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5 min read

Donald Paterson – Inside MODS Series

Donald Paterson – Inside MODS Series

One of the original core MODS members, Donald Paterson dates his tenure back to 2006. He represents MODS through and through. Loyal, trusted and an informed key member of the team, Don’s nature reflects MODS values. His dedication and flexible thinking provide fertile ground for MODS innovation to flourish where it matters: in practice, in the field. It is that very field, where Don got schooled from the ground up, learning both the literal and proverbial ropes of carrying out engineering workflows in challenging contexts.


From road to sea, a man on the move

Don received his early education offshore, initially as a trainee surveyor on North Sea oil rigs where he got his first taste working offshore from MODS CEO and former schoolmate, Jon Bell

Initially a trucker, Don came to the deep seas through his teenage friendship with Jon. Joining during MODS’s early years, Don was brought on board (or, perhaps, thrown out to sea!) going offshore with Jon from day one. And thus formed his induction to the Oil and Gas industry – as an Aberdeen native growing up during the North Sea oil boom, it was a natural choice to go with the flow, trading in his trucker cap for a hardhat.

Before realizing it, Don was suddenly adapting to having to spend up to 3 weeks offshore at a time. As a trucker, he was used to being away from home, but not for long periods of time and certainly not without land beneath his feet. He went from the solitude of the open roads for short stints to being on a steel island with about 60 or 70 colleagues, with minimal respite at home.


Here, there and everywhere: Don the chameleon

MODS picked up steam quickly. It all happened in a blink when MODS nabbed a big project in Norway. Ever the trusty fellow, Don was sent to Norway to assist with the job. This was a time when MODS focused on surveying, before evolving into the software firm it is today. The vetted experience of employees like Don is invaluable when developing and implementing software in the field because he has an intimate understanding of the user experience.

Taken under the wing of the lead surveyor at the time, Don first learned the surveying craft under the tutelage of a skilled and respected surveyor. Shortly thereafter, MODS started breaking into the software arena with its earliest product, Visual Project, which formed the basis for today’s MODS Connect suite.mods-connect-dashboard

And so, Don, ever the chameleon, started dipping in between the survey side and the software side, jumping to wherever the need was greatest.

It was then that Don’s unique intersecting skillset of surveying and software development took hold as he straddled the two departments. He spent lots of time in Norway. Then in Holland. Mercifully, his schedule wasn’t as challenging as his previous offshore assignments; this time he would spend 10 days away, followed by 4 days at home. He wasn’t married at the time, but his future wife held down fort, welcoming Donald back, catching up with family and friends, and spending what weekends they could away camping and motorcycling. 

The Gulf of Mexico next came calling. So, Don would be off to Houston, Texas,  whenever required, continuing to manage the intersection of surveying and software in project execution for some big projects such as Mad Dog and Thunderhorse. This included spending a month or two at the Kiewit Fabrication yard in Ingleside, Corpus Christi, overseeing some critical, tight tolerance piping fabrication surveys. Donald spent lots of time zipping in between various offices to assist in dimension verifications. It’s harder than it sounds, as any North American survey or dimension-based activity requires constant jostling between Metric and Imperial units. 


Trading in his sea legs for air miles

One of the unique MODS Connect unique selling points is that it integrates without fuss into existing systems. It’s the same with Don, he maneuvers between old and new, introducing new technology into brownfield environments. And so, Don remained flexible, ducking and diving, going wherever demand cropped up. Things started getting more and more ad hoc for Don, prioritizing his professional responsiveness over his ability to nest at home.

As the company and its software solutions grew, MODS picked up a major contract with Chevron…Australia. This was great news for both MODS and Donald. But, while the contracts were agreed in principle, MODS needed to provide local support Down Under. As has been Don’s experience with MODS to date, things happened quickly from there. 

MODS signed the contract with Chevron Australia around 2017/18 and Donald immediately started supporting the project. Still based in the UK, he then traded his offshore miles for air miles and began traveling to and from Perth, for 6-to-8 week stints there at a time. Unlike his trucking or offshore days, this time, Donald wanted to spend more time at home. Now, he had a wife and kids. It was time, after so much of his working life spent away, to prioritize his family. The solution presented itself: Don and his wife made the daring choice to relocate their family away from their hometown of Aberdeen. Far, far away.


The move Down Under

Don got his visa in late 2019 and moved himself and his family halfway around the world on January 12, 2020. He remembers everything. They left the UK in winter gear and arrived in Perth at the height of summer, sweltering in their parkas in the 30 degrees heat that welcomed them off the plane like a plank to the face. 


Now married for nearly a decade, his long-suffering wife, Lillian, would no longer have to pick up the homestead slack from Don’s prolonged absences. But moving their two young children, Austin and Summer (ages 6 and 4 at the time), would prove to be no small feat. It hasn’t been an easy transition, but a worthwhile one. Growth typically entails a bit of pain, and Don and his family do miss their family, friends and home environment. 


He chuckles over the magnitude of lifestyle change he and his family have triumphed over. They have all taken to the phenomenal outdoorsy lifestyle afforded by Perth’s perfect weather. And the feeling of accomplishment of embarking on this family adventure has taught them all, parents and children alike, not to cave into fear. 

Not that fear is something Don has ever paid much regard to. Motorcycles are a thing with most of the original MODS crew, and Don is no exception. Having turned this boyhood obsession into a hobby, Donald and his old buddy-turned-boss, seem to have enjoyed a history of racing one another. Don is coy, there’s no word on who the winner typically was when he and Jon met on two wheels. 



While Don loved his bikes, his wife preferred the literal racehorse. A motorcyclist and an equestrian, the pair used to enjoy the speed of the snowy slopes snowboarding together (a pastime put to bed post-parenthood!). It’s no wonder these two speed demons were so willing to close their eyes and take the plunge Down Under. Both born and raised in Aberdeen, wherever they would end up, they knew they’d always have each other.


The journey with MODS continues

MODS is a global company with family values. And Don is as much part of the founding Bell brotherhood as the Bell’s themselves. He’s quick to point out that he is a whopping 14 days Jon’s senior, something he doesn’t let his old friend forget. The two grew up in the same town and went to the same school. While Don jokes that, initially, he “didn’t like the look of the guy,” he and Jon have been dear friends ever since their teenage years, bonding over motorcycles and keeping an eye on one another.

Don credits his success to Jon’s leadership and loyal nature. Separated by continents and oceans, Don is growing MODS’s profile in the APAC region, building a team and diversifying, bringing MODS Connect into the Australian alternative energy and mining sectors. While he continues to wear several different hats for MODS, and when asked what his future goals are, he can’t resist a good-natured jab at his old buddy, “CEO,” he says with a chuckle.



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