The day is not very far off when every object around us will have a small processor/sensor embedded within itself, invisible to us but still communicating with all other devices around, making our lives more connected and accessible than ever before.

Aarthi Selvaraj, Embedded Engineer at Aurolab (Madurai), works on embedded systems of Laser Photocoagulation Equipment used by ophthalmologists to treat various disorders related to the retina.

Aarthi talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about her initial exposure to research and development in medical technologies and making up her mind about a career in electronics and embedded systems.

For students, the field of medical technologies is growing by leaps and bounds, with a focus on cost-effective and impactful innovations.

Aarthi, can you tell us about your background?

I was born and brought up in Erode District, Tamilnadu. My father is a businessman and my mother is a Tax practitioner. My parents always had a vision of giving good education to their children. I did my schooling and under-graduation in our home-town. During my school days, my father used to take me to a book exhibition that happens every year in our hometown. Every year around the last week of august, we used to have this book exhibition where scholars, orators and writers give speeches about the importance of reading books. That event inculcated the habit of reading books in me, which also kindled my interest in learning new things. This habit has helped a lot in my academics too.

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

I did my under graduation in B.E (Electrical and Electronics Engineering). Currently, I am pursuing my Master’s in Embedded systems from BITS Pilani as part of the Work Integrated learning program.

What were some of the influences that made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique this career?

Though I had an interest in civil services, I took up engineering because of my parents. Later on, the people I met sparked my interest in engineering, especially my electrical machines professor Mr. Saravanan. I still remember the question that he asked me for the first time in my 2nd year during the machines class, “What is a Generator?”. That question was the start of my journey in understanding engineering. Initially, I had some difficulty in understanding engineering subjects, but I kept on searching for answers. Also, I was able to score some decent scores in my engineering.

There are several people in my life who made me choose this particular career. I started my career as a design engineer (electronics) in Bangalore. Now I am an embedded engineer, and it is because of one person, my key influencer Dr. Iravi. 

When I started my career, he was the head of the electronics department in my company. My interest in programming developed because of him. As a first assignment, he asked me to program the LPCXXXX series microcontroller. It took me around a week to write a simple program for that controller. But his encouragement has helped me understand the subject.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Tell us about your career path

After completing my graduation, I got my first job through college placements. I started my career as a design engineer (Electronics) at Panacea Medical Technologies.

Panacea Medical Technologies, headquartered in Bangalore, is a developer, manufacturer and healthcare service provider of radiotherapy and radiology equipment for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

My role was to design I/O boards and code microcontrollers as per the requirement in the Radiotherapy/Radiography machine.

After 2 years, a few incidents made me to choose a career different from electronics. So, I became a banker cum civil services aspirant. My second job was as an Associate at Indian Overseas Bank. In continuation with that, I became an Associate in India’s largest banker State bank of India which was my third job. Though I had cleared 13+ governmental exams and was offered more than 5 government jobs, I didn’t find those jobs interesting. By then, I was already exposed to research and development, and the people I had met during my first job had made a huge impact on me.

That made me think about my career in electronics and embedded systems again.

So, when I got this idea of transitioning my career, I decided to take career counselling from a professional counselor. I met Prabha Ma’am from Elysian Inspires and had a discussion about my career transition.

Based on her guidance, I started researching recent technologies that were in the market. She advised me to take a certification course for at least 3-6 months. Those programs helped me to get in touch with new technologies. I did some projects to gain experience, which helped me to not only secure a job but also gain confidence to work in the field which I chose.

How did you get your first break? 

My first job was through campus placements after finishing my graduation. After my transition, I was looking for jobs as per my mentor’s guidance.

I became a certified embedded professional, who could program PIC microcontroller, Arduino, Raspberry Pi processor and STM32 series controllers.

I took these certification programs from various institutes. There are specific institutes specialising in embedded systems that provide this kind of certification program.

I took my certification program from EGAI Chennai and Elysium Embedded school Madurai.

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Some might think that a career in STEM is difficult for women, that too after a transition (due to personal reasons like marriage, child, etc). I didn’t find any challenge in getting a job after my career transition. It’s just a myth about the industry. No company will avoid a skilled professional if he/she meets their requirement (There might be some exceptions too).

I would recommend people to go for professional counselling before going for a career transition or if they want to re-start their career. Counselling professionals will explain the steps (Jobs can be acquired through References, Professional networks, Job Portals, In-Person) that we need to take in order to get to our desired career.

I have taken several tests and attended sessions before choosing my career path. Slowly that is helping me to become a subject matter expert.

Where do you work now? 

I currently work as an Embedded Engineer at Aurolab. Aurolab is an integral part of the Aravind Eye Care System. Aurolab manufactures a wide range of high-quality ophthalmic consumables such as intraocular lenses, surgical sutures, pharmaceutical products, surgical blades and other medical equipment.

Tell us about your current role

I work in Embedded Systems which is a part of Medical Equipment. In particular, I am working on the embedded systems of Laser Photocoagulation Equipment.

Retinal laser photocoagulation is a modality of treatment used by ophthalmologists to treat various disorders related to retina. The list of disorders includes diabetic retinopathy, retinal vein occlusion, retinal breaks, central serous chorioretinopathy and choroidal neovascularization. The doctor during this therapy ensures that the laser beam (focused light waves) falls on the desired site in the retina.

During this process, heat energy is produced and retinal coagulation is achieved and thereby the intended treatment is provided.

In this photo-coagulator equipment, I work on the embedded systems control part.

For Example, it’s like a mini computer control system to switch on and switch off the laser along with the security checks.

To become a subject matter expert and to know more about this area, I chose to do my master’s in the specific area of embedded systems. As a working professional, I cannot do it in a conventional way. So, I enrolled myself in the BITS Pilani Work Integrated Learning Program. This course is specifically designed for working professionals, to do their master’s.

By doing this course, you will be able to learn everything in practical. Whatever you study in the weekend classes can be applied in your work area.

This will help to grab the technical things easily. It’s a MTech by research based course.

What problems do you solve?

My job is to design, develop and test embedded systems. Specifically, I work on the microcontroller and microprocessor, to program it according to the requirements of the user.

What skills are needed for your role? How did you acquire the skills?

We had Microprocessor, Microcontroller and Embedded systems as subjects in my UG degree

After joining the company, I learnt how to program microcontrollers myself by using a reference manual.

Basic knowledge about Microprocessor/controller along with basic programming knowledge is enough for a career in embedded systems.

Also, I have attended some certification courses to get specific experience on embedded systems

What’s a typical day like?

My typical day goes in programming of controllers and interfacing peripherals with controllers.

We design a board as a team as per the user requirements and then divide each part of the program among the team members as per their previous experiences in that particular task.

What is it you love about this job? 

I love electrons, they fascinate me whenever I work on them. We cannot see electricity, but it is one of nature’s most awesome phenomena, because it lights our cities, allows us to communicate across the seas and through air to create modern industries and enables the digital revolution.

It is fun to work on these technologies, if we imagine them with the animation of movement of electrons.

How does your work benefit society? 

From smart clothing to smart banking, embedded systems have been instrumental in driving an exponential growth in technology. The day is not very distant when every object around us will have a small processor/sensor embedded within itself, invisible to us but still communicating with all other devices around, making our lives more connected and accessible than ever before.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

My recent work on programming a TFT LCD monitor of a medical device equipment. It was a nice feeling, when the doctor uses our machine to treat the patient.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

As it has been mentioned in the fundamental duties of our Indian constitution, kindly develop scientific temper – it refers to an individual’s attitude of logical and rational thinking.

Always try to have a clear understanding of whatever you read.

Future Plans?

I am working under the guidance of Retd. Scientist Mr. Manoharan from CECRI (CSIR’s Research Institute in Karaikudi) who is an expert in Electronics. Under his guidance, I would like to know more about AI in Embedded Systems, SoC’s, etc.