June 24, 2020
As we celebrate International Women in Engineering this week, our latest ‘Inspired Engineering’ series features Emily Birch, our Graduate Software Engineer, who achieved an MSci First Class Honours degree from Imperial College London last year and is now an integral member of our embedded software team.
A comparatively fresh face to Cosworth, Emily initially started out as an intern with us in 2018, but re-joined last year to pursue her career path after graduating with a masters in physics. And it all started as a 17-year-old messing around with music production software…
Emily, talk us through how you got involved in this line of work?
My interaction with software development has been gradual over the years leading up to now, until I joined Cosworth to take it on full-time. From first attempts at making software for music production in my bedroom, aged 17, to data analysis and simulation of ultra-fast laser physics for my masters, it has always been a drive to make and experiment. It was my internship with Cosworth that really showed me that I could – and should – pursue software development as a career.
What is it specifically that drives you to want to problem solve?
The process of creating, experimenting, implementing new solutions to problems is really satisfying. The feeling when you can get that ‘Eureka’ moment, and bring something to life is unparalleled to me.
What would you recommend to people wanting to pursue a career in engineering or STEM?
Online learning. In this time of COVID-19 and quarantine, the power of online learning has been highlighted more than ever, and with good reason. The quantity and quality of free resources, especially for software development, cannot be understated. Want to learn a skill, but not sure if it is for you? Watch a couple of videos, find some good introduction articles. It is free and easy to get a taster for a topic that you think you may want to pursue. For almost any software language, you can get your first ‘Hello World’ program running within an hour of deciding to try it out. Mastery is a matter of selecting the right resources and committing time to practise.
Is this how you started out?
Unfortunately, not when I started. When I first started out, I did not realise how easily accessible so much of this learning is. The irony is, that until you have a basic grasp of a subject, it is difficult to know what and how you need to learn. Certainly, at my stage, I am making much better use of online resources to learn than I used to. There are plenty of good sources that host the content; YouTube, Udemy, SkillShare, and plenty of other independent platforms.
Did you face any issues with the male/female divide during your studies?
Thankfully I did not find this to be an issue. As I pursued a pure sciences route through physics, I experienced a somewhat more balanced gender ratio, particularly at university.
It’s International Women in Engineering Day on June 23rd, who have you looked up to for inspiration?
My best friend from university is a huge source of inspiration for me. She is a software developer as well, who is also in a male-dominated workplace. Seeing her excel and succeed in her work is really encouraging.
What challenges have emerged from the recent lockdown situation from a work perspective?
The biggest hurdle has been the barrier to communication. In the office, a question can answered with a short stroll and an informal five-minute chat. In many cases, this does not translate easily when done online. As everyone gets used to the communication tools we have had to rapidly adapt to, we are gradually getting better at overcoming this.
How much do you see teamwork play a part in your work at Cosworth?
Teamwork is absolutely essential. Given the multi-faceted nature of our products, we need to be able communicate and work effectively with many people within the company.
What other areas of business are essential in your view? What can’t you live without?
For me the most important aspect to working is having the right space. Having a large workbench to make a ‘tidy mess’, having enough computer screens. These things allow me to focus on the work rather than fighting the workspace. Snacks are also a great help! The perfect excuse to have a short break when context-switching onto a new task or taking a break from a current task. Getting up and stretching my legs for a couple of minutes is a great excuse to step away and clear my head, especially when trying to tackle a tough task. I find that I need lots of variety to keep me motivated and wanting to learn. Often, I will put my Cosworth tools down at the end of the workday, to pick up one of my own projects. Having many other problems to solve helps to keep me fresh for my day-to-day Cosworth work.
And what have been some of the standout moments from your time with us?
I’d have to say my first ‘proper’ software release to a customer was very memorable for me. Shortly after joining, I inherited the FlexRay co-processor code on the Badenia/Centaurus platforms, and was tasked with getting it up-to-scratch, completing it for release to the customer. The realisation that my very first software was a vital part of the customer’s requirement was both terrifying and exciting. After some design iteration with the customer, creating a working feature that they are happy with is incredibly satisfying.
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