The Big Picture
David is a student at the University of Leeds, enrolled on the BSc Theoretical Physics with Industry. He completed a Year in Industry as a Hardware Engineering Intern at Raspberry Pi, based in their Cambridge office.
“Most of what I was doing was in hardware tests of some sort. The biggest project I did was creating a test to put in a factory. That involved a lot of python to make the tests and using lab equipment like oscilloscopes and voltmeters, standard stuff. There was also a little bit of custom circuit board design, which was new to me, and I had to learn a bit of C as well which was also new to me.”
Having studied computer science at GCSE but not at A Level, David found the computing modules of his physics degree an invaluable refresher prior to starting his placement.
The Application Process
David wanted to do a Year in Industry to be able to get some “trial experience” of the working world, as is the case for many Year in Industry students. He applied through the Engineering Development Trust (EDT) who are a charity that matches placement students up with placements dependent on their skills and aspirations. After being interviewed by the EDT, David was then interviewed by Raspberry Pi after they were identified as a good match, and he left that interview feeling as though he had performed well.
“The Raspberry Pi interview was one of the interviews that I enjoyed the most because when I talked to the person it was more of a conversation. They gave me a small coding task to do at the interview but they weren’t watching me do it. They left their room and left their camera on so I knew that I could just code in peace, so that was nice. It was a really good interview and it was nice to have that technical part but also to just chat.”
Nerves and Impact
“I think I was most nervous about going into it and not really understanding what I was doing. Because it was very electronic and engineering based and as I’ve not done any electronic engineering that was quite scary, and I was worried that I would come into this job and they would expect me to do all this, like circuit simulation or PCB design and I wouldn’t know where to start. That was the big worry at first, that I was unqualified I guess, but they were really good about that and happy to train me up.”
Despite his concerns, David successfully completed his Year in Industry and implemented many efficiency changes within the teams he frequented.
“I did quite a lot of testing on microcontrollers, so really small pieces of silicon that Raspberry Pi designs, and I know that some work that I did on microcontrollers is going to be used in the future. I also created a python library to help automate tests in general, so I think that is going to impact the hardware team quite a lot because before they did a fair bit of manual testing, but now it is much easier for them to do it with python. Those are probably the two most impactful things I’ve done. So I’ve probably not made loads of impact on the face of it but I hope I’ve made an impact in the way that people work inside the company.”
“Raspberry Pi makes computing accessible to people and businesses all over the world. Low-cost, high-quality and efficient, Raspberry Pi computers and microcontrollers are used everywhere from challenging embedded environments, to enterprise, to edge applications.” – Raspberry Pi Ltd.
After enjoying the flexible approach to working at Raspberry Pi, David will look for a similar ethos in a future employer.
“I ended up working late a couple of times because I’d had other commitments in the day, or to finish a project before a deadline, but most of the time I was able to leave work quite early relative to other placements.”
The Learning Curve
Building circuit boards is something that David had only touched on in the first year of his degree and found it initially challenging during his placement, as what was expected of him was more advanced than what he had encountered as an undergraduate.
“It was a bit daunting at first but actually once I had the design ready, the actual laying out on the circuit board was something I really enjoyed. It was like putting a puzzle together in some ways so that was almost therapeutic. It definitely took a lot of time to learn because it’s just not something that I had ever done.”
Similarly, coding in Python is something David encountered in his degree and that proved extremely useful in his placement as the majority of his code was written in Python, with a bit of C towards the end. David remarked, however, that knowing some more computer science theory would’ve been helpful for conversing with software developers.
“I was talking to computer scientists quite a lot at work because we had the software team right beside us and you sort of pick up the language, but when you first start talking about arrays and booleans and variables, that’s not really something that we went into in the degree. I think a little bit more depth would’ve been useful, just a little bit more theory to the programming.”
The Physics Connection
David didn’t use much of his theoretical knowledge on his placement, but he was able to bring a new perspective on uncertainties to the team when taking measurements in the lab, as different disciplines have different standards on expressing and understanding experimental uncertainty.
David wrote a report for Raspberry Pi entitled “Don’t try this at home: overclocking RP2040 to 1GHz.” Aside from this, he wasn’t required to produce presentations or reports on his overall experience for the company, but he is required to do this for the University of Leeds and has his presentation date fast approaching.
“I’m a little bit nervous, but I think it will be fine, it’s only ten minutes. I’m always a bit nervous about public speaking but it’ll be okay. It helps to get to a point where you feel like you know what you’re talking about. If you prepare enough then I think that helps with your confidence. The more presentations you give, the more comfortable you get with them.”
The Next Step
The Year in Industry has helped David to narrow down his career options, even if only a little bit.
“I definitely want to go down a physics or a more engineering route. Before I started I was also considering finance a bit more but now I have decided that actually I really enjoy engineering and I get something out of it that I wouldn’t get out of a finance role.”
David would definitely recommend a Year in Industry to other students.
“You realise how much stuff that you do is actually quite transferable, but it’s also nice because it means that future employers can see that you’re able to transfer those skills as well.”