In the pipeline

Name: John McDonald

Age: 31

Job title: Principle engineer – research & development (R&D)

Company: Rig Control Products


A typical day in the life of a principal engineer is a little difficult to describe.
In truth, I’m a software developer, leading and mentoring a team of programmers, supervising our research and development department and overseeing the organisations IT operations  –  all of which contribute to the responsibilities of my role as principal engineer.

I usually aim to get out of the house as early as possible each morning in order to avoid the notorious traffic at the Haudagain roundabout, hopefully arriving at work sometime before 8am.

Often, the R&D team start the morning with an informal progress meeting.
We have made a couple of new additions to the team recently and I feel that it’s important for us to get our heads together regularly to share our progress on current projects, as well as discussing any innovative ideas.

These meetings are also a great opportunity to identify any weaknesses in the software or challenges the guys are facing. This often results in the first task of my day – overcoming these challenges with my team.

John McDonald

Having a team to look after is a new challenge for me at Rig Control Products. Previously, in my role as a computer games developer, I headed up a larger team that included programmers, artists and game testers.
However, it was a completely different environment to what I have experienced within the oil and gas industry.

Within the games industry, we were designing software for leisure. The software had to be fun, addictive and visually stimulating.

The systems we design at Rig Control Products are primarily safety systems; therefore we have to build software with consideration to the physical safety of personnel and to the client’s assets, as well as enhancing the offshore working environment.


After working through any issues with the team and making my way through the usual mountain of e-mails, this usually takes me to lunchtime.

If this typical day is a Friday, then lunch would definitely involve a trip to the local farm shop; otherwise soup and a sandwich is a favourite and gets me away from my desk for half an hour.


We often have clients visiting the office, either for sales meetings or technical reviews.

Recently, I have become more and more involved in technical sales, both in Aberdeen and with our overseas customers, which is another new challenge for me.

As an engineer, and as many of my fellow professionals will identify with, chitchat is not something that necessarily comes naturally to the technically minded.

However, the challenges facing our industry mean that meeting our customers and talking to various contemporaries within the industry is becoming a vital and rewarding aspect of my job.


If all goes to plan, I’m usually back at home by 5.30pm and at this point attempt to throw some tea together, this varies from the average to the almost inedible.

If I hadn’t embarked on a career in computer programming, I would have loved to become a professional musician.

I play a number of instruments, mostly for fun, however I do
regularly compete in bagpipe competitions.

John McDonald

The bagpipes are generally regarded as one of the most difficult instruments to learn and play, but like everything in life this makes for a highly enjoyable and rewarding hobby.

In recent years, I have competed at the World Championships in Grade 1 with the 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band from Ontario, Canada.

The band is famous for their ‘Live in Ireland’ album, reportedly the highest-selling pipe band album of all time, as well as being the first non-Scottish pipe band to win the World Pipe Band Championships.

In addition, I regularly compete and enjoy success in the professional solo piping circuit in Scotland.

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