A career is not just about thinking big, but also about looking at the “Big Picture” and understanding the different disciplines that come together to achieve your vision.
Anushree Ramanath, our next pathbreaker, Senior Systems Engineer at Enphase Energy, models and simulates solar and storage systems that enable seamless generation, storage, and maintenance of clean energy in a single system.
Anushree talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about being intrigued by the potential of Hardware (Electrical) and Software (Computer Science) to come up with disruptive solutions, renewable energy being one of them.
For students, understand what you study, explore your ideas through projects, ask questions and take part in extracurricular activities which will help you figure out your calling.
Anushree, tell us about your background?
Since childhood I have always cherished understanding the nuances of nature, thinking about why things work the way they do, and trying to implement every new idea I come across. I was born in Mysore, Karnataka, and brought up in Bangalore, Karnataka. My father is an electronics and communication engineer by profession and my role model for life. My mother has a master’s degree in art majoring in Sanskrit and is my constant source of inspiration, work and otherwise.
I received an international laurel for excellence in Mathematics at the age of nine and was presented a gold medal from the University of New South Wales, Australia. I have also been able to showcase my skills in state-level mathematics competitive exams. I was naturally inspired to be a part of the Bangalore Science Forum. With this interest, I chose to major in Science for my pre-university studies.
What did you study? Tell us about your graduation and post graduation?
My close association with Jagadish Science Centre, a National College initiative, and keen interaction with highly qualified scientists kindled the spirit of engineering in me. I chose Electrical and Electronics as my field of study. I also did a Masters/PhD (Electrical and Computer Engineering) from University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.
My sense of logic, creative and analytical abilities, along with being amongst the top 5% of all engineering aspirants in my state helped me secure a seat in the prestigious B.N.M Institute of Technology, affiliated to Visvesvaraya Technological University, Belgaum. Amidst academic schedules, I involved myself with additional mini projects under the guidance of my lecturers. My in-plant training at Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, Electronics Division gave me an overview of how an industry works and I was awed at how intricate solar panels were manufactured. My next internships were at Electronic Relays India Private Limited and Prok Devices Private Limited. During these visits, the fabrication of Solid-State Relays, and assembly with Input-Output modules, unveiled the sphere of combining Electrical and Computer Sciences.
To pursue this unique combination and hone my programming skills, I took up a Diploma in Software Engineering in parallel with my degree. I got a stronghold in key languages like C, C++, and Java, gaining a fair amount of expertise in writing complex pieces of code, and completed it with flying colors. Apart from the happiness of getting placement offers from three big companies on campus, I was on cloud nine when my placement director wrote an article about me titled “A Role Model – to Emulate”.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
Technological advances have always made me wonder in awe about the endless possibilities and it never ceases to fascinate me. I strongly believe that a healthy blend of hardware and software systems complements the interdisciplinary nature of sciences and paves the way for great inventions. My explorative attitude, inquisitive mind, and an aspiration to achieve big helped me set foot on the path less traveled and challenge myself at every stage.
There have been several mentors and influencers along the road. From my parents who instilled life values, to teachers and professors who held my hand through my learning journey, from my Ph.D. advisor to mentors in the industry, I have been blessed with the best. Some of the key turning points include improvising my programming skills during undergrad, the decision to pursue a master’s degree abroad, and choosing to be a part of the power electronics research group at the University of Minnesota.
Tell us about your career path
My final year project at the top-class automotive parts manufacturer, Bosch Limited led me to apply all the essential concepts that I had learnt during my course of study. We worked on designing and implementing an efficient rotor for an automotive alternator, simulated our design, implemented it, and were successful in proving that it diminished material usage by 5%, reduced the cost by 2%, decreased the time cycle, and improved performance at lower speeds. The experiences of leading the team made me more responsible and I valued the strength of teamwork. My dedication and determination to excel helped me secure a centum for my project thesis. I have been bestowed the University First Rank with eight gold medals from the university, three gold medals from the college and a record aggregate amongst two hundred-odd engineering colleges state-wide.
I have strongly believed that it is the all-round development that is important. All said and done, my academic pursuits never prevented me from gaining a multi-faceted personality. I am a certified yoga instructor, have performed stage shows in light music, and dance, and I enjoy trekking and nature exploration trips. From school days, I have been actively involved in several literary activities and competitions, winning numerous laurels. My unique handwriting, passion for calligraphy, sketching and writing skills helped me become a key member of department and college magazine editorial committees during undergrad, while enhancing my interpersonal skills.
I was fortunate to present technical papers at erudite gatherings on topics like – “Power Electronics for Renewable Energy Systems” and “Cyber Security and Power System Communication – Essential Parts of a Smart Grid Infrastructure”. To add to it all, I secured first place in a state-level technical quiz competition in the Electrical and Electronics stream after successfully clearing three rounds. All these unique qualities were appropriately recognized by my college when I was awarded the “Best Outgoing Student Award” for all-round excellence.
With impeccable academics, extra-curricular activities, and capacity for diligent work, I stepped in and gained professionalism in the corporate sector. This gave me exposure to not only technologies but also effective management of all the resources. My work at Exeter Software India Private Limited as a Software Engineer involved taking an active part in all stages of the software development life cycle which included designing, developing, integrating, and testing. As my work spread across all the tiers of the projects, I realized how important teamwork was in addition to individual contributions to achieving the set goals.
My next stint was at CodeFrontier Software Private Limited where I continued work as a Senior Software Developer and was instrumental in leading efforts across the software development life cycle. I understood the nuances of business – from client interactions to meeting stringent deadlines. The work always made me push a little harder, achieve bigger, and handle stress, which I thoroughly believed to be supporting factors for my success in graduate school. Even amidst hectic work schedules, I managed to keep my interest in studies, by taking up online courses from Coursera in subjects like VLSI Design and Machine Learning and secured top grades.
What made you pursue a career in Renewable Energy?
Problem-solving in general has been an exhilarating experience for me. In the Electrical and Computer Sciences sphere, I have been particularly intrigued by the working and design of complex systems and the methodology of communication using signals, systems, and networks. I wanted to research further in this field, build systems that are robust to uncertainty, and develop solutions for the amelioration of society. With my fervor to achieve big by building innovative solutions to complex problems, I strongly believed that graduate school was the next appropriate step in my career.
After a little over three years of software development experience, I moved to the United States to pursue a Master of Science degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering with a focus on power and control systems. I started researching the design and implementation of efficient converters for renewable energy integration. I loved the work I was doing and felt the need to delve deeper to make significant technical contributions. I decided to pursue a doctoral degree to strengthen my skill set, continue my research endeavor, and gain mastery over my subjects of interest. I majored in Electrical Engineering, focusing on power and controls for renewable energy systems with a minor in Computer Sciences with a focus on embedded systems and data science applications.
Every small step in the right direction helps you to get closer to your dreams. I have always focused on where I want to be, while enjoying my journey. I knew I wanted to be involved in world-class research and pursue higher education using my savings. I was inclined towards gaining a good mix of hardware and software skills while building my system design expertise. All my internships during undergrad and three-plus years of work experience as a software developer came in handy when I started researching graduate schools.
As a research assistant in the power electronics research group led by Dr. Ned Mohan, I focused on multiple projects aimed at integrating several renewable energy sources with the grid and developing low-cost hardware prototypes for educational purposes. As a teaching assistant for a freshman-level course called Climate Crisis: Implementing Solutions, I assisted in putting together the course content and assignments, facilitating the online-only offering, and supporting students’ learning.
My first internship during graduate school was in the Corporate Research and Technology team of Eaton Corporation as a data science intern while I was a research aide for Argonne National Laboratory. I facilitated the setup of an energy management circuit breaker with the cloud using the internet of things device and supported the grid edge control project by working on the simulation of the modified IEEE 34 bus system with intelligent devices.
The following summer, I started a co-op with the Integrated Energy Systems team of Cummins Power Generation as a Systems Control Engineer. I worked on developing solar and storage inverter models for realizing models of different fidelity levels. I also played a key role in building, integrating sub-systems, and setting up a microgrid hardware-in-the-loop simulator. The next year, I went back to Cummins but with the Electrification Technologies team as a power electronics and firmware R&T intern. I developed analysis-led design tools for determining the inverter losses and supported traction inverter testing. I also enhanced the simulation model to implement battery pack balancing methods and implemented a user-interface for data logging in firmware.
As much as I owe it to my Ph.D. advisor, parents, and friends, my graduate school experience would have been incomplete without the extracurricular activities I was involved in. Be it STEM outreach, teaching in K-12 schools or summer camps, volunteering to serve the people in need, sharing my experiences in the form of lightning talks for kids, mentoring women from different walks of life – every experience has been extremely enriching and fulfilling. I enhanced my public speaking skills by being a part of the Toastmasters club, was a membership coordinator for the IEEE Women in Engineering chapter, director of communications and public affairs for the Council of Graduate Students, and involved myself in several other student groups in various capacities. I was able to showcase my artworks in three galleries in the US during my last year of graduate school. I won the first hackathon that I was a part of and was also featured in the university’s department website highlighting my journey so far.
How did you get your first break?
The journey has been quite eventful, but recently, I believe the opportunity to pursue higher studies at the University of Minnesota and to research under Dr. Ned Mohan proved to be the key factors for what I am today.
What were the challenges? How did you address them?
Every adversity is an opportunity to refine, redefine, and return stronger than before. Managing academics along with my diverse set of interests has been challenging with respect to time, energy, and efforts, but time and again, they have proved to be the best choices I have made. The decision to leave my comfort zone for achieving my dream of higher studies was a tough one from multiple angles, yet again, I have absolutely no regrets. Experiencing different cultures and living by oneself can teach lessons that no formal education can ever do. The key factors according to me are to persevere, be patient, and focus on the positives.
Where do you work now? Tell us what you do?
Currently, I work as a Senior Systems Engineer at Enphase Energy. My work involves modeling and simulation of solar and storage systems, designing system architecture and technical requirements, and facilitating the implementation of robust systems that facilitate seamless integration of renewable energy. All my academic, industry, and research experiences so far helped gain and polish my skills required to perform my responsibilities in this role. My day involves technical activities like coding, system modeling and simulation, hands-on work on the hardware systems, research, and collaboration with global teams.
How does your work benefit society?
My work contributes to the mission of providing energy independence to every home. The solution offered by Enphase is an all-in-one system for seamless and automatic backup power. The promise is to enable generation, storage, and maintenance of clean energy in a single system that is designed, manufactured, and supported by one company. Safety, reliability, and efficiency are given utmost importance so that the dream of clean energy is affordable for one and all.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Learn from all possible sources and take up every opportunity to gain knowledge, as nothing ever goes waste. Take care of yourself and focus on all-round development as academics and extracurricular pursuits are equally important. Pursue your dreams and live every moment as life is too short to live with regrets.
I intend to build technical expertise in-depth and breadth while aiming towards transitioning into technical leadership roles. I plan to keep up with all my extra-curricular pursuits along with work and look for more ways to give back to the community that has helped me shape my career.