Physical and Mathematical Sciences is a broad sector, with many potential career paths for those with qualifications and suitable skillsets, including medical work, engineering, teaching, finance and technology.
The engineering sector itself is made up of a wide range of companies providing a diverse range of products and services.
The most usual route is through taking a degree at a third level college, often following this with a post graduate qualification.
Students can study mechanical engineering at Level 6, 7 or 8 in colleges across Ireland or they can study a general engineering degree then specialise in mechanical engineering in the final year.
Physicists want to understand how the world works, in every detail and at the deepest level. This includes everything from elementary particles, to nuclei, atoms, living cells, solids, liquids, gases, living organisms, the brain, supercomputers, the atmosphere, galaxies and the universe itself.
There is a whole host of career opportunities for mechanical engineering graduates.
A wide range of opportunities exist in both electrical and electronic engineering.
Smart Futures is a government-industry programme providing science, technology, engineering andmaths (STEM) careers information to second-level students, parents, teachers and careers guidance counsellors in Ireland.
Shane Callanan works as an Electronic Engineer with Excelsys Technologies. He heads up the Applications Engineering group and specialises in the area of power supplies. He a received a Batchelor of Engineering from the Cork Institute of Technology.
What were the main 'career decision' milestones in your life so far?
When I was in school I didn’t really have a definite career plan. By the time it came to my Leaving Cert, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. After researching a huge variety of careers options I found that Engineering was a good fit for what I might enjoy pursuing. I took a closer look at the various courses available through the CAO, and Electronic Engineering offered a good mix of theory, lab work, and project work. They also had a 6 month work placement in third year, which I felt would be a huge advantage to me with any potential employer.
I was lucky one sense, that the year I graduated was a great time for Electronic Engineering students. There was a huge shortage of electronic engineers, and we had companies that were coming into the college to persuade us to join their company. I had four job offers before taking my final exams, ranging from Process Engineering, Software engineering, Hardware Design Engineering and Test Engineering. In the end I chose Hardware and haven’t looked back since. I took up employment with a multi-national corporation that designed and manufactured power supplies.
After a number of years I had progressed to a team leader position and the opportunity was there for me to enter management if desired. However, I wanted to stick with an engineering role, and eventually was promoted to the position of senior design engineer. This was a fantastic experience, because at that time we were developing new technologies, and incorporating software onto our power supplies. This meant I had to learn a completely new skill set, which expanded my engineering abilities greatly.
After eight years of working for this multi-national I moved to my current position in Excelsys Technologies. I’m still in the power supply industry, but now I am working in a much smaller company, and it’s also 100% Irish owned. This has been a great move for me, and I have a much larger influence on the direction the company takes as we grow the business.
Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
My career direction has been, and continues to be influenced by the people I meet on an ongoing basis. The engineering community is a knowledge rich environment, and I was very lucky to have been placed in a knowledge sharing environment when I graduated. The people that I have worked with over the last 12 years or so, continue to influence my career direction. The power supply industry is a very small one, even on a global basis, and you keep meeting the same people periodically at various international functions and events.
How did you go about getting your current job?
As I have previously mentioned, the year I graduated was a great one for electronic engineering students. All of my graduating class had at least two offers before we had sat our final exams. At the time I had the offer of either taking up a Process Engineering, Software, Test or Hardware Design Engineering position with four different companies.
I picked hardware because that was what I most interested after completing my Electronics degree. I chose a multi-national company, and my advice to any graduate would be to start your career with an international company. Many of these companies will have formal graduate training programs in place, with pre defined career opportunities in place. Learning in a well established, and well structured environment will be crucial to any engineer entering the workforce for the first time.
After 12 months I left this company to work as a test engineer. At the time I didn’t want to commit my career to hardware design. I left on very good terms with the promise that if it didn’t work out I should make contact again. After 12 months I decided that my initial choice was what I wanted to pursue, and I was soon working again at my first company. I was promoted to team leader for a small engineering team, and the opportunity presented itself to pursue a career in management, but I wanted to stick with an engineering role. Eventually I was promoted to a senior design engineering position where I continued to design power supplies up until 2006. This was a very exciting time for me, and professionally my career really advanced.
In 2006 an opportunity arose to join a small Irish company that was moving its headquarters from Dublin to Cork. This company was Excelsys Technologies. The role was to head up the Applications Engineering group. I met with the Managing Director, who had previously headed up European Operations for the first company I had worked for. I also knew some of the other staff, again having previously worked with them. We now have a concentrated group of very experienced engineers, designing some of the highest power density power supplies in our chosen market.
Describe a typical day?
I have a huge variety in my daily schedule, and for me there is no such thing as a typical day. We have sales world wide, ranging from The United States, Europe, Israel, The Far East, and even Australia. And because of this my day can start and finish at any hour of the day. Sometimes the day can start with a conference call with customer’s in the Far East, followed by another meeting with a European based customer around mid day, and finally an evening call with a customer in for example California.
The variety is huge, and really keeps me on my toes! Activities are constantly being re-scheduled to meet our customer’s requirements, and because we support the customer’s applications, this may oftern require our immediate attention. Sometimes the issue is relatively straight forward and I can answer by a return email. Other times it might involve some laboratory work, and occasionally it is not possible to resolve the issue without travelling to the customer’s location. If this is the case, then we co-ordinate with the customer to arrange flights, transfers, hotel accommodation etc.
I am also responsible for International regulatory issues on our products. These are the requirements for selling electronic goods in some international markets, especially into medical applications. Often this requires co-ordinating with the various international bodies to ensure our product meets the required standards, and includes quarterly visits to our manufacturing facilities in Eastern Europe and the Far East.
In my current role I also am responsible for updating the senior management team on aspects of the groups work. We get together once a month to discuss all aspects of the business, both engineering and commercial. This usually takes place at the start of every month, so some of my time is spent collaborating reports for these meetings. As the electronics industry continues to change, larger companies over the years have reduced their in house power supply experts. Because of this we see a lot of customers who do not understand the intricacies of using a power supply. So some of my time is spent either writing papers for customers or putting together some training material to help them understand the issues as they may arise.
What are the main tasks and responsibilities?
My main task is to deal with any technical issue that arises in the customer’s application. This could be anything from an engineer evaluating our product for the first time or an application failure in a mature design. As issues arise I will assess the workload involved in trying to reach a solution, identify team members, and project manage the event until completion. This also involves agreeing this schedule with the customer, and keeping them up to date with our progress.
I am also responsible for International regulatory issues on our products. These are the requirements for selling electronic goods in some international markets, especially into medical applications. This involves making sure that the files are kept up to date, and addressing any issues that may arise from quarterly inspections by these bodies.
What are the main challenges?
The main challenges for me are trying to fit everything into one day!! It’s important that you manage your time well, and identify what is important and what really needs to be completed before you can leave the office. Because of the nature of application support we are constantly being forced to re-prioritise our work schedules. Having a good professional relationship with the customer is paramount to understanding just how urgent their request might be. Also because of the wide scope of our sales, dealing with different nationalities and cultures can be a challenge at first.
Working with people from all over the globe is really great. You get to see how different people can solve the same problem in many different ways. It’s also a fantastic way to experience different cultures when you get the opportunity to travel to these locations.
Over the last few years I've been lucky enough to travel extensively throughout the States, Europe, Israel, China and Korea, and work with engineers from all of these places. You also get to realise that beneath it all, engineers are the same all over the world. There are technical problems to solve, and we love to solve them!!!
What's not so cool?
What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
I have a good technical knowledge in my area and I love to be able to break things down to such a level that even a non technical person can at least understand grasp the issue. I am very approachable, and encourage people to come and ask me any technical questions. Even when deadlines are tight, and the pressure is really on, I always insist on having an open door policy and will make time to answer any queries. It's also important to never take yourself too seriously and maintain a sense of humour. I'd like to think that at least most of the time I succeed in bringing this to the workplace.
What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
When in I was in school I didn’t really have a definite career plan. However I did prefer the Science subjects in general over languages or Business type subjects. Along with the obligatory subjects, I continued with Physics, Chemistry and Honours Maths for my leaving certificate, not so much as a conscious career choice but because I liked them. However as it turned out these all helped me during my course, and they tied in with my career choice.
What is your education to date?
What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
I suppose my understanding of Maths and Physics have proved to be the most important. I use the knowledge that I have gained in these subjects on a daily basis. However as your career progresses you will inevitably be faced with the issues of budgets, project management, people management, and a whole lot of common sense! As an engineer you will also be expected to bring on younger engineers, by teaching and mentoring them. So many of the other subjects I have studied over the years have also proved to be invaluable to me.
What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
Our power supplies are being used in a number of different applications including some medical devices. These devices include some post natal care machines for new born babies, some equipment that is being used in cancer analysis and also some cancer treatment machinery. I have worked in conjunction with these engineering teams to incorporate our part into their applications, so it’s very rewarding to know that you’ve played a small part in helping other people in their daily lives.
My current role is applications support, which involves a lot of travel to customer’s research laboratories as problems arise. There have been several high profile projects that I have been involved in where the customer has struggled to properly integrate our product into their application. The only way for me to resolve the issue was to travel to the customer’s location and work with their engineering teams on site (Most companies do not have in-house resident experts in power). This usually involves a few days of understanding the application, then trying to identify the problem and finally implementing a solution that is acceptable to the customer. I have completed this in many locations including the United States, Israel and throughout Europe. I have also worked on projects in Hong Kong, China and Korea. It is always rewarding to fix, what is often a high pressure situation, and it gives the customer confidence to stay with our company for future projects.
What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?
I think I am good with dealing with people. I find it easy to talk to anybody regardless of what their professional background might be, and can comfortably talk at very technical levels (on subjects I know about!!), but also to break it out to a higher level as the audience may require.
I have confidence in my abilities, but at the same time am aware of my limits, and if I don’t know the answer will not try to bluff one. I also like to finish things that I have started, and often get caught up in projects to ensure they are completed to a level that the issue demands. And above all , I never take myself too seriously, and if I didn’t enjoy doing this job on a daily basis I would look for an alternative career.
What is your dream job?
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Most of the time. Getting the work / lifestyle balance is critical if you are going to able to deliver results on a continuous basis, otherwise you will run out of steam very quickly. I won’t lie to you, being an engineer in the workforce today can be a very demanding role, but this can be said of most career options. The nature of projects and customers is that you often find yourself having to work outside of the ‘normal hours’ to meet deadlines. This is particularly true when you work for a small company. Sometimes you will find yourself having to re-arrange planned events outside of work, but you can make up for this time during quieter times (if they ever occur!!) However, the satisfaction of providing a solution for a customer, which results in a sale, has a real feel good factor, which is hard to beat!
What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
Being an Engineer is a great career choice. It offers so many opportunities both in Ireland and world-wide. Most positions will have terrific travel opportunities after a few years experience under your belt, and if you choose you course carefully your qualification will be recognised by employers all over the globe. Also an engineering qualification will open doors into management roles if that is your preferred career choice, but the reverse is not the case (if you do a course outside of engineering, you will probably not be able to branch off into engineering a few years after graduating).
What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
Self confidence; as a student you will learn the foundations of your profession in your college curriculum. When you commence working you will gain the experience necessary to carry out your chosen profession. And in time you will gain enough experience so that people will start to look to you for your opinion or to give them a solution. You need to have confidence in your own ability, or you will not convince those around you, that your view is one that should be considered.
Be knowledge hungry; The Engineering community is a knowledge sharing environment, and every engineer loves to teach! Listen to others around you, and learn from them. Eventually you will find yourself making contributions to these discussions. When I started my career a very wise engineer gave me this advice that has stuck with me throughout my time as an engineer, “Remember that there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers…”
Be willing to role up your sleeves and get dirty; you should never have the attitude that a job is below you. Some of the best lessons I have learned are by doing the tasks from the ground up. For example, if a process is being put in place to build something, the slickest solution will always come from someone who has been through every aspect of the job in the past. The best solutions on paper are often terrible ideas in practice, because they have been designed by someone who does not have any practical experience. The only way to get this experience is by rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty!
Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?
One of the best things I like about my job is that every day I learn something new. As engineers we are continuously having our skill set ‘upgraded’, so ongoing training is almost a requirement. When I was employed by a multi-national corporation we had many engineers world wide who were experts in various fields, and we used in-house training sessions to improve our knowledge. Over the years I have also attended numerous international seminars, and industry gatherings. Each project that we work on always involves a research stage where we have to acquire a new piece of knowledge as we continue to develop cutting edge products.