Career Profiles: Leonie Buckley – Computer Engineer

What is your name?
Léonie Buckley

Where do you work and what is your role/job title?
I work with a company called Ubotica and I’m a computer engineer. More specifically I work on our projects to do with Space, and I’m testing how computer chips will survive in Space.

Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Absolutely. I have to say that any kind of computer engineering related job gives you a huge amount of flexibility purely because you’re able to work on a computer and you can do that anywhere. Not only can you work anywhere, but it’s also extremely flexible in terms of the times of day you work.
For example I prefer to start early in the day and finish early because I play quite a lot of sports and that means my time is flexible to allow me to get to training and matches.Other people prefer to work a little later in the day and that’s fine. That works for them. All we need to do is make sure that we have some overlap with everyone in the office. It’s also great, particularly at the moment (Covid 19 lockdown) that you can work from anywhere, so if you wanted to go on holidays you could, not necessarily go on holidays, but you could go work down the country for a couple of days just to get a change of scene.
So it’s really, really, flexible compared to someone who might work in a hospital or something like that who have no real flexibility. It was a big consideration for me to choose a job that allows me to maintain the lifestyle I want as well.

How did you go about getting your current job?

It was kind of an interesting process. When I first left college I started working with a company called Movidius. I did an internship with them in my third year of college and then did my thesis with them. I worked with Movidius for about 2 years and then they were acquired by Intel, so through that process I started working with Intel. The company I currently work with, Ubotica, were using a lot of the Movidius hardware, (Movidius chips) so I had that expertise and that’s how I came to work with Ubotica, because they were looking for people who had expertise in this hardware.
It’s kind of a great Irish success story, because Movidius was an Irish-founded company, and now Ubotica is another Irish-founded company and we’re continuing to use that Movidius hardware.

Describe a typical day.
Before all the Covid stuff, on a typical day we would have arrived in the office and we tend to start work early so we’d be in about 8 to sync up with the office in Spain who are about an hour ahead. It’s nice that our office is quite small. There’s only 4 or 5 of us in our office in Dublin so everyone is in the same room where we have coffee and we generally have breakfast in there as well. It’s nice. You kind of ease your way into the day and chat with everyone. Then we might have a couple of calls with the people in Spain.

In general you’re working on one big project at a time while also offering some support to other projects as well.It’s nice to work in an open plan office because if you have an issue it’s very easy to chat with someone and say “I have this issue, have you ever had this…?” and chances are they’ll have come across it.The days don’t change much, but the project will change. It’s nice being in that small open plan office. You get to know everyone very well, while also keeping the communication open with that other office in Spain as well. Especially now that we’re working from home it’s important to keep up with those calls for the social interaction. You really miss it when you’re working from home, because it’s much more difficult if you have an issue to try and email someone for something small whereas if you’re sitting beside them it’s much easier to bounce ideas off them. I find you learn much more in that situation.

What’s the coolest part of your job?
I think the coolest part of our jobs are definitely the work we’re doing with Space. To be honest, before I started working here I didn’t have much interest in Space. In fact it terrified me. It still does. The kind of… vastness… of it.

It’s definitely seeing how much work that the European Space Agency do and actually how much work goes on in Ireland as well. I was really surprised by how many companies and organisations in Ireland are involved in it.

Through the work I’m doing, I’m trying to see how these computer chips will survive in Space, so I got to travel to a couple of cool places; I went to CERN and to another place in Germany to do some radiation testing and the SCALE of these places was really, really, incredible. For me, I didn’t realise what a big deal it was, but one of the guys working with us does physics and it was like the biggest thing in the world for him. So yeah, I’ve come to appreciate how really amazing this all is.

It’s also all the different kinds of projects that we do that use similar technology. So we have some applications in healthcare and some other ones in warehouses. It’s all these types of work you can do with the same expertise.

 Are there any elements of your job that you dislike?
It’s kind of a double edged sword that the travel can be difficult sometimes, especially with the work that we’re doing when we go somewhere like CERN or the other places where we test the radiation that it’s really expensive to run these places so that you really have to optimise the time you have there.  So for example when we were in CERN, we were using a beam there. We were going for 44 hours straight. It can be very, very physically and mentally demanding. Especially when you’re 30 hours in and you’re trying to solve an issue that would take you 5 minutes normally, but then when you’re there it can take you 2 hours or something because you’re just so tired. It’s difficult to move the hardware and you want to make sure everything works properly. That’s why, whenever we do any of this kind of testing, we do a lot of dry runs back in the office, so that when you get there it should just be second nature.  You try to predict any issue that may come up so it can be very stressful, but I think anyone who does any kind of engineering will tell you it is worth the kind of stress you go through because of the reward you get when it finally is working.

What subjects did you take in school/college and how have these influenced your career path?
In secondary school I ended up doing the subjects that I enjoyed and understood.  I did higher level maths, physics, chemistry, applied maths, and business (But I only did business because there was no other subject available).  The crossover between the physics and the applied maths was really, really useful because I did engineering in college and the first year maths was very similar to both of those. Also, the applied maths course, because it’s applied is more “real life” scenarios, was more interesting than maths where you had to solve equations with no context.

Did you participate in any extra-curricular projects and if yes, did this affect your career choice?
Not really extra-curricular, but in 2nd and 3rd year of college I undertook an internship and that really influenced the career-path I took. The first internship I did after 2nd year was with a consultancy firm on the technology side of stuff but it definitely made me realise I didn’t want to go into consulting. I didn’t like the lack of certainty from project to project, about where you’re going to be.  I never really had a base.  I would kind of work on something and then hand it off, whereas at the moment, with a project run, I kind of see it from start to end, and it’s really, really nice to see that completion and how things progress.  It definitely made me realise that it (Consultancy) is something that I really didn’t want to do and I think that’s really important as well, that even if you take on extra classes or you do internships, even if it doesn’t work out, at least you realise it’s something you don’t want to do and you won’t waste time with it later on in your life. Then after my third year I did my internship with Movidius.  At that stage, Movidius were quite far progressed with the technology they had so it was really, really interesting to see that start-up that was beyond the beginning phase. I continued that work with my final year project and my thesis, so I never really left after that internship. So the internships rally, really influenced where I went.

What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
When I was at Intel and Movidius I had a lot of opportunities. I was in a research group there, so I got to try out a lot of things I wouldn’t necessarily get to try out in other companies.
With a lot of the work we did we got to produce posters and publish papers and I got to travel to a lot of different conferences in America and in Europe, so that was really great to go and present the work that you’ve done to different people. That said, I think what has been more rewarding is where I am now, the projects I’ve been working on and actually seeing them from concept stage and then actually finishing them out and passing them on to a customer.  Seeing something working in the real world is very, very exciting.  Especially when you have the prototypes, you start off with something that’s tied together with tape, and then you might end up with something that’s been 3D printed and very robust. That’s very rewarding.

What is your dream job?
Hard to say, but definitely one that allows me to live the kind of lifestyle I want to live as well. It’s not necessarily working in any field I would say, but I think it has to be something that challenges you. Something where you’re not doing the same thing day in day out. Definitely, doing engineering in college, I’ve found has given me a skillset that I can use in lots of different fields.

The people I was in college with all went into completely different things. Some people are in engineering, some people are in accounting, some people are in consultancy firms, some people are working in other areas of finance.  Having that skillset, if I do want to change jobs later in life I have that flexibility, and I can make sure I have that lifestyle I want to have first and then find a lifestyle that fits in with that.

What advice would you give to someone considering this job? Are there important personal characteristics, or good work experience they can undertake for example?
Absolutely. I think being able to talk with people is very, very, important. I actually saw a quote the other day that “Engineering isn’t hard, but people are”, That you have to be able to deal with people and interact with them and being able to talk about anything. I feel what has been great for me is that I play sport, and that I have an interest in sport and so if you meet someone at a conference and you find they’re also interested in sport you can spark up a conversation with them and you now know where that conversation is going to lead. So I definitely think the interpersonal skills are really, really important. You could be the best coder, or the best in your field, but if you’re not able to talk with people you’re kinda limited in the types of projects that you can work on.  You don’t need to be a social butterfly in any sense, but you have to be able to be cordial and polite, and definitely be able to take criticism.  If you can’t take criticism you’ll never be able to progress in what you’re doing.  There are definitely people out there who know more than you so you have to be able to take that on board to progress. So yeah, personal skills are very, very important. It takes a while to be able to do that, to be able to chat with people who are often 6 or 7 levels above you. It doesn’t even have to be about your work. To be able to chat about anything with people. That conversation means they’ll then remember you and if they have to pick someone for a conference or pick someone to do a task, if you’ve made an impression on them then you’re likely to be picked out.