by output and the country’s first digital power plant,” says Mahmood. “The work we’re doing here will help light up millions of Iraqi homes, streets and businesses. I feel honored to be a part of building infrastructure so vital to the development and progress of my country.”
He’s done all this since joining GE Power in May 2017, which was four months before he earned his PhD diploma.
Part of what makes Mahmood so glad to work at GE is that they didn’t hesitate to high a fresh graduate. He knows from experience that many other companies don’t hire fresh graduates. He unsuccessfully applied for a range of engineering jobs, after earning his bachelor’s degree and his master’s. He was always told they were looking for someone with more experience.
It was in the spring of 2017 that Mahmood saw an announcement from GE on social media and also at the university. The company was looking for fresh graduates, and not having prior work experience was okay, he says. “It was amazing to me that an international company would hire fresh graduates and then really invest in developing their talents through both trainings and practical field experiences.”
Looking back on the past 16 months of engineering experience he’s gained, all he can do is smile, adding, “I feel really very happy and privileged to have been able to do that.”