Senior Systems Engineer: BAE Systems
Laura Matthews studied Systems Engineering at Loughborough University, graduating in 2009 with a first class degree. Laura has since gone on to work at BAE Systems, having undertaken a placement there during her studies, and is now a Senior Systems Engineer. Laura tells us more about her role, BAE Systems and her time at Loughborough University.
I didn't really…! Before starting at Loughborough I'd never heard of Systems Engineering, so I applied for Electrical and Electronic Engineering instead. The two courses have a common first year of modules, and I found I enjoyed the Systems Engineering modules more, so I switched to the Systems Engineering course for my second and third years.
How has gaining a first class degree from Loughborough University helped you to progress in your career?
My professional career has predominantly been working at BAE Systems which has had very close links with the Loughborough Systems Engineering course for many years. Within the business, graduates from the course have a reputation as very capable, intelligent engineers – it's a high standard to live up to but studying Systems Engineering at Loughborough gave me the relevant technical knowledge and confidence to work on a wide range of projects. Also, the course gave me the opportunity to meet a great network of people (who studied at the same time as me, and a few years before and after). This has led to multiple role opportunities and means that I have lots of people who I trust to give pertinent career advice.
Would there be one piece of advice that you would give to current or prospective students looking to study Systems Engineering?
Consider doing a Year in Industry, I loved going into ‘the real world’ for a while after many years of education - it helped me to decide what I wanted to achieve with my degree and gave me experience to apply back into my final year modules. It also meant I had a guaranteed job so I didn't have the distraction of job-hunting while I was finishing my studies.
I work in a large team of engineers who design software for future aircraft, we don’t write any of the code but use Systems Engineering to write requirements for the software to ensure it is structured, flexible and reusable. We model the behaviour of the software and the users of the software to ensure it’s safe and meets the end user's expectations. My role is to lead one of the sub-teams who concentrate on the communications and information management parts of the software system. There's twelve people in my team, based in multiple locations around the country. I coordinate their tasks to support the wider project and review their work to make sure it’s technically correct and of the required quality.
I started at BAE Systems as an undergraduate, working on the usability of ground control stations for several unmanned arial vehicle (UAV) projects. After completing my degree, I participated in the BAE Systems Graduate Development Framework, which included four 6 month placements: Human Factors, Support to a Technical Authority on a land-based communication system, Support to an Engineering Manager on a fast-jet programme, and finally Project Management for a bid team. These early placements gave me a flavour for lots of different types of engineering, and several alternative career paths.
My first full time role was assessing how the ground-based support and logistic systems for a new fast-jet (F-35) would integrate with the rest of the UK equivalent systems to enable the RAF and Royal Navy to manage their fleet. This included diagrammatically capturing the design and physically testing real world procedures in a representative environment. The aim of the project was to find and resolve issues before the aircraft arrived in the UK. After three and a half years, I moved to my current project as I wanted to gain more ‘future product’ experience and to have more of an Engineering Management role.
Generally by deciding I wanted to work in a certain area and asking someone if there was a role available. I've been lucky that I haven't really ever had to interview for a placement or role; it's always been a mutual decision. Each new role has come with extra responsibilities, and I like the challenge of seeing how far I can push myself – I try to stay realistic with my goals and work as hard as I can to pick up new skills quickly.
I love any kind of user trial, as it’s dynamic and exciting. I've been lucky enough to test prototype software systems with end users on several occasions, with a very wide range of people. I like having to think on my feet if the software fails or doesn't react as planned, and also having to capture as many findings as possible to improve the software in the future.
What sort of challenges (if any) have you had to overcome as a woman working within Engineering and how have you overcome them?
I haven’t had any. The vast majority of my colleagues treat me the same as everybody else, and that's all I ask for. I work with lots of women, and have throughout my career. Obviously there are more men than women, but it is equalling out slowly.
How have skills you gained studying at Loughborough impacted upon your career and current skillset now?
Studying at Loughborough taught me to learn quickly, and encouraged me to question things that I don't understand. In my current role, I’m often placed in meetings with unfamiliar content and I have to catch up, understand the problem, and suggest solutions straight away.
Have you come across any fellow Loughborough Alumni or students on placement working at BAE Systems?
Yes, every day! Every project I've worked on has had at least one Loughborough Alumni; I've worked for several and had several work for me.
I enjoy the pressure and variety of Engineering Management, so I’d like to progress to manage larger projects and teams. There are lots of different opportunities at BAE Systems, so I wouldn’t rule anything out just yet.
I did win an internal engineering award a few months ago, it was special as it was nominated by members of my team – so it was nice to know they think I'm doing a good job. Also, I'm really proud of the younger engineers that have worked for me over the last few years; it’s really exciting seeing them go onto great things.
I love that every day is different and that I get to see a future product develop from an initial set of top-level requirements to something that will one day be flying. But best of all I love working with a variety of people (the team I line-manage ranges from 26 to 66 years of age), they all have a different perspective and I learn lots from them all.