JOB DREAMS: ELECTRONIC ENGINEER
As part of our Job Dreams series, we speak to professionals from different careers and share their advice with you. Last month, we learned what it's like to be a journalist, and now for something completely different. Meet electronic engineer Alex!
What do you do?
I work as an electronic engineer for a large train manufacturing company. I'm an expert in our train management system, a computer network that connects all the train systems together, controlling and monitoring them. But I also do everything from assessing risk associated with software updates to diagnosing system faults.
Are there different types of electronic engineer?
Electronic engineering concerns low voltage systems, such as computers. Its sister discipline is electrical engineering, which concerns high voltage systems, such as power plants or train traction.
But there are thousands of disciplines that fall under electronic and electrical engineering. Someone who studied the same degree as me could work on:
- LASERs for intercontinental fibre optic cables
- Control systems for nuclear reactors
- Drive electronics for televisions
- National power grids
- Computer chip design
- Medical devices like MRI machines
Can you tell us what your day-to-day is like?
Every morning there’s a meeting between the Heads of Project, Test and Engineering to discuss the main issues and plan how to overcome them. I attend these meetings to provide technical expertise and this is where most of my work for the day comes from.
I then investigate issues, design tests, raise paperwork for software and database changes as well as liaise with the design engineers to ask technical questions or request changes. However, it’s impossible to predict what I'll be doing in six months' time!
What do you love most about your job?
Working on problems that nobody has ever faced before and finding completely new solutions. It's also satisfying to see my decisions set teams into action across the country.
What do you find most challenging?
Since we deliver huge projects, we are a huge company. We also have to work with other huge organisations such as the Department for Transport, Network Rail and a large number of companies providing equipment. That means a lot of politics. As engineers, we prefer to deal with facts, so politics can be very tiring!
What did you see yourself doing when you were a kid?
I've always been very interested in how things work and was lucky enough to study Electronics at school from the age of 11. I fell in love with it immediately. I think I was always destined to be an electronic engineer.
What challenges did you face in reaching where you are today?
I really struggled in university with the way my subject was taught. We spent a lot of time in lecture theatres trying to learn a huge amount of material. I would recommend that anyone applying to engineering at university look out for courses that emphasise more of a problem-based learning approach.
If you weren’t an electronic engineer, what do you think you’d be?
I was very interested in Biology at school, so maybe I would’ve gone into a related career.
Where do you see yourself going next?
At the moment I don't see myself changing career or industry. Currently I'm taking on more responsibility for managing staff and projects. I see my level of responsibility steadily increasing as I learn this new skill and as our company takes on more projects.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first left school?
I wish I'd known that nothing can prepare you for work other than working. I would have made more of an effort to get as much work experience as possible.
What advice would you give to someone interested in joining your industry?
I’d recommend spending as much time as possible building your own projects. This will teach you how to design, understand trade-offs, fault-find, etc. These are all skills that you can’t learn any other way and will allow you to access more interesting careers.
What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve been given?
An experienced colleague once told me not to give everything to the company, since they'll always take it and ask for more. Early in my career, I threw myself into my work – almost everything I had to be proud of was work-related. When things went wrong, through no fault of my own, I’d get depressed.
Of course, it's good to take pride in your work and care about doing a good job. However, it's not healthy to have nothing else in your life. I recommend you invest in your work, your family, your friends and your hobbies equally – you'll be happier and healthier for it.
What quote do you live by?
Since I'm naturally far too much of a perfectionist, it would be: 'Don't let perfect be the enemy of good'.
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