Name: Ed Cooper
Degree and university: Master of Engineering degree from the University of Cambridge.
Job Title: Originally, work experience (gap year), working for Cambridge Consultants as a Technology Scholar. I returned to the company four years later as a Senior Engineer
What do you actually do? I work in Cambridge Consultants’ Radio Frequency Sensing Group. Cambridge Consultants is a design and development company, employing approximately 300 technical staff in Cambridge, UK and Boston, Massachusetts. The majority of our clients are companies that come to us because they either want to get products to market very quickly, or they do not have the skills or resources in-house to bring those ideas to market. We can assist with each stage of a product’s development, from concept generation right through to volume manufacture.
I am an electronic engineer and spend the majority of my time designing electronics for new products. Typically, two thirds of my working week is devoted to office-based design work; the remaining third is spent in the laboratory, testing prototype circuit boards. As a member of the Radio Frequency Sensing Group, most of the products I work on are radar systems.
Were you always interested in the Engineering sector? Very much so. I’m told that I built my first machine – a rhubarb cutting tool – at age three and I certainly spent many happy hours as a child taking old electrical goods apart to see what was inside. Back then, I think I aspired to be an ‘inventor’; awareness of engineering as a career came later. Participation in NELEX (the North East London Engineering Exhibition) and the Young Engineers for Britain competition strengthened my interest so that, by the time I signed up for A-level Electronics at school, I was fairly sure what I wanted to do.
How did you find out about this particular job? In the summer after my GCSEs, I went on a ‘Headstart’ engineering taster course at Bath University. I learnt that many engineering students receive funding from industry, generally from companies that had also provided gap year employment. As a result, I applied to ‘The Year In Industry’. My details were passed to Cambridge Consultants and, after a series of interviews, I was offered one of the company’s Technology Scholarships.
The Technology Scholarship programme provides a year’s pre-university employment followed by generous sponsorship and paid work during university vacations, with no commitment to long-term employment on either side. During my gap year work, I realised that working in a design and development company meant regular opportunities to do interesting design work and after that I was hooked! I applied for a permanent position with Cambridge Consultants during my final year at university and have been here ever since.
Would you undertake further study in order to gain promotion? Yes, if necessary, though at present all my career development needs are being addressed by Cambridge Consultants. I have a mentor who is helping me to gain Chartered Status with the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET). I am receiving project management training in-house, and have been on external training courses to develop my technical knowledge.
What do you most like about what you do and are there any downsides? Life in a design and development company is never dull because the work is so varied. In the four years I’ve been with Cambridge Consultants, I have contributed to more than thirty projects. Each day is different and there is always something new to learn.
Cambridge Consultants places a lot of trust in its employees. It’s not unusual for a new employee to work on a real project for a real client very early on. There are plenty of opportunities to take responsibility for the design of a particular component or sub-system, or even to manage an entire project.
As a Technology Scholar I was mentored by a Senior Engineer who found projects for me to work on, helped me to understand company procedures, and taught me electronics in his spare time. Eight years later, I have my own Technology Scholar to look after. Being able to put something back into the system is very rewarding.
My workload can be somewhat unpredictable, decreasing if project start dates are delayed or increasing rapidly if two or three quotes I have helped to prepare are accepted within days of each other. Other than that, I have an interesting and enjoyable job with a friendly and supportive company.
What skills do you need in order to succeed? Technical excellence in your chosen field is a pre-requisite for working at Cambridge Consultants. Our clients come to us to solve their most difficult problems, not to do work that they could do themselves.
Within the company, effective networking is important especially if you are keen to work in a particular field, or develop your knowledge of a particular technology. Project and campaign managers need to remember you when that golden opportunity arrives.
What would be your best piece of advice for graduates coming into the area? My advice to school leavers, who are interested in working in industry, would be to sign up for Cambridge Consultants’ Technology Scholarship programme immediately! It provides an excellent introduction to many engineering disciplines and market sectors, allowing you to make more informed career choices nearer graduation.
My advice to graduates, who are keen to work in a design and development company, would be to ignore the ‘positions vacant’ pages displayed on company websites. If you’re CV is good enough, you won’t be turned away.