What is your name?
Where do you work and what is your role/job title?
I’m an engineer and the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Ubotica Technologies, based in Glasnevin, Dublin.
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Yes – my job is very engaging and varied, which keeps me interested in my work. As a start-up, we are flexible in terms of working conditions, and this means that my job and personal interests can happily co-exist, with each adapting to accommodate the other where necessary. There are many long workdays as part of my job, but the reward is the satisfaction of helping to build a team and grow a company that is building ground-breaking technology.
How did you go about getting your current job?
As a co-founder of Ubotica, I created my job! Prior to Ubotica I was working with a mid-sized Irish technology company that developed integrated circuits for vision processing and AI applications. I was leading an EU-funded project to develop a wearable device that used AI to interpret the scene around the wearer and provide feedback. For example, one application was an electronic museum guide, where the device automatically recognised the painting that the wearer was standing in front of, and played an audio description via headphones to the wearer. The company was acquired by Intel, and I saw the opportunity to further develop the output of the EU project to build general computer vision and AI solutions. Hence I co-founded Ubotica to address this opportunity.
Describe a typical day.
I get to my desk around 8.00 in the morning and start by processing the emails received overnight from partners and customers in US and Asian time zones. From 9.00 I typically have several technical calls with the rest of our engineering teams, located in Spain and the Netherlands. After time for a quick coffee, I deal with any technical issues or action items that arose from the morning meetings, and then have a management update call to strategise. After lunch, I usually have project calls with partners and customers, to update on progress, define technical requirements, discuss and update project plans as required, and troubleshoot outstanding items. In the evenings I perform core engineering work, whether that be prototyping algorithms, writing technical reports, doing hardware design, or performing electrical testing on our hardware prototypes.
What’s the coolest part of your job?
Designing solutions that are deployed in space! Working with the European Space Agency and other partners to integrate hardware and software in satellite missions is incredibly rewarding. Space is a very difficult place to even get to, and once there a satellite has to operate flawlessly in a very difficult environment (at extreme temperatures, with very limited power, and travelling at tens of thousands of kilometres per hour). Seeing how European engineers and scientists develop satellites for these challenging environments, and having an active part of that process, is incredible. Watching a rocket launch a satellite that I have helped to developed is quite an adrenaline rush!
Are there any elements of your job that you dislike?
Commuting through morning rush hour to the office!
What subjects did you take in school/college and how have these influenced your career path?
I choose technical subjects at both junior and senior cycles in secondary school as that was where my interests lay. Studying Technology at junior cycle was particularly interesting, and it taught me core principles at an early stage, which really helped when I encountered them again during undergraduate engineering studies. At senior cycle I chose Physics, Chemistry, Technical Drawing and Applied Maths. I found Applied Maths to have been a huge help with my college studies and early career, and also with introducing the problem solving approach that is vital for engineering. At DCU I studied Mechatronics Engineer during undergraduate, which was invaluable in introducing me to how mechanics, electronics and computer control interact in real-world engineering systems. I further studied Electronics Systems at Masters level, which exposed me to a range of engineering sub-disciplines (cryptography, optical comms, computer vision, intelligent systems), and this influenced me to undertake a PhD in computer vision. At that time, Artificial Intelligence was emerging as a remarkable solution to computer vision problems, and consequently my career path was well aligned with an emerging technology that allowed me to work with many talented engineers and developers in the AI field, and ultimately resulted in the formation of Ubotica.
What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
Helping to achieve the world’s first demonstration of Artificial Intelligence on a CubeSat, and the journey to that achievement. This began with a visit to CERN perform radiation testing using the Large Hadron Collider system, and included the design and development of a compact and power efficient board, the supporting of the integration of the board into the CubeSat satellite, the getting up at 2am to watch the live launch of the satellite on a Vega rocket from French Guiana, and concluded with receiving confirmation that the first ever AI inference on a CubeSat in Space was successful. Designing, building, testing and demonstrating a solution in Space, as part of a multi-disciplinary team spread across multiple countries, and going from concept to in-orbit deployment, was incredibly rewarding!
What is your dream job?
My current job! I get to design solutions and contribute to a range of projects that solve real-world problems, learn about space technology, work with researchers and innovators across Europe, and support deployments of space applications that have the potential to improve the lives of many people through cutting edge technology.
What advice would you give to someone considering this job? Are there important personal characteristics, or good work experience they can undertake for example.
Engineering is about designing and developing solutions that are applied to solve real-world challenges or to make possible technological advancements that ultimately have meaningful benefits to people. Natural curiosity, innovation and problem solving skills are really important in this career path. Hands-on experience with technology can never happen too early, whether this is building prototypes for school projects with Lego, dismantling the broken vacuum cleaner to try to fix it (trying is more important than succeeding!), or interning in engineering companies to gain relevant engineering experience. I would advise choosing Leaving Cert subjects such as Physics, Applied Maths and Engineering, as the fundamentals learned at this level will stand to any future engineers throughput their career. Developing strong maths skills is extremely important – maths is the language of engineering! Having a third level qualification in any engineering discipline can open up the door to a career in the space industry, with electronic, mechanical and software engineers being particularly well aligned to the industry. Relevant summer internships are extremely valuable even at secondary level, as often experience is the best education for an engineer.