Case study

RF design engineer — Ben Brown

After studying Physics at the University of Warwick, Ben took up his first role in engineering following an internship. See how he became a Radio Frequency (RF) design engineer at ETL Systems

How did you get into engineering?

After graduating, I got my foot in the door via an internship. It was just a speculative application but from it I earned an interning position at a specialist engineering firm. It went well, and after two weeks I was offered a permanent role. During this time, I was able to develop my skills in the industry, and was later approached by a recruitment agent through LinkedIn who helped me secure my first role at ETL Systems.

Is work experience necessary?

Going straight into an entry-level internship allowed me to gain the specialist experience that is needed within our industry, and because of it, I've been able to move up and on to different companies and roles.

Why did this area of work appeal to you?

Throughout my degree I always enjoyed experimenting with electronics, and in particular, I was always drawn to electromagnetics and related subjects. I quickly learned that the radio frequency industry is a great place to focus these skills and interests and develop as an engineer for that specialism.

What's a typical day like?

One day you might be designing something completely new, while on others you might spend time fault-finding on production units and helping the wider team.

Sometimes I spend most of the day at my desk running simulations and creating new designs or schematics. Other days I could be in the lab making and testing prototype boards or tuning a new PCB (printed circuit board) design.

A common feature is that jobs tend to have short turnaround times, so you need to be able to work under pressure. Also, being able to cope with working on different tasks rather than relying on a predictable routine is essential for my role.

Describe your job in five words...

Technical, practical, logical, fast-paced, varied.

What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

I really enjoy the specific technical challenges I'm faced with every day, as this also helps me continue my learning as my career progresses. The wide variety of work is something that I like - but I know this won't be the same for everyone.

What are the challenges?

By its nature, RF design is a technical and challenging exercise, so you really need to be skilled in your job. Otherwise, the elements of my role which see me assisting sales, or unique requests from around the globe have their own sets of challenges that you wouldn't automatically assume would come up when working in this position. Being able to communicate clearly is also key, especially when you need to overcome any language barriers and time differences.

What skills and qualities are important in your role?

Like any similar design role, you'll need a good understanding of maths, electronics and RF principles. A natural curiosity to investigate and fix faults is also useful, as you'll be doing this often. Good time management is essential to deal with concurrent projects and deadlines.

What have been your career highlights to date?

During my time in the industry I've been able to design equipment and components that have been used all over the world, and even sent into space. Having the opportunity to create such unique and bespoke designs is something I'll always value, and they're the projects that you'll never forget.

What are your career ambitions?

At the moment I'm really enjoying the technical side of the design process and would love to continue developing these skills. When I do, this could one day lead to me heading up a team of engineers on various projects.

What advice would you give others who want to get into this line of work?

It's not essential to gain a position in a big company, straight out of education. Working somewhere smaller is excellent place to learn at the start of your career, as you'll be able to get experience doing a bit of everything. Don't wait for the 'perfect' role to appear before applying either - a speculative application can go a long way. 

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