Meet Fred Mudge

2021 has been a big year for structural engineer Fred Mudge. Not only does it mark his fourth year as a member of the Lithon team, he’s also just married his university sweetheart. We chatted to him on his first day back from honeymoon in Zanzibar to find out more about career highlights, what motivates him, and how he got into making and selling espadrilles in his spare time.

What sparked your interest in structural engineering?

My brother is an engineer, and that influenced my decision to study engineering. In my first year, I was exposed to many different areas of engineering but was drawn to structural engineering as my speciality. I had a split major between structural engineering and informatics. Software development, particularly in engineering, is a real interest of mine. So those two majors felt like a perfect fit.

You graduated from Stellenbosch University a few years ago. What are some of the most valuable life skills you learned there?

In terms of general life skills, I learned how to interpret and make sense of real-world situations and how to work with people. I also learned how to deal with challenges and tasks by breaking them into smaller components and tackling them one by one. And in res, I developed good organisational skills by getting involved in organising the various events, functions, and shows that are part of varsity life.

What is your favourite example of a well-designed modern structure?

I have a few favourites, but the one that stands out is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which I’ve been fortunate enough to visit. At almost a kilometre high, it’s the tallest building on earth and you can take an elevator up to about 504m (140 floors). It’s hard to describe what they achieved with this building – it’s truly impressive. It’s so much taller than conventional buildings, so they had to incorporate genuinely innovative design elements and solutions to ensure that it remained stable throughout the construction process and beyond.

You’re passionate about the role of computers in designing and modelling structures – can you tell us more about this? 

Engineering has changed so much in the past few decades, and today the bulk of our work is computer based. Using specialist engineering software makes the entire process faster and more accurate, and it’s much easier to make changes. I think it’s important, though, for engineers to understand how the software works, and my background in informatics has been very helpful with this. I also try to stay up-to-date with the software options available and how they can help us produce even better work for our clients. 

How did you join Lithon?

I interned at Lithon during the varsity holidays, and they subsequently offered me a bursary. After I graduated, I came back to Windhoek to take up my current role, and I’ve been with the company ever since.  

Can you tell us about a career highlight?

I’ve been fortunate enough to work on a series of service station projects for NAMCOR, the National Petroleum Corporation of Namibia. In a tough economy, it can be a challenge for projects to move at a reasonable pace, as budget constraints and delays aren’t uncommon. On this project, however, the client quickly moved forward with design and construction, and we’ve seen a lot of progress. Working on this project has also allowed me to learn at a much quicker pace, as I’ve been exposed to the design and project management processes and worked with several different teams.

What excites you most about what you do? 

I get excited when projects pick up speed and we can see the work we’re doing translated into real-world structures that people use and that have a positive impact on communities.

What would a dream project look like for you?

I’d love to work on a project that’s close to the edge of modern engineering – one where my colleagues and I can use our full skill sets to create something truly innovative. 

What is something most people may not know about you? 

My wife and I run a side business called Suelo, where we manufacture authentic espadrilles and sell them online. It all started last year, when my wife, who loves espadrilles, purchased some soles and made a few pairs for friends and family. The feedback was so positive that it sparked the idea for the business and we’ve been going ever since. 

When you’re not at the office, you’re…? 

I spend a lot of time mountain biking. I did the Desert Dash with the Lithon team last year, and I’ve really gotten into it. I also enjoy playing guitar in my free time.