I am a 22-year-old undergraduate at Imperial College, currently in my final year of an integrated MEng degree in Computing. As a student member of the IEE, I hope to progress to a full member and on, to become a chartered engineer.
My involvement with software engineering began in 1994 when I took up basic programming as a hobby. Throughout the next three years this developed into a fascination with both electronics and software development.
Before starting my GCSEs I became sure that a career involving both electronics and software engineering was the path to follow. Around the same time I realised the increasing importance of computers and telecommunications systems in all parts of industry. With Internet access, electronic control systems and large databases becoming ever more prevalent it was clear to me that I would need a broad knowledge of the business world to successfully follow my chosen career path.
One of the factors that had a large impact on me was the number of IT contracts failing at the time. A substantial proportion of these seemed due to misunderstandings, miscommunications and a lack of empathy with the processes of the organisations concerned. In all my involvement with industrial and commercial projects I have tried to ensure that I had an overall feel of the context of any system I was working on, within the organisations where it would operate. Sadly, the industry is still suffering embarrassing failures with over-time, over-budget systems failing to deliver. It is important for this tarnished reputation to be repaired in the coming years, to demonstrate that technology can bring enormous benefits when implemented in a complementary way to business processes.
Instead of choosing IT or Computing qualifications during the later years of my secondary education, I opted to learn about other subjects with which I was less familiar. This has led to some peculiarity in my schooling - Business Studies and Media Studies at GCSE; Maths, Physics and Chemistry at 'A'-level; Computing at degree level. Whilst GCSEs were six years ago and covered only basic details, I feel the knowledge and experience I gained of simple business processes and the influence of the media has aided the projects I have undertaken.
My first substantial industrial software engineering project occurred before commencing my degree. Muller Martini supply newsroom equipment to newspapers across the world. I was responsible for the replacement of an increasingly unreliable 20-year-old control system to keep existing equipment running. The first live test of the new system was an interesting experience - it was important that it worked correctly first time, due to the financial consequences should production be stopped. Testing went smoothly and the system has been in use for nearly four years around the UK.
During 2004, as part of my degree, I undertook a sixth-month industrial placement at Celoxica, a UK-based provider of software-compiled system design solutions. The placement was ideal for me, sitting between the software and electronic engineering worlds. I was allowed some freedom to take on projects I felt were appropriate and after two months was presented with a prototype of a new product. I took the opportunity to work on a product from prototype to launch, directing the course of development. The result was a success and I was invited to California for a trade show and conference to talk to both customers and partner companies. It was a valuable opportunity to meet senior figures from a variety of international companies.
Undertaking projects as part of my degree has proved a vital way of building team skills. I tend to take charge of situations through a reasoned approach to the problem at hand, fostering mutual respect to unite members of my team and come to an acceptable compromise. One example of this was during the development of a prize-winning group project when I co-ordinated a small group working on one component of a system.
I consider maintaining literacy standards to be vital to Britain as a whole and jumped at the chance to give primary school leavers a better chance in life by helping with a summer literacy school. Children with literacy problems attended school over the summer, for an intensive two-week teaching programme. With a better start at secondary school life, these children will hopefully be able to take advantage of wider opportunities during and after their school years.
I have taken an interest in the technical side of drama productions for many years, returning both to my primary and secondary schools to help out. My secondary school has many disadvantaged children, so it always gave a great sense of achievement to see them perform a show to a large audience. Recently I have been working with younger members of the school community, in the hope that they can take over my technical role. More importantly, it teaches them that school can be fun and gives them responsibility - something that I feel should be encouraged in schools to help create the next generation of engineers and business leaders.
Some of my spare time has been occupied with a more traditional engineering-based pastime. I am currently entering my second year as secretary of the RCS Motor Club, who maintain Imperial College Union’s 1916 Dennis ‘N’ Type Fire Engine, Jezebel. She not only delights tourists and children, but also serves as a fantastic teaching aid to those like me who are more comfortable with electronic and software engineering than mechanical engineering. More importantly it is a good opportunity to foster interdisciplinary relationships, with mechanical, civil, electrical, electronics and software engineers all members of the club. In 2003 Jezebel accompanied City & Guilds College Union to the Lord Mayor’s Show, an experience I am hoping to repeat in 2005. I received a Full Colours award from the committee that oversees recreational clubs in College for my work.
One of my most important contributions to College life has been my position as academic and welfare representative for my year. Elections are held annually and I was fortunate enough to be elected in three consecutive years. I was awarded Half Colours by City & Guilds College Union at the end of my first year in the position.
For the past four years I have been involved in successful medium-sized projects in industry, approaching engineering with business and marketing needs in mind. I also play a role in the academic community, having carried out undergraduate research leading to two published papers and supporting laboratory exercises in the Department of Computing.
As academic and welfare representative I have had to work with students and staff to resolve problems in a mutually acceptable way, whilst not allowing my own views to cloud my judgement.
Working in schools has been rewarding, allowing me to aid disadvantaged but bright children to increase the opportunities available to them - hopefully this proves as rewarding to them as it does to myself.I believe my skills and experiences, together with hard work and determination to succeed, will be of great help and allow me to play a leading role in my field in the future.