Naomi Mitchison, hardware engineer, Thales e-Security

Work experience prepared her well, but Naomi Mitchison still felt a bit lost when she started her first full-time job. Thanks to support from her team she's settled in well and enjoys the variety her role brings.

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Naomi Mitchison I work as a hardware engineer for the cyber-security branch of Thales UK, called Thales e-Security. We make products to ensure secure communications. This involves doing various elements of design work for the circuit boards used in our products, and can cover all stages of the work, from concept and schematic design to PCB layout, test, and documentation.

I worked in a café for a while after uni, but this is my first role in engineering since I completed my degree. However I did do two engineering placements before graduating at a company called Xyratex in Havant.

Work experience

One placement was based around writing assembly code for a PIC microprocessor and lasted about three months, the other was a high-speed board design project for my Masters year and lasted six months. It involved planning, designing and supervising the layout of a fairly complex debug board for a 3Gb/s board.

The first placement was useful mainly in giving me a taster of what it would be like to work in industry, while the second one was much more useful for job-hunting. A lot of the skills I learnt are directly useful in my job now, in fact much more than most of what I learned at uni, and it meant I could bring the actual board to interviews and talk about it in depth.

Job hunting

The most depressing thing about job hunting is how often you hear nothing back at all. I filled in quite a few forms online that didn't even show a confirmation message to show they had been sent successfully. I wasn't in a big hurry to find a job, so I applied for a small number of jobs, seven or eight, so I could tailor my application each time. Thales responded very quickly, and I'd completed a phone interview and assessment day, and been offered the job before I even heard back from any of the other places.

The first few weeks of the job

Having worked in industry before, I don't remember being hugely surprised when I started this job. I remember on placement though, being surprised by the range of people you meet and work with - they might have the same job title but they are all very different!

However, during the first few weeks at Thales I remember feeling a bit lost and baffled by just how much there was to learn. My team were very good though, giving me a mixture of little tasks to carry out to help me gain practical experience. They also gave me useful documentation to read to bring me up to speed on the process/procedural side.

I was asked to do some research, update design documents, attend supplier meetings and then given a design review to complete, during which I picked up a much better understanding of how things work within the team.

I think I expected there to be more of a plan for introducing a new starter, and to be managed more closely, especially at the start. In a large company, there are processes and procedures for all sorts of things, which I had no clue about when I first joined and had to learn as I went along. I didn't expect to be given my own work from the first few weeks, which was a surprise, and I enjoyed being involved in the technological/design work from the beginning, instead of being asked to read reams of documents.

Got a question? Ask!

I would say one thing to people starting their first job soon - don't be afraid of asking someone to sit down with you to explain something. There were times when I struggled with a task but didn't know who to ask to get the information I needed, when really I should have said I'd like some help.

As I've settled in, I've got to know the hardware team, and the rest of the office too, which makes things a lot easier as I now know who to talk to when I have questions. It also means I have an appreciation of other roles and how their works fits in with my own.

What it's like working for Thales e-security

Every day is different in my current job. We have very few meetings or fixed appointments to attend, so I have to manage my own work and can organise it how I want. This means I have to decide when to arrange to talk to people, and organise my work around other activities such as graduate work or other events.

I always take opportunities to do something new, such as meeting suppliers, touring the manufacturing facilities or sitting in on interesting meetings, which makes a nice change. We have a very informal environment here, so you see people wandering down for coffee breaks or a catch-up at your desk.

At the moment, I'm working on quite low-level design, which is rewarding as I can make all the decisions and see it come together. However, I really enjoy seeing how my work fits into the larger design and works with other bits of equipment too.

I'm also currently working towards becoming Chartered with the IET, which will take another few years. Between now and then, I'd like to take on more of my own design work and keep learning more about our products, how they work and how they're made.