A career in computer engineering can be extremely broad, interesting and fulfilling. We spoke with two specialists, both working in very different fields.
John Woods is an engineer, architect and applied cryptographer. His job entails making data secure so it’s only accessible by someone who knows the special password, building strong, robust systems and guiding and coaching how to build software in a good way.
“I have to apply cryptographic building blocks, I’m like a chef who makes a metaphorical cake,” he says.
“I wasn’t a very applied student, I didn’t enjoy school but I loved university. I wasn’t doing well academically- I was around the middle of the class I would say. I did Hons Maths but was struggling with it. I did Biology and was part of the computer club, which was only taking off when I joined school. In 1997, when I was finishing school, Microsoft Windows 95 was only out, we didn’t even have broadband. Now everyone has a mini computer in their pocket,” he says.
John is keen to point out there is more than one way to finish education, if like him, you don’t get the Leaving Cert results you want.
“I didn’t get the points to do the course I wanted in TCD, or UCD, but I applied to DIT and it was great. I ended up going through a Certificate first and built up to the level of Degree. I approached DIT in my second year of the Cert and asked could I join the Degree,” he says. There are all different types of intelligence; linguistic, numerical, emotional and they should all be considered as valid as each other, he points out.
John’s job requires him to have a deep understanding of Maths; linear algebra, finite maths, real world maths.
“Look at my results in secondary school and you would think there is no way this kid is going to go on to do that. The difference is motivation. I studied in my own time, out of a book or from the internet. I got a 2:1 degree in DIT, and then went to work for worked for Ericsson, which is well renowned for engineering prowess. I was made a lead engineer within a year. However they moved to China around the time of the financial crisis so I was made redundant. I was offered a role in China but I wasn’t interested.
“I then worked with Citi bank for a number of years- I had done an internship with them in college. I got lots of experience as you get to rotate- it gives you a holistic idea of how it worked. I loved watching the markets and seeing how they made money just by buying and selling currency.
Following a move to London John worked for interdealer brokers, which is a “more exotic way of buying and selling currency”, based on options and derivatives. “I was taught by really smart guys- quantative analysts, industry leading guys. It was like being in a university setting again. The lead developer spent a lot of her time training me. In 2016 I came back to Ireland and joined the Central Bank of Ireland as a solution architect.”
Now with Informatica- a cloud data company- John’s overarching responsibility is to make sure products are secure. “If you’re curious and find computers fun, you should really consider a career in STEM”.
“There’s a really nice culture and staff, and I have an insight into different product categories. There’s a rewarding feeling to it and I get to learn about a lot of emerging technologies. We are using new tech, so lots of the cool stuff the smaller start ups use. My work/life balance is good- you have days that are really busy but you can have a job that pays well, where you have a senior role but also still have that balance. Companies that are going to do best going forward are ones that trust their employees. Mine does!” he says.
Not many people can say they have worked in CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, but Léonie Buckley, computer engineer with Ubotica has got to do so and sometimes can’t believe her luck.
“I test hardware under radiation conditions to see how it will survive in space and what issues it might encounter with the hardware. There are facilities around Europe called radiation facilities, we bring hardware there and place the hardware in the path of a radiation beam, all the while running tests. I write the test and see how it behaves here on the ground when it’s not under radiation conditions and then you have your expected result. We repeat tests under radiation conditions and look for any differences and see if there are any errors. It’s about figuring out what issues you might encounter in space and how you counteract that.
“These facilities operate 24/7, so you could be working for 42 hours straight on a test. I’ve done two in person and the last three have been remotely. We ship over all the hardware, set up, log into the computer and test everything remotely,” she says, and it can be tiring work as it is carried out overnight.
Prior to this Léonie worked for Movidus, who were acquired by Intel and through that she started working for Intel. Ubotica were using a lot of Movidus chips and as she had the knowledge of the hardware, she got the job with Ubotica.
In school she did higher level Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Applied Maths, which she had to study after school. “I went to an Irish school and learning all the technical terms for Applied Maths through Irish and then having to learn them through English in university was a bit tough,” she laughs.
After school she studied Computer and Electronic Engineering in Trinity, and had helpful advice from both parents, who each studied Computer Science.
Léonie plays Camogie and says her job is very flexible.
“At times I had matches and would have to leave early and that was ok. My partner is a doctor and he doesn’t have any flexibility. I love the variety of the job, I’m not pigeon holed. Less than half of the people in college stayed in technical and went into accounting, finance and consultancy. There are lots of career options. I enjoy working in a smaller company and it is the dream job for me.”