James Oatley, electronic engineering with music technology systems BEng student

A lover of electronics and music, James has proactively pursued his interests and gained valuable experience. Discovering the perfect university course, he’s now working towards a career in electronic engineering.

James Oatley Passionate about music and electronics, James found a way to turn his interests into a viable career option by enrolling on the University of York’s electronic engineering with music technology systems BEng course.

During his A levels he spent a lot of time playing music in local bands and pursuing his interests in electronics by using pSpice simulations and building analogue effects pedals (overdrive, tremolo, delay etc.) for local guitarists.

"I know it sounds a bit cliché but I've always enjoyed knowing how electronic things work - right down to the individual circuit components,” he says. “About three years ago I found a circuit online for an audio amplifier pedal to be used between a guitar and a guitar amplifier to alter the sound when desired.

“I showed this to my dad and asked him how much it would cost to be able to build it and whether he understood it; being an electronic engineer it was a relatively simple circuit for him and so we ordered the parts online and he helped me design a component layout for the board and solder it together! Ever since then I've been building and designing similar circuits,” he explains.

“Perhaps my biggest achievement before university was simulating a famous rare and expensive blues amplifier with field effect transistors,” he adds.

Taking hold of all opportunities during sixth form

During his A levels James also led a team of young engineers in building a light aircraft simulator at Yateley Sixth Form College for the first UK Boeing Build a Plane Challenge.

“My first real world engineering experience came when I was asked to lead the electronic development of a light aircraft simulator design project sponsored by Boeing. The project’s role was to inspire young people at secondary schools to get involved in engineering through a practical real world application,” he says.

“I led a small team of sixth form students in integrating the mechanical movements of the simulator with a computer and also got to represent the project at many events including the Farnborough Air Show.

“I also spent a lot of time before university gaining work experience in the space industry at COM DEV Europe Ltd, a company which provides communications devices for satellites,” he adds.

Extra curricular activities

Outside of school he continued to be involved in the things he is passionate about, and is a musician and a leader at his local and York churches.

“Two years ago I persuaded leaders in the local church to have a youth group on the regular Sunday morning music rota; I have been a leader of this group from the start and it has been a great opportunity for young people to get involved with live music. All these commitments have allowed me to work with and inspire young people through either engineering or music.” He enthuses.

But it doesn’t end there. During his A level studies James also spent time at Cambridge University on a materials science Headstart course and at college he conducted a research project into the physics and electronics behind guitar audio setups.

“I designed and built a replica Fender guitar and Dumble amplifier simulator on a budget of £500 - bearing in mind that a real Fender guitar and Dumble amplifier could potentially set someone back thousands of pounds,” he says. “The guitar and amplifier simulator were built in an attempt to imitate John Mayer's guitar sound and the project scored top marks!"

Learning from all these opportunities

He feel’s he’s learnt a lot from his experiences so far.

"I have learned a lot about teamwork and the importance of discussing  problems in groups, encouraging open minds when thinking and technically analysing potential merits and pitfalls of certain ideas before building on them,” he explains.

“I have also gained skills in promoting engineering to young people through the Boeing Build a Plane Challenge. Obviously my academic skills were improved upon greatly when participating in projects such as these, which has been valuable to me whilst going into my university,” he adds.

Life as a undergraduate engineering student

Now at university, James has discovered life as an undergraduate engineering student is tough but also very rewarding.

“You learn so much knowledge that can be applied in so many different areas in the outside world, but it definitely takes dedication to make sure that the work meets all the deadline at a good standard,” he says.

Support from the IET

As a student he joined the IET for the support it offers in academic studies and also to keep in touch with the world of engineering.

“I believe that the IET plays a very important role in uniting engineers around the world through what they enjoy doing,” he says. “It provides plenty of academic support material for student engineers - like a revision toolkit and academic scholarships - and keeps students up to date with new and relevant technologies. They also have a virtual library, which may be very useful later in my studies,” he highlights.

Career plans  - electronic engineering

James already has career plans in place, and after completing university he would like to have a job working on advancements in electronic engineering.

“This includes simulating old technologies with modern digital systems and also coming up with innovative new technologies,” he explains. “I would also like to help out in undeveloped countries. I believe that engineering is a valuable tool that should not just be used for the benefits of developed countries."

Advice to those considering studying engineering

He leaves with this advice for students considering a career in engineering.

"To anyone considering engineering I would strongly suggest getting out into the real world and just taking on plenty of practical projects. Getting stuck into projects like these will really teach you a lot about yourself and where you want to be in the future!”