I was born/grew up in: Born in Hamburg, Germany. Grew up in Carrying Place, Ontario, Canada (the Prince Edward County wine region). Very rural.
I now live in: I live most of the year in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. But right now I live in Sisimiut, Greenland. I will be moving to Seattle, Washington, USA in a few months.
I completed my training/education at: I did my Bachelor’s degree in Integrated Engineering (majoring in electrical, minoring in civil) at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver campus. I am doing my minor in civil engineering while on exchange with the Technical University of Denmark at their ARTEK Arctic Technology Centre in Sisimiut, Greenland.
What I do at work
I am currently participating in an exchange program in Greenland. Here I am completing a minor in Civil Engineering. In a few months, I will be joining the Augmented Reality (AR) Research team at Facebook Reality Labs (FRL), otherwise known as Oculus, to design future AR products. Based on my past experience, and the job description, my day to day will include the following activities.
During the day, I meet with other engineers on the team to coordinate, plan, and discuss milestones for the team and department. Since my role is geared towards prototyping new products, I spend my days combining design work using computer-aided design (CAD) programs and then building devices in the lab. This involves using a lot of specializing equipment to design, build, and test electronic devices. Some of these tools and devices are CAD software, soldering irons, power supplies, reflow ovens, oscilloscopes, and multimeters.
When I am designing and building electronic devices, I draw upon several skills from my training. These include circuit analysis, electromagnetics, calculus and differential equations, linear algebra, computer programming, heat transfer, mechanics, digital logic systems, power electronics, and all of my engineering design courses.
Building any electronic device has built in problems to solve. For example, having to power a wireless and energy-intensive device with very limited space for batteries and a limited budget. Another example is having to include several sensors and communication modules on the same circuit board without having them interfere with each other. Engineers also have to consider challenges related to manufacturing and supply chain as well. We have to make sure that parts can be manufactured with high yields, and be easy to obtain and repair if needed. Working in a multidisciplinary and cross-cultural team also means that we have to navigate social problems and be able to communicate effectively with team members to solve disputes and differences of opinion.
I think my background in the Integrated Engineering really prepared me for a role like this. I have taken courses in all engineering disciplines and worked with a variety of engineers on design projects. As a result, I find that I am able to communicate with engineers from different backgrounds and disciplines. I am able to visualize how their systems interact with mine. I have also lived and worked abroad in very different cultures, so I am used to culture shock and differences of viewpoints.
My career path is
In high school, I thought girls who were good at science became doctors and boys become engineers. I didn’t change my mind from neuroscience to engineering until my fifth year of high school. Even then, I thought I would do environmental engineering. This was because I cared about the environment and this was the only program that had “environment” in its name. Over time, as I was exposed to more fields of study and career paths that I had never thought existed. As a result, I adjusted my career plans.
I went through UBC’s Integrated Engineering program. It was the perfect choice for someone interested in a lot of things and who needed a small supportive cohort of students to succeed. I did several internships—more than my peers and the most diverse. It was still a lot of trial and error in figuring out what I wanted to do. I did two summer internships doing software engineering for Microsoft. I spent eight months manufacturing hydrogen fuel cell engines for Mercedes-Benz. I had half a year doing engineering for a solar energy start-up, ME SOLshare, in Bangladesh. I also had a summer doing electrical design for hardware start-up in Vancouver called TZOA. All my internships gave me great industry experience. They also allowed me to work in areas that were of interest to me (e.g., renewable energy and sustainable development). I also got to work in developing countries and gained strong technical skills.
I am motivated by
Being a new graduate, I see this job as an extension of my training. We are never done being students. At FRL I will have the resources to learn from some of the best engineers. This will help me hone my craft and develop my potential as an engineer for decades to come. I do get very excited about learning new things! Electronics is still sorcery to me, and I find raw joy in just learning about the science that goes into it. AR is also a technology that I can get behind and see as being very impactful, even after dismissing it for a while.
I enjoy building products that people get excited about and/or help them in some way. That’s the most rewarding part. Perhaps that is the same underlying motivation for most people in any profession, from waste management to teaching to making music. I know that I will not be at this company or in this role forever. I realize that every career move is a stepping-stone. What makes each stage fulfilling is feeling like I am making the most of the opportunities available to me in order to become someone who has a lot of skill and experience to give back. I care about many causes. These include remote monitoring, sustainable infrastructure, renewable energy, and social development, to name a few. I feel fortunate that I have many skills to solve challenges in these areas.
How I affect peoples’ lives
At the risk of sounding like I’m drinking the company Kool-Aid, Facebook Reality Labs is designing products that defy distance. Augmented Reality (AR) is a tool that, like the internet and smart phones, will change how we work and live. People will be able to collaborate without having to commute to a workplace. They will be able to design in augmented 3D and will be able to share experiences on a more engaging platform. It has both positive and negative consequences. I am wary of contributing to something that has unknown consequences such as the potential to be addictive or socially isolating. However, I am also rising to the opportunity to be an active player in shaping how these tools are built for good.
Outside of work I
When there are mountains nearby, I spend my free time in the summer rock climbing and backcountry hiking and camping. In the winter, I am skiing (both in resorts and in the backcountry). I work out at the gym to keep me fit for my sports. I like to spend time with my roommates and friends. I am happy spending a night in with them just talking, making dinner, and hanging out. If I have the energy, I like to go out dancing (Latin, salsa, bachata, zouk). I always have a book on the go, which helps me to relax.
To give back, I volunteer my time mentoring younger students, teaching climbing, and working on gardening projects. I would like to be able to volunteer more, perhaps in a retirement home talking to people who don’t get to socialize much. I would also like to take up piano and singing again. I would also like to learn a new language.
My advice to others
Do not be put off from engineering just because you weren’t exposed to it in high school, or because you think you’ll be stuck at a desk for the rest of your life. A STEM degree does not pigeonhole you to one profession. It gives you a variety of tools and skills to tackle challenges in the 21st century and be self-sufficient. Your career will be as unique as you are!
Don’t be put off by failure. I failed multiple courses in university and several people—friends, family, professors—encouraged me to change majors since I struggled so much. Struggling is a blessing in disguise, so don’t quit at the first sign of failure. You’ll end up being more resilient and probably more open-minded than the kids who aced every course.