Author Bio – Michael O’Grady

Here is the biography (author bio) of myself, Michael O’Grady. I give you two stories… the short and the long(er).

The short story

I have spent over 75% of my working life in the world of Higher Education (HE) and have a wealth of experience both as a student and lecturer. I’ve had two careers… one in civil engineering and one in digital media. I have also spent many years restoring and developing period homes, typically Yorkshire barns.


The former career involved working for an international consultancy partnership, a precast-concrete producer and several engineering-sales organisations in the environmental engineering sector. I have been privileged to have travelled to many parts of the world with work, something I’m very grateful for.

Higher Education

For the latter career, I started out in the 80s working almost four years at Leeds Polytechnic (now Leeds Beckett University). I have been at The University of Huddersfield since 2000 in the School of Computing and Engineering. So around 20 years lecturing in Higher Education.

I’ve also been a student in HE for many years… seven in fact:

  • First Class Hons in Civil Engineering (three years);
  • PhD in Heavy Duty Pavement Engineering (also three years); and
  • an MSc in Interactive Multimedia Production (one year).

My knowledge of teaching, learning, recruitment, project management and self-development puts me in a prime position to write books for students in Higher Education. In them, I offer support and guidance to those students embarking on the journey through university and beyond.

The book series

I recently needed a demonstration project for teaching about electronic book publishing. Needing a subject to write a book on, I embarked on setting out my thoughts on the student journey. It was never planned to be more than a short book, but it soon got out of hand and several parts are already being laid out for publication. Think Smart. Work Smart is the first part in the Max Your Degree series. There are more to follow in 2017.


The much longer story – becoming an author

Raised in the Huddersfield area, I wanted to be a Civil Engineer from about 13.  I studied BSc Civil Engineering at The University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, attaining a First Class Hons. I started out wanting to build dams in Africa. However I ended up changing my mind in second year and did Structural Engineering instead. I have great memories of a week-long surveying trip to the Scottish borders in cold wet weather and of doing a 6hr open-book exam designing then drawing a structure. It was for a reinforced concrete subterranean multi-storey bunker for military tanks. Slide-rules and calculators were the order of the day. The internet wasn’t even a twinkle in Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s eyes then! We would have laughed at you for describing something like Google.

Having spent many summer holidays working on building sites in and around Wakefield, I decided that I didn’t want to work down wet muddy holes on construction sites in winter setting out building foundations. A PhD was already beckoning for a young man of my abilities, and I jumped straight in to it. I constantly wonder what I would have ended up doing if the PhD offer hadn’t come along.

I ended up doing the first ever full thesis on concrete block paving… the ubiquitous paving block found on many a drive… but incredibly new and sexy back in the early 80s. It was only being used by the Dutch and some international container ports; only one or two companies manufactured them in the UK. On completion I went straight in to the consultancy firm set up by my supervisor. In fact, he was doing so well in heavy-duty paving consultancy, he left the university a few months after I started – I had two desks (one in uni and one in his offices).

First job – consultancy

Unfortunately for me, I was based in London. I wanted to stay in Newcastle. It wasn’t any old part of London though. Our offices were on Old Bond Street opposite Cartier and Channel. We were a couple of floors above the gent’s hairdressers who cut, trimmed and shaved for royalty. My commute from Basingstoke to Waterloo Station had me walking to the office on good days. Through St James’s Park, past Hyde Park and The Ritz and through Burlington Arcade. I still dislike using the tube – dirty and smelly and the commute – 90 mins door to door… twice a day was horrendous. Not my idea of a good life.

I did however love the travel involved with the job. Most of the south of England was covered as well as trips to central USA, all around Alaska and the UAE. I specialised in structural design of roads and heavy-duty areas: petrol stations, ports, airfields, container yards and general paving to industrial premises. I also specialised in a plastic cellular confinement system, Geoweb, which allowed roads to be created in near-impossible soft-soil and sand/gravel situations.

But that life wasn’t for me, plus I was missing Yorkshire. So I was back in 18 months working at the then Leeds Polytechnic (now Leeds Beckett University) as a lecturer .

Second Job – Higher education

My first spell teaching in Higher Education was at Leeds Poly, teaching Structural Mechanics and Construction Materials. It was a very interesting time teaching on Building Construction and Quantity Surveying Degree courses. I also got my taste of the property boom, the house in north Leeds rising in value over 50% in a couple of years. Whilst I enjoyed the job, block paving was taking off big-time and the large manufacturers (Marshalls, Marley, Charcon and others) were spending £millions on German plant. I was invited to become Technical Manager for Marley Paving for a salary increase of £5k, a Ford Sierra Ghia and a car phone. I moved to Burton on Trent sharpish.

Precast Concrete and Building Materials

I loved the job… adored it. Everything technical was my domain… paving design, technical talks and presentations, technical committees, British Standards, some complaints. I also oversaw the introduction of BS quality standards and Kitemarking in to the plants. I was doing up to 52k miles a year and no day was the same. Marley were also the only manufacturer to have their own contract laying service and we did get to lay over 1,000,000 m2 one year.

After four years in block paving, the Marley Heavy Side materials companies were merged and I became the Technical Advisory Manager of the much larger group. I managed five technical advisory offices and engaged, trained and managed technical advisory staff. Unfortunately for my service, the Sales teams wanted to employ them when they were up to speed on the products. They found the technical advisers perfect for Technical Sales roles (more money, company car and car phone). So I was continually recruiting new staff… something I became quite good at.

The turnover of my staff was somewhat turbulent and proved a perfect training ground as personnel progressed within the company. After six great years with Marley I left start a new precast concrete business for a major UK construction company. Wimpey.

Precast vacuum-concrete Art Stone

The fancy heads, sills and large corner stones (quoins) on modern houses are generally made from a dry-mix hand-rammed coloured concrete. Labour intensive, but you can get some interesting details in the wooden moulds. These are high value products but often suffer variability in quality, frost resistance and colour. Wet-cast concrete is more difficult to extract from moulds and suffers from air bubbles on the important surfaces, but can be stronger and structural.

So, welcome to vacuumed wet-cast concrete in polyurethane mounds.  A very novel process, exquisite detail. Peel-away moulds would allow intricate details and overhangs. I’d get an MDF positive made and cast polyurethane between it and a supporting outer wood mould. Then we’d fill the polyurethane mould with wet concrete, put it inside a vacuum chamber which vibrated… sucked all the air out then vibrated it all in to place. Terrific products, very dense, bubble-free and I got to make specials for Wimpey Homes which are still standing (generally south of Watford Gap).

Specialist Technical Sales and Environmental Engineering

I spent a spell consulting and designing for the range of Geoweb products with a specialist builder’s merchant for a while. The product had moved on considerably since my early involvement. Walls, slopes, channels – all in addition to roads. The worst bit about the job was guesstimating what we needed to order in several 40ft containers from the States. We wanted enough for the jobs in hand yet didn’t want it sitting around for months on end. Each container was something like £25k!

I also dealt with environmental engineering projects. There was a boom in the 90s using up brown land. Specifications also opened up development of land within 250m of a landfill site as long as certain leachate controls and methane dispersal systems were adopted. Basically, you didn’t want any leaking landfill liquor getting in to the drains and you didn’t want a build-up of explosive methane under your building. A whole new industry was created around geocomposites – a mix of geotextiles and continuous extruded eggbox-type sheets.

One area I was also involved with was impermeable barriers. Ranging from welded plastic sheets to thin clay membranes, we sealed everything from landfill, basements, reservoirs and tunnels. Again, I got some great opportunities to travel: most of Europe and as far away as Japan. Interestingly, I’ve been around the northern hemisphere but haven’t ventured in to the southern except perhaps accidentally on equator-based holidays.

Lecturing at The University of Huddersfield

I decided in 1999 to change career and do something with computers. I completed the MSc in Interactive Multimedia Production at Huddersfield and was asked to join the team before I’d finished the Master’s. So in 2000 I recommenced lecturing, but this time in multimedia. It was all cutting-edge stuff using Macromedia’s Director and storage on CDs. Access to the internet then was via 24 or 36kB/s connection speed. Monitors had 256 colours and Google wasn’t invented yet.

Fast forward, I still teach in digital media but now have a managerial role as well. I’ve been writing this series of books as a side-project for over three years now. I was interested in internet marketing, sales funnels, email lists etc., all the things that we tend to stop short of telling students about. I wanted to get my Multimedia and Web students up to speed on what happens to real websites, once created, in the real world.

The coin-dropping moment was when I realised an EPUB file (ebook) is merely a specially grouped set of html files and folders in a renamed zip file. Just web page stuff at its heart. I needed a small-book project to write so I could demo all this transferable-skills learning. Clearly, the small book turned in to a several-parts book series, the first part Think Smart. Work Smart is available in print and shortly to be available as an ebook.