The growing sophistication of consumer and industrial products is mind boggling, thanks to the sensors and complex micro-electronics circuitry embedded in them !
Shweta Hooli, our next pathbreaker, Electronic Design Engineer at Nash Industries, designs and develops electronics systems based on product requirements, conforming to military grade, medical grade and commercial grade specifications.
Shweta talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about being hooked by Sensor and Control systems which form the structural backbone that enable current technologies to function in the right way and pursuing her masters degree in the same.
For students, lots of freshers shy away from core electronics jobs because of the steep learning curve, but believe me, it becomes all worth it in the end when you see the result of your work !
Shweta, your background?
I was born in Vijayapur, and pursued a major part of my education from state board in Bangalore. My mother completed her basic education (PUC) and pursued courses, in tailoring and to become a beautician. Currently she is handling her small business of tailoring and running a beauty parlour, just for passion. She is always learning new creative skills. My father has pursued MCom and is a deputy manager in a private company. He has a lot of interest in our ancient system of astrology and is pursuing a degree for the same part-time.
From the beginning I was fascinated about science & maths and wanted to be a doctor during my early years. But as I grew and studied multiple branches of science in high school, my interest shifted towards physics. During my college days, I decided to pursue engineering (Electrical and Electronics Engineering – EEE) which shaped a major part of my career.
As I was pursuing engineering, I fell in love with two subjects, Control Systems & Power Electronics, and hence continued my Masters (M.Tech) in Sensors & Control Systems. I am also planning for my PHD.
My hobbies are reading novels, books & videos picturing our history, culture and mythology. I have always been interested in knowing more about technologies and love to see web series that show investigations.
I used to play cricket, volleyball, netball and badminton in school. I love playing outdoors for entertainment purposes. Presently I play shuttle outdoors and Chess, Ludo and Carrom as a part of FAMILY FUN TIME.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
Well, I went with the instruction of my teachers at school and did my bachelors in EEE. I wrote my CET to get a government quota for graduation. I then attempted for the GATE exam, but couldn’t clear it, and hence wrote PGCET and got a govt seat for my PG in MTech (Sensor & Control Systems) from M. S. RAMAIAH UNIVERSITY OF APPLIED SCIENCES
What led you to such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
My teachers/faculty were major influencers who helped me develop a flavor for my subjects. And scientists like APJ sir, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Mary Curie showed that perseverance can get you anything you are passionate about.
My parents and faculty were all my mentors.
All those science exhibitions/ Industrial exhibitions that we participated in, played a very important role in shaping my career.
There were 3 turning points I would like to mention:
Those were the major years during which my interest completely shifted towards physics. I’m thankful to my physics sir for that.
One more physics sir shaped my career vision and suggested that I take up either EEE or pursue BSc majoring in Physics and Electronics. He was the one who gave wings to my vision of studying higher. My aim to pursue a PHD was planted there. And of course all other faculty (science, maths) and those lab experiments hold a major part in sharpening my interest in science.
My engineering faculty not only shaped my interest towards the subject but beyond that as well. They showed me that my interest was purely in applied scientific research and in the development of products. I must mention that my aim of pursuing a PHD strengthened and I initiated the process of writing journals/papers (technical papers)
At each stage of my education I had people who gave me a clear picture about the interest I had and showed me the path towards the next stage of my career.
And my family was a strong support. Their trust in me never let me feel low or depressed during my failures. All the failures have given me a greater and far better appreciation of life which I don’t think I would have got if all my plans had worked out.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
During my engineering placements, my placement officer forced me to attend the IBM interview process and astonishingly, I cleared it too. It was the only interview I attended and never went for any other recruitment drives. Many people congratulated me saying I was very fortunate to get into such a renowned company.
But this plan was not in line with my area of interest, hence I rejected the offer and decided to study further. I took a year gap to attempt for GATE which I failed. But I pursued my Masters as per my wish through PGCET.
I did my masters in Sensor and Control systems which form the structural backbone for current technologies to function in the right way. Let me give an example, while cooking we usually tend to taste the dish before serving, the taste buds are the sensors based on which feedback is taken by the brain to perform the course of action.
Similarly, electronic devices have sensors which sense the output and a controller that performs a course of action. Initially, all these were in mechanical structural form, which used to take up huge space. After the development of micro-electronic components like resistors, capacitors, inductors, mosfets, op amps, microcontrollers etc, these huge structures were reduced to tiny forms.
In the present era, sensors are those devices which can convert any physical change to electrical form. It could be a change in temperature, pressure, distance, rotation, humidity etc to voltage, current, resistance, capacitance and inductance.
The best part of this subject is its applications in defense, medical science, aerospace, consumer products etc, giving a wider range of opportunities for implementation. Unlike others, I was not just curious about the subject, but also interested in implementation. The faculty in MTech were very supportive, they gave us problem statements currently faced by industries so that we could actually solve a real time problem and understand the implementation of subjects.
Below is a crisp list of projects that are dearest to me which were carried out during my masters education:
- Analysis of strain gauge patterns: Strain gauge is a sensor that can be used to measure strain, stress, pressure, force etc. In this project we designed different patterns to actually understand the importance of its shape to provide better result/output.
- Designing of Speed Breaker Recognizing System: Aim of this project was to build a system that will raise an alert if a speed breaker is coming in your way while travelling. Many people would have faced this problem while driving late in the evening. Just like potholes, speed breakers are hardly visible in the glare of headlights and by the time it’s noticed, it becomes difficult to control the speed of the vehicle. The project was divided into two halves. In the first half, we had to collect the samples of the speed breaker to extract its characteristics for recognition and in the second half, we created the database along with GPS location to alert the user/driver. The cell phones which have an in-built Accelerometer, Gyroscope and GPS were used to collect the samples. Using these, a trainer sample was prepared to recognize the existence of either speed breaker or potholes. Whenever a person travels in a route for the first time, it would record the locations of speed breakers through this recognition system and store this data in the cloud. Once the data is created, the system would raise an alert when the vehicle enters the zone of speed breaker. We were involved in fetching the data and designing a system that can recognize the existence of a speed breaker. The second half of storing data in the cloud and providing alert messages was given to the other team.
- Bite force measuring device: This was a dental project designed and developed for supporting the dentist. In the dental field there are particular diseases related to the jaw, jaw muscles, facial muscles and nerves and teeth which require utmost care. Our device would help dentists know the exact position of the tooth that has an ache or problem by measuring the force exerted by them. This was a group project carried out based on which a research paper was also published.
- Time domain analysis of three phase squirrel cage induction motor: This was my thesis project based on which I was able to publish 2 research papers. The simulation study was carried out for deeper understanding of the behavior of an Induction motor. Multiple test cases were carried out to observe its response during variation in the input and fault condition. Based on preliminary results, two different research paths were chosen to provide the solution. One part of research results were used in designing the sensor that could measure the leakage flux of the rotating motor. The other part was used in designing a system that could predict the health of the motor. The solutions were designed in order to provide a system that is easily understood by a layman operating the machines in the industry.
Above are some of the projects carried out based on my personal interest in the subject. My LinkedIn profile provides more details on all the projects that were carried out.
During my Masters, as part of course, I did an internship in Moog India technologies. I had informed my known contacts, and drafted continuous mails to different companies for internships. After so many efforts I got interview opportunities, but couldn’t agree on the terms because I had permission for an internship for only 2 months and every company expected it for a minimum of six months. After I cleared the interview for Moog Company, I contacted my faculty and asked for an internal reference at Moog. Since that reference was head of that unit, I was allowed to serve on the condition that on the record, the internship would be for 3 months, but I would have to support it if required work after the 3rd month. Here I dealt with multiple systems, gained practical experience on working, debugging issues, which added value to my career.
Moog India is a company that develops products for aerospace industries. The company is very famous for its valves and actuators. The unit I was working in was into the design and development of testing units to test the performance of actuators/valves and other aerospace products.
I was interning in the calibration department of the company that would take care of all the sensors and their performance. My manager had given me the opportunity to explore all the testing units placed in the lab. I used to go with him to calibrate the sensors, verify their performance, and tune them according to requirement.
I calibrated pressure sensors, tested them, recorded their performances and produced a report. This report is maintained for every sensor to provide the right services periodically. My work was with the team that was integrating the actuator testing unit designed for Boeing 670. The testing unit had its own ECU (electronic control unit). The output of sensors were integrated to this ECU to capture the results of actuator performance. It included a hydraulic system to infuse pressure that the actuator would have to face in the real system.
I and my co-intern were responsible for taking care of the ECU and performance tests. We were supposed to create faults and misguide the system to verify its performance and stability. During this experience, we almost burnt a few components while creating the faults at hardware level. We were appreciated for trying to design different test cases. We were exposed to the soldiering lab, and learnt many techniques of soldering. The soldering lab was large and had so much equipment that were used for soldering and harnessing.
By the end of 2 months of my internship period, I had gathered so much hands-on experience. It boosted my confidence to handle complex systems. People there were very supportive, and I’m very grateful to all of them who taught me so much valuable stuff.
After my Masters, for a few initial months, I was busy with publishing research papers on my thesis and didn’t concentrate on job search. Later I started applying for different companies through different job portals like Naukri, Indeed, Monster etc. I cleared multiple interviews, but since those didn’t seem exactly in line with my plans I rejected them. After a long effort I got to know about vacancies in the R & D department, I quickly grabbed the opportunity to enter without any norms. Since that internship vacancy was created through a student selected from our college, the company proposed that for the initial few months they will not be able to pay and asked me to get my stipend from college. When I asked the college, they said that since my degree was accomplished, they wouldn’t be able to pay me. So basically since it was an R&D job, I joined the company to work for free. I was fortunate enough that within two months, considering my skills and effort, they took me on board as a graduate trainee, and a couple of months later, after the probation period, they handed me an offer letter as permanent
How did you get your first break?
As I mentioned, I wasn’t interested in just applying for any other engineering job, my aim was clear. I wanted to enter into R&D. I applied for many jobs through well-known job portals like naukri.com, Indeed, Times of India, Monster.com, LinkedIN, Shine etc. Entering an R&D environment as a fresher is as difficult as drinking a tank of water in a gulp. Even though I had applied at many places, I was not getting the exact profile which I was looking for and kept on getting rejected. After unsuccessfully looking for jobs for 2 months, I started getting the feeling that I should have considered any one of the jobs I earlier applied to instead of continuously rejecting them, though my mind didn’t agree to it. Over and above that, societal pressure and family pressure started creating negative thoughts in me, but I still kept motivating myself. Once I even felt like running somewhere far away from these people, but my mind again reminded me to stand and fight for what I wished for.
One day my friend called me and told me about a vacancy in the R & D department of the current company where I work (Nash Industries). This company had selected interns from my college, since there was a tie-up between them, internship was given by the company and the stipend by college.
After clearing the interview I was selected. But since I had already passed out of college a few months back, my college couldn’t consider me for a stipend. So basically I was given an option to work for free for at least 3 months after which they would attempt to pay a stipend or reject and I could apply for a different one. Somewhere I felt I should take a chance, and entered as an intern in the company. From the 1st day of my internship I have been dealing with designing multiple circuits regardless of my designation. The complexity of projects and responsibilities increased over a period of time.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
The only major challenge I faced throughout was societal pressure and their weird suggestions. That happened at each stage of my life. The questions were about “why this college, why this branch, why this tuition”?, and that something else could have been a better choice. Every time someone gave me some suggestions, my parents would suggest I have a second thought, which was very annoying to me.
As my parents had pursued their career in different fields, they were unable to judge whether my decision was correct. But luckily they had huge trust in me and always said that if I was confident in my decision, then I should go ahead.
The most difficult and challenging thing was to keep my mind calm & focus on the plan, as these external forces started creating an internal war in my mind about the path I chose.
Solution: I had this habit of reading books, especially about the failure stories of very successful people. This helped me a lot, I started speaking more to myself, understanding what I am truly aspiring for.
I’m a yoga student from school, I resumed meditation and breathing exercises which I did regularly during my schooling. This calmed my mind.
Above all, I always remind myself of the famous characters RAMA & KRISHNA, their life has given a lot of strength to me.
Whenever I’m confused or in trouble, I take the book of Bhagavad Gita, close my eyes, state the problem, and then just open the book. The shlokas/pictures/words on both sides of the page will have either a solution or a suggestion for me.
My favourite quote to calm my disturbed mind is “I will do what is in my hand, and I will give my best to do it, rest is left to my destiny and GOD”.
One more challenge I faced during my BE was to choose the stream for my masters. And at one point, I felt I had studied all the subjects with the same love.
Solution: I made a chart listing out the topics or subtopics I liked the most in various subjects, how I could build a career around those topics, and how many opportunities are available if I choose this as a career. I was sure that I wanted to enter the Industry and not the teaching field. All these challenges made me identify my path. Now I was not only confident but had a clear picture.
Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?
Presently I work in the R&D department of Nash Industries Pvt Ltd, which is my 1st official company. I work as an Electronics Design Engineer. My career here began as an intern, which started with designing of smaller circuits and development of the same. Then, from designing at the subsystem level, I started handling complete system level design. Step by step I continued upgrading my skills and applying my knowledge along with perseverance.
Nash is a 40 year old manufacturing company that has made a forward leap in sheet metal manufacturing. But Nash, as a R&D unit, is a 5 year old toddler that is stepping into different fields. Nash R&D developed printers as its first product which is being supplied to Japan and primarily to Hitachi Company. The ATM kiosks developed by Hitachi have Nash printers. We are slowly entering the Indian market. Some of the recently released Nash products under the Nash brand are UV eliminator, Zenso, Printers (different types), etc.
Our company carries out research and development of products for the B2B industry. We develop the product and transfer the product ownership to the client so they can white label it and push it to market.
So basically when you rip down any product, you might notice a greenish colored (or even blue, red) PCB which holds the functionality of the product. An electronics designer is responsible for designing such circuitry which would then be manufactured. To shed more light on these concepts, each PCB typically has 3 different departments. The 1st one is related to design of the connections in the circuit to operate according to requirements, 2nd one when the circuit is given to a PCB designer who uses tools to print the designed logic circuit onto a board, and 3rd when the firmware engineer writes code for the board to get the functionality working.
If the complexity is less, all the 3 steps can be carried out by one team, but if complexity is more, we tend to split it so that all the 3 steps can be carried out in parallel to reduce the time taken for completion. The electronic design engineer is also called hardware engineer/ embedded engineer, or if they are designing at component level they are referred to as semiconductor/ASCI engineer.
What I would suggest is to explore each department, to understand electronics from the basics. Since the technology and industries are expanding, the names and functionalities have been broken down to minute levels to describe specializations.
I work on the system design engineering process, taking ownership responsibility of the product. Some of the products I worked as owner are UV based sanitization products, Compact battery torch (defense project), ventilator. Once the requirements from the client or the in-house product is provided, the basic and functional level block diagrams are developed. This includes adding information regarding contributions of other departments to the project. Then it is divided into the subsystem level, and interdependencies between departments are marked as sub level milestones. Keeping this in mind, the first broad level roadmap for the project is prepared. Then each subsystem is again divided from macro to micro level and then to component level. As a team we discuss and proceed with each step. After the designing process, we enter the integration phase, where each sub-system is integrated and tested step by step, thus accomplishing the prototype of a product. Next is to do product level analysis of the results and including the feedback/ inference for final design. Thus once a complete product is accomplished, rigorous testing is carried out. The documentation is prepared at each stage which is finally submitted as a design report. Finally, the product is launched in the market along with certification. We carry out work on each stage as a team.
The initial days for any fresher interested in entering a core field is difficult, as a field like this needs skills, and every company expects its projects to be accomplished within strict timelines. Hence a lot of perseverance is required, many people breakout and due to societal pressure easily deviate towards other fields.
All I would like to say is keep your goals, but those goals are not the destination but rather milestones that provide connections in the near future. Life has its own way, so always look at each failure as an opportunity to expand life happily. Always do what you love or start developing passion /love towards what you are doing, but never lose hope in yourself.
What skills are needed for your role? How did you acquire the skills?
Skills required are knowledge of basics and hands on experience on circuits. My BE college taught me the basics very well. My MTech helped me get hands-on experience on simulation in order to analyze circuits, taught me methods to debug issues, and to identify root causes. And most of all, it gave me the confidence that every problem can be solved with perseverance and concentration.
When I started my career, every project taught me many things. As it is said, experience is the line which joins the dots of knowledge. I believe that each day offers something new to learn and something to teach. Hence, till date, I always try to learn new technologies or tools as much as possible.
I would like to add one more point that sharpening the knife is more important. So the most required skill to learn is, to look back at your basics and being humble to learn from anyone (be it a senior or junior)
What is a typical day like?
I go to my cubicle and plan for the day, jot out the tasks that need my full attention today. I prepare and attend meetings if any. We chit chat on other’s projects, their progress and some technical stuff during breaks. We also keep pulling each other’s legs discussing how the worst or best meeting was. And if by chance meetings were organized by me, we discuss whether the points to be covered were conveyed to that extent or not etc.
And if the weather is good we go for a play and chat about some fun factors.
What is it you love about this job?
I love every aspect of what I do. I love designing and seeing my system working to perfection the way it was designed to function, which is the best part of all.
How does your work benefit society?
Certain products contribute to saving lives and many others support the nation in becoming stronger in terms of technological growth.
All I would like to say is, the field I choose is electronics. One of the most significant applications of electronics, semiconductors, rule the world. And adding the knowledge of programming to it gives shape to the nation. Electronics, Electricals, Mechanical, Civil are those skeletal blocks that build a nation technically and software is the muscles and nerves. Together they build the nation.
There is nothing small or big in subjects, choose the path you love to follow. You will automatically find a way to serve the nation through it. Always remember you need not be a soldier to protect the nation. A doctor, a painter, a tailor, a cook, a priest, a teacher, a small businessman, everyone has their own way of contributing towards the nation.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
All the projects I have done are close to my heart. But this project is slightly different, and hence more closer to my heart.
Designing of ICU ventilator – There was a lot to learn and to experiment. Its complexity gave us immense happiness in designing and debugging issues. Sensors and their calibration played a major role here. This system actually gave me the opportunity to show my specialization, and our team coordinated very well. This project was started during lockdown and the fun factor was, the whole responsibility was given to us. The whole team had to report only to the Unit head and not the team manager.
Myself and my colleague were responsible for planning the product, preparing its roadmap, breaking down the structural blocks and planning the execution of each stage, coming up with required testing facilities etc. All these needs have to be pre- planned before initializing any project so that we have a systematic and clearer approach, and each resource can be well allocated and used in the team.
Apart from this, as an individual, I was responsible for control logic design. The system has multiple sensors, these need to be placed at different positions to acquire real time values. Using the information/feedback acquired by the sensor, signals have to be sent to different valves, solenoids and other components to perform suitable actions. To perform this, there needs to be control logic prepared which specifies in what order the sensor data needs to be acquired, which sensor data needs to be considered to perform which action, and what all information sensors need to be continuously monitored.
Calibration and circuit design related to sensors was also my responsibility. My colleague who was also part of the product ownership similarly performed calibration and circuit design for pressure valves, solenoids etc. Using these documents as a reference the firmware designer develops the code and software designer develops the frontend GUI for users to operate.
The happiness of owning a product or responsibility of a product, where each team member is a leader to each other gives a different level of experience.
We worked day and night, but no one felt terribly overworked or overbored. Our enthusiasm never dropped. The unit head himself and other experts came to us, and listened to what we were doing, and where we were stuck. The whole project was completed in a fun filled manner.
It was only this project where everyone set aside their pride, politics, ego and just worked as engineers. There was order, but no command. All that was there was just discussions and improvements.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
BE BOLD TO CHOOSE WHAT YOU LOVE TO DO
LOVE WHAT YOU ARE DOING
THESE ARE THE ONLY TWO PATHS TO REACH EXCELLENCE IN YOUR FIELD
To gain a lot of industrial experience, to understand core level problems and find solutions to them and to pursue my PHD. I want to grow to a level to see myself as a electronic architect and pursue research.
I want to hold patents, motivate the next generation to work on research, and bring out quality engineering output from them. I want to make India the highest patent holder and a large research hub. Of course this dream can be successful only from and with sufficient interest and motivation from students, the future stake holders of my beloved Nation India.