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Career Insights – Interview with an Electronic Engineer

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We are delighted to introduce to you “Career Insights with Yekola Academy”. In this series of experts interviews you’ll get  insights into what it is like to work in the IT and digital marketing industries. Our very first guest in this series is Denilson Nicolau, an electronic engineer with several years of experience in the field.

Tell us About your Experience as an Electronic Engineer

In the past three years when I finished university, I graduated in summer 2018 and soon after I started working for a company in the UK that was basically designing telecommunication equipment for big companies, big telecommunication companies, like, Virgin Media, Vodafone, BT and such. So it was a very good entry level. I managed to learn quite a lot and when I started, my job title was “Research and development engineer”, junior engineer, which is some kind of a job that requires you to actually design products from the conception until the end.

And so, what I learned at university gave me the tools, the basic tools to apply on my daily basis. So, we had many modules that were basically designed through industry applications and my first 3 months at the company were mainly training. So I went through a six month training and during the training I was basically mentored by the most experienced engineer at the company. So they taught me so many things that I didn’t know. I mean, at university you are like concatenated in that place that you feel like, okay. But when you come to the industry, you see how big the field is. You start learning even more, you know, it’s just a continuation. You start picking up more technical aspects of your design, you start learning how to design products and how to think about safety, design aspects and also the feasibility. There are various aspects that when you are at university, you actually don’t think about, because they are more academic – but when you come to the real world, it is more profitable. So you need to think about them. For instance, how you can actually help the company make money, because this is the actual purpose of the industry. The industry is there to serve the needs of the people, but also it’s there to make money at the end of the day. So they’ll teach you, you just need to be adventurous and have the hunger to actually know, I want to pursue, I want more, I want more, if you have the hunger you can go steps further.

So after Six months, I started taking on my own projects. I was given a project to design an electronic hardware. I think my first product that I designed was a signal distributor for in-home communication, for TV and internet. It was a three months project and I usually start with a little bit of research and at that company, we had our research database. So during my six months, I actually managed to get through all the products that the company was making. Also, they make it easier because you don’t start from scratch. There is not such a thing. So the company already has the database because they’ve been doing this for years. So, what they actually want, it’s just for you to come up with a new idea, then they will be able to tell you whether you can actually apply it, so the idea would go through scrutiny. They hire the most senior engineers, who will sit down with you and take a look at your idea. If they think it’s doable or if it’s actually feasible, it can be doable, but if it’s not feasible, it’s like… no way. So, I picked up my first project, I think I spent three months on that project and the delivery was, after three months.

Basically, my day-to-day was to come into the office and I would research in the database of the company, but also I would look into what the academics are doing to improve some aspects of my design, because it’s what I actually knew. So I’ll basically combine my knowledge with my creativity. I’ll look at an idea and be like okay, this is doable. So, let’s try to apply it. And then, as soon as I finished my research, I start designing my module by simulating using computer tools, softwares, and then after the simulation, if your simulation goes according to what you expected from your research and calculations, then you start prototyping.

If you prefer video content, you can watch this interview below.

So the prototype is like the process of you basically taking your idea from your computer, or paper and bringing it to real life. But you need to basically remember all of the aspects that are actually very important for the product, for instance the audience you are designing for as well as the safety standards. You need to follow standards because the product will go to someone who would be using it. So, if that product is in someone’s house and at some point in time, it doesn’t work as it’s supposed to and then it causes fire, someone’s house is gonna burn – and you obviously want to avoid that.

Also you need to look into how much money you are basically using to build your project – and think about the components that you are going to use and their cost. Components can be expensive, so you don’t want to use the expensive components, but sometimes expensive components bring you the best performance. So it’s that trade-off, you need to basically think a little bit more about how you can solve that problem. Actually, first of all, you’ll receive specifications from the client. That is the key, otherwise you basically design something out of the blue, so before I start designing, I receive the specifications from my client.

I was working in a group of engineers and my input was on electronics. So after getting the specifications, I’d do my research. And then after the research, I’ll basically get my simulation ready. Then after my simulation is ready, I will basically move to my prototype. And then as soon as I built my prototype, I would go through the testing phase. Doing all the tests, and then checking if my testing actually goes according to what the customer is specifying, if everything is as the client has specified, I’ll give my test to another group to do a quality check. So they’ll basically check that the product goes according to the specifications. And then we have another review. So it’s a peer review inside of the company, during which the most senior engineers come to sit down with you and check why you made all those decisions. So, you need to basically justify, for instance I did this because it will help the performance and so on and so forth. So that was my experience at the company.

Which Programming Languages Are Essential to Electronic Engineers?

When I was at university, I learned VHDL, C programming and I learned a little bit of Assembly. Assembly is basically the root and it’s a very ancient language. But, you only learn that to give you insights into what is actually happening inside of the chip. Assembly language is a type of language that is more primitive, it’s like machine level language. The first programming language I learned was Java, when I was back home, because back home, I was already in my first year at university. I’m from Angola and I came to the UK as a student. But before I came to the UK, I was already a student in Angola. So in my first year at university there I learned Java, but then I had to drop out to come to the UK to continue my studies. So when I arrived in the UK, in my first and second year at university, I learned Assembly language and then I was introduced to C. For me learning C was quite intuitive

In the industry, if you work as an electronic engineer, you are less likely to use Assembly language, but you are very likely to use C programming. In fact, in electronic engineering C programming is the core language. So most of the micro-controllers, most of these chips, can be easily programmed into C programming. Then most of these environments that you can actually use to program, they have C and C++ as well.

What Are your Thoughts About Online Courses?

These courses are designed to give a shortcut compared to how the lectures at university are. So, they go to the point and sometimes it’s exactly what you need. Because you need that flexibility of being like, I need to focus on this particular module and then be able to do so. So, if you go into a very long theory, like most of the textbooks do, it will actually take loads of your time to read it through. So, the online courses and most of these online platforms, actually come and shorten that time that you actually would have spent reading the textbooks. These days, to acquire knowledge is even easier thanks to the spread of the internet. In fact, there is so much information on the internet that you can actually do things that are completely incredible. So, I’d definitely recommend online courses.

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