Making the printed word accessible to all

Ten years ago Mike Hambly was involved in a car accident which resulted in him loosing his sight.? He went back to school and now has a full time job.

During one of his meetings he was presented with a business card which he promptly returned.? The business owner was very perplexed by this.? Mike pointed out that this business card was of no use to him as he could not read it.? This problem could be solved very easily if the business card had braille.

Braille is a series of raised dots, that represent the alphabet, numbers and punctuation, that a visually impaired person can read with their fingers.? Different languages have their own braille code.

Incidents like this are a constant in Mike’s life and he decided to do something about it.? He founded a company called Braille It who’s mission is to make the printed word accessible to all.

He custom designed a braille press which can print about 500 cards per hour.? It’s all manually operated and he hopes to have it automated in the next year or two.? He does not do this alone and does have the help of his family.

So if you want to have Braille on your business cards, flyers etc., it’s very easy.? Just ship your products to Braille It and they will convert your business co-lateral to braille.

Psst…. Braille friendly business cards have a high probability of being picked during a draw

Meet a Chemical Engineer

Amber Robson is a Chemical Engineer who works for Environment Canada.

Back in high school she did not know what to do for a career,.

“I grew up in a small town in Saskatchewan where there was not a lot of focus to get a professional career. After high school I worked as a waitress, for three years, in various bars in restaurants in Saskatoon. While working, I met up with someone who talked about how he liked engineering. He was a civil engineer student at university and was very enthusiastic his courses and this seemed to fill him with energy. I was very inspired by his education.”

This discussion got Amber thinking about engineering and to gain further insight into this field she talked to an uncle who studied engineering as well as other friends who were in engineering. Through these discussions she realized that she did well in high school math and sciences. Amber went ahead and applied for university right away as it made sense with the skills she had. I asked her how she decided which stream of engineering to pick.

“I had an interest in the environment and areas that were suffering like oil, gas, chemicals and manufacturing, these are the core of the environmental issues. Chemical engineering provides the most opportunity to work in these areas. If there is a plant spewing chemicals then chemical engineering puts me in a position to help out.”

So why chemical engineering, and not environmental engineering, I asked? It turns out that there was no environmental engineering program at the university Saskatchewan. Also, environmental sciences, is more about the effects of destruction and that is not the area that interested her.

“It was scary at first as I had forgotten all my math skills. I tried a little, slowly at first, and gave myself time to work extra hard on those courses. The first few courses went super well and I dug in deeper for the next term. I built up my confidence and with a little bit of effort it came back quickly. The first year was challenging as I was working part time as I was on my own supporting myself. I realized that I could do this and took 5 years to finish.”

She had one summer position in Belgium to work at an academic institution to do research on bio filtration. Bio Filtration is an air pollution remediation technology – it uses microorganisms to degrade pollutions in air.

“It was amazing as I got to work with a research team and in Europe as well. I was doing research for the European scientific community that gave me exposure to another wing of engineering, microbiology.”

Amber graduated and took French language training and moved to Halifax where worked for a Civil engineering firm. She was a Lab Technologist and Site Technician and gained some experience with environmental testing which did not interest me very much.

“The kind of environmental testing I did was at a micro level, testing soils, waters and it didn’t offer an opportunity to look at the grander issues. This was on a site by site basis and I worked there for six. I also started a masters in Chemical Engineering on bio fuels and it seemed like a closer opportunity to what I wanted. Around the same time I got a job offer at Environment Canada, so moved to Ottawa for this.”

At Environment Canada Amber worked in the Chemicals Controls Branch, where she worked on risk management of toxic substances, VOC (volatile organic compounds in paints, coatings, consumer cleaning products, printing industry, automotive industry. The other aspect of her job is to look at regulating content of products.

The other interesting project that she worked on was looking at road salts and working with industry on best practices to reduce the amount spread on roads in winter.

“I research how VOCs are used in industrial products, how they are manufactured, consumed. I consult web sites, talk to industry associations, industry. I also look at existing regulations from other jurisdictions. Discussions with industry have to be kept confidential as I review established processes. My department develops codes of practice and guidelines on the amount that is safe to use. New chemicals and techniques were researched and methods that were applied.”

“I started to work on green house gas reductions and then went on to work on climate change policy elements. I have now become a green gas expert!.”

In Amber’s opinion, an education in engineering opens a lot of doors and being a chemical engineer is not restrictive as there are a lot of opportunities.

Amber is a fire performer and this evolved from her interest in dance and the arts.

“In university I started fire spinning taking different tools and lighting them and dancing with them. I do it part time professionally as well and this has given me opportunities to travel and do fire spinning. It’s a second job.”

Meet a Civil Engineer

Anna Cullinan is Director General of Professional and Technical Service Management at Public Works and Government Services Canada. She holds a Bachelor in Civil Engineering degree and an MBA. Anna went to high school in Montreal and quite enjoyed math and science courses. In her last year of high school, she looked into university programs. Through this exploration she began to have an understanding of who builds buildings, sewers, bridges etc. and found this very interesting and that engineers were responsible for this.

“I applied to McGill University for Engineering and was accepted. Back then the first two years were general engineering courses.”

After graduation she traveled in Europe and then came back to Montreal to look for a job. Most of her counterparts had started working and most jobs seemed to be taken. She interviewed at SNC and found out that they were looking for a Junior Engineer for Project Management functions with minimum two years work experience.

“I went ahead and applied for it and I was offered the job even though I had just graduated. Don’t be afraid of rejection. You don’t know what is going on in a company and managers are usually very busy. They need good staff to help them meet their objectives”

“As a Junior Project Engineer I was responsible for the project reporting, setting up systems and being the liaison between the Senior Project Manager and the engineers. I made sure that projects they were on budget, on time and working off the right sets of plans. I ensured that information was shared between the different groups – civil, electrical, mechanical – and was basically the right hand person of the project manager and ensured things ran smoothly.”

Anna stayed in this group for a year after which she moved into the Civil Engineering group, then the Cost Engineering group and finally back to Project Management. Working in various departments made her realize what she liked to do which was to make plans and schedules bring people together. After four years she moved out west to work for Bechtel Canada to work on an Alberta Tar Sands project. This was in the early eighties at which time that National Energy Program made it difficult for companies to commit to long-term energy projects. Many projects were cancelled, including the one that Anna was hired to work on.

“I stayed with Bechtel in Alberta for a year and spent some time at the Fort McMurry Sucor plant. Then I was transferred to California to the nuclear power plant project, in Diablo Canyon. I worked in Cost Engineering where I made sure costs were properly accounted for and forecasted. I stayed here for a year but I had a goal to earn an MBA by the age of thirty.”

Anna went on to do her MBA at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, (the same university that Donald Trump attended, but not at the same time!). Many engineers attend this business school because of it’s analytical focus. She also did an exchange with a school in France for a term.

“After graduation I moved to Ottawa and worked for Bell Canada in the Economic Analysis group. My engineering background came in very handy as I needed to understand what the telephone company does.”

After Bell Canada she went to work for Canada Post and was there for nine years.

“I started off in the Financial Analysis group then moved to the Engineering group, Operations and back to Engineering. “

I asked Anna why Canada Post hired engineers.

“Engineers are needed for time and motion studies in the plant and to design carrier routes. Mail boxes are designed by industrial engineers, as are the layout of the plants, scheduling of the trucks that do pickups, forecasting when you are going to have extra requirements, etc. The physical aspects of the machinery require mechanical, computer and electrical engineers. For example, OCR (Optical Character Reader) is sophisticated machinery that uses algorithms to decipher both typewritten and handwritten information to sort the mail to the letter carrier route using the postal code. Addresses are checked against the postal codes to detect errors, errors are corrected and then mail is sorted to letter carrier routes.”

Anna went to work in Toronto for Consumers gas/Enbridge, in the financial and economic group. Following this she came back to Ottawa to work for Public Works and Government Services Canada in the Real Property Services branch where she did policy work.
Next was Natural Resources of Canada, in the Office of Energy Efficiency. Her program provided funding to large companies, to make buildings more energy efficient by adding insulation or by retrofitting HVAC, electrical and control systems. The next move was to Industry Canada in the Industrial Technologies Office.
We discussed how being an engineer had impacted her career path.

“Engineering was crucial in my career path and the best advice I can give is to figure out what your like and what your interests are. You have to be passionate about what your doing.”

Anna is an avid gardener, likes reading and solving cross word puzzles. She is currently studying at Algonquin College to be a Sommelier. In her spare time she travels the world on wine tasting tours.

Meet an Industrial Engineer

ezNadia_Bhuiyan_2004.jpg Dr. Nadia Bhuiyan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Concordia University. We spoke about her journey into engineering. She had numerous engineers in her family therefore knew quite a bit about while growing up. She was part of the talented and gifted (TAG) program in high school and excelled in math, physics and chemistry.

“After CEGEP I wanted to go to university and do some teaching in some capacity at a university level. I did not pick arts because I did not want to be a starving artist.”

She picked Industrial engineering as the descriptions of this program seemed to indicate that it was more people oriented and cross functional. She did her undergraduate at Concordia University and went on to McGill to do a Masters and Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering. Her thesis work was building analytical and simulation models of concurrent engineering processes.

We talked about what a graduate student does asides from take courses.

“As a graduate student I collaborated with companies to get data which I used to build analytical models to represent the processes. These findings were then published in journals and research reports. I read a lot of books and attended conferences as well.”

With a year still to go in her Ph.D program, Nadia moved to Queens University to teach in the Business School there. She finished the Ph.D along the way.

“I moved back to Montreal to work as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Concordia University.

“I have been here for five years and currently going through the process of tenure. Tenure is the process whereby you have to prove yourself to your peers. You have to be good at teaching, serve the university community and do lots of research. On average I teach three to four courses a year, spend about ten percent of my time on committees and spend the most time on research.”

For the first three years, as assistant professor, she worked very hard and surpassed any goals that she set for herself. We discussed what doing research means.

“Doing research means that you have to pick a topic that you want to work on. This could be an extension of graduate studies. From there I branch off into different areas. Typically maintain the main stream of research. You have to be self driven and motivated as you don’t have a boss to tell you what to do. You have to read extensively in your area, find gaps and fill in those gaps. Others have looked at this area and made many assumptions so one possibility is investigate this further and make it a little more realistic. Collaboration with other professors is another way to do research. This research is presented at various conferences and published as well”

Nadia is currently going through the process of tenure. After working as an assistant professor for five years you are eligible to start the process of tenure. This involves submitting a dossier of about four hundred to eight hundred pages that describes the research you have done, committees you have been part or teaching etc. This is then presented to a committee. If accepted you then become an associate professor. To become a full professor you have to so a lot more publishing.

I asked Nadia what aspects of being a professor she likes.

“I really like the teaching part and interacting with the students. The research is very interesting and like that part too. I am very passionate about the teaching. The best advice that I can give anyone considering a career is to follow your bliss and try to find what you really like to do. You are at work for at least eight hours a day, five days a week. So make sure it’s something you love to do.”

When Nadia is not doing research or teaching she spends time with her son.

Meet a Computer Scientist

It’s National Engineering Week in Ontario to celebrate here is another profie.

Rebecca Lantz is a Computer Scientist who is a team lead in the wireless group at Alcatel-Lucent in Ottawa. We talked about her path to working in a technical job and started back in the high school years. Like most young people in high school she had no idea what to do after she graduated. Rebecca liked English, Math and Accounting and seemed to focus mostly on business courses. She never took any drama or arts courses. She liked school and when she graduated she followed in her parents’ path and attended Queens University. She took applied science and picked physics as her major. To her dismay she did not like physics and quit university. It turns out that this was the most empowering thing in her life.

“I was in charge of my life. I found an apartment, got a job at a drug store and supported myself. This empowered me to do whatever I wanted. I helped with the bookkeeping, ran the post office, helped at the pharmacy, cash, photo lab and computer system.”

She was there for 8 months and although it was a lot of fun initially, it lost it’s appeal once she learnt everything. In search for a bigger challenge she decided to go back to school. Since she helped out with the accounting and enjoyed it she decided to take business courses at college.

“I went to Sir Sanford Fleming College in Peterborough and took business administration. I was enrolled in the accelerated program which took two years. My highest marks were in accounting but the classes that I enjoyed the most were computer related, like information systems.”

Although Rebecca found the courses related to computers very interesting she almost quit the program because the business courses did not interest her. She had a discussion with the administrator of the program and expressed her interest in doing something more technical. She stuck it out and graduated from the business program at the top of her class. She was approached by one of her instructors to work on a research project programming in C++. He was a master C++ author. So her first programming job was after college.

“I worked on a research project for Trent and Peterborough paper converters. I worked on a statistical process controller (SPC) with an integrated expert system. An SPC has a sensor server hooked to an optomux. This optomux had sensors on it for temperature, speed, counter, measuring paper going through the machine etc. All this information went through the optmux and then the optomux went through the sensor server. The inputs were normalized into meaningful numbers. These normalized numbers are fed through a cable to another computer. I worked on the graphics in C++ on dos.”

She worked on this research project for 2 semesters and it was the most amazing work experience.

Prior to graduating from college, Rebecca applied to various universities. She eventually went into the Computer Science Program at McMaster University, as they transferred the most credits. Since she liked the technical courses I asked Rebecca why she chose computer science and not engineering.

“I did not have grade 13 chemistry therefore could not do first year engineering unless I took the chemistry courses. I was also more interested in programming than internal hardware at that time. The low level computer stuff.”

We talked about the transition from college to a technical program. There seemed to be advantages to working, supporting herself and attending college. However it had been a few years since she took any math courses.

“It was scary at this point as I had not done any serious math or science in three years. On the other hand I was a step ahead of everyone else as I learnt how to study and learn in that environment. How to form study groups, memorize the important stuff, how to sit down and read a text book and stay awake and process it.”

She had a reduced work load a lot of the time due to the transfer of credits from the college program. This gave her some breathing room.

Between second and third year Rebecca started a sixteen month internship at Nortel in Ottawa. This was possible due to her prior programming experience.

“I programmed in C++ for eight months and was somewhat of an expert in the group. C++ was new and most of the full time employees had not used it before. I was in for a shock as I had always worked in a small environment where there were two to five people on the project. At Nortel I was one of two hundred and had no idea of how the overall system worked. This was a hard adjustment.

It’s very distressing from going from a half cup of water to a drop in an ocean. I did not understand what the product did. People had a bunch of documents with pictures on it which I had to read. The good thing about the internship is that it’s for sixteen months’ therefore people were interested in investing time in training me.

They partitioned a piece of design work for me and I was interfacing with people in California and Ottawa. During that time I learnt a lot and became more interested in the hardware. One of the managers had taken his Masters at McMasters in Computer Engineering and got in touch with the professor there and suggested letting me take some Computer Engineering courses, low level with assembly programming.”

Rebecca continued to study computer science however all her electives were in computer engineering. She read a book in the summer that helped her catch up to the second year Computer Engineering courses. After completion of here third year she was back at Nortel, this time in the ATM port management group. This job was closer to the hardware and had to do the testing of the SONET SDH. This was done using a protocol analyzer. The second half of the summer was spent programming flash devices.

She continued to work part time, remotely, from McMaster. The summer after graduation she again worked at Nortel and was back in the same group as her internship doing C++ programming.

In the fall of that year she was at the University of Victoria, on an NSERC grant, working on her Masters in Computer Science. She was for only two months before she realized that she was burnt out from school.

“I was living two blocks from the ocean and living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world however she was spending most of her time indoors.”

She quit the program and traveled around for a while after which she moved to Ottawa to settle down and get married.

“I never had to write a resume and only did this once for the internship. The jobs that I had after were all through word of mouth. I went back to the OAM switch and worked here full time. I got married, bought a house and started a family.”

Rebecca is very fortunate to have used everything that she worked on in all her jobs that she has had.

“The initial product that I worked on at Nortel became the platform for the wireless program I am in now. I have had the advantage of always having to grow on top of everything that I learnt before. Nothing has been wasted and comes in handy all the time. I have used every thing that I learnt in school on the job.”

Rebecca has turned down management positions many times as the business side does not appeal to her.

“I don’t want to fill out schedule points and be responsible for peoples careers; this is not interesting to me. I want to be part of the technology, fix problems, participate in the architecture, and work on designs. I want to pull together the complicated pieces of the puzzle in designing new or fixing something that is broken.”

Shortly after moving into wireless and became team lead went to work part-time. She works hard for 4 days a week and the other three days are devoted to her family or herself. In her spare time Rebecca attends yoga classes and dance classes. She has done belly dance, tap dance and African dance.

Meet an Electrical Engineer

ezA_Karen.JPG National Engineering Week is round the corner and as promised here is the first post in the “Women in Engineering” series.

Karen Chow is an Electrical Engineer who currently works as a Technical Marketing Engineer for Mentor Graphics in Portland, Oregon. I asked her if she always wanted to be an engineer or was it something that she discovered along the way.

We started our discussion with what she liked in high school.

“Back in high school I liked math, chemistry, physics as well as music. I excelled in these subjects. When it came time to deciding what to do after high school it was hard to know what I wanted. I liked math, chemistry and physics and did well in them. My councilors suggested that I go into engineering.”

She did not have anyone in her immediate family who was an engineer and heard about engineering through her councilors. She was good in music as well as the sciences. We talked about what programs she applied for in university.

“I applied to different programs, music, science and engineering, to keep my options open.”

She was accepted into these programs however chose to have a career that was somewhat practical.

“I made my decision by looking at it from a practical point of view. Music would always be a part of my life but it’s hard to make a good living. There are very few jobs in chemistry that make a good living. So I accepted engineering”

“The first two years of engineering, at the University of Calgary, are common engineering courses. I gravitated towards electrical engineering courses”

We talked about co-op jobs and internships. There was an internship program in the third year however she did not make it into the program and found a summer job instead. This job was for a programmer in relational databases which later proved to be valuable job experience.

“After graduating I was offered a job at Nortel, in Ottawa, in the Provisioning group, which is about entering information into the switch. There were 200 people working on this project and I had a narrow, specific task to do. There were code reviews and well defined processes to follow.”

Being a large company, Nortel had very well defined processes and code reviews. It was a great first job as there were a lot of people to lean on and learn from. She worked in this group for two years but found that she was not using a lot of what she learnt in her undergraduate program. She had taken only four programming courses but more hardware related courses. Wanting something more related to engineering, she took some master courses. This opened the door to an analog IC design job which dealt with Bode Plots, analog design and half the courses in undergrad applied to this job.

“This job was very different as there were a few people working on this project. I was one of three designers and there were only 6 people on this project. This meant that I had a lot more responsibility however there was a lot of coaching from the team lead and managers.”

Karen spent two years doing Analog IC design and then left Nortel to work for Mentor Graphics as an Applications Engineer. Her analog design experience combined with her excellent communication skills made her the ideal candidate for this job. In this department five out of six engineers were women leading her to believe that women preferred to have jobs that needed a combination of engineering and good communication skills.

“This job was somewhat generic as the amount of the commission, for all of Canada, was determined. I had to support ten tools and basically make things happen. My manager was in Toronto therefore only one on Canada supporting this particular tool. I made a lot of cold calls, seminars and workshops. I worked with account managers, talked with people in the office and tried different things.”

This job was not structured and she had to figure out what worked and how she could be effective. Although it was an applications engineer position it was somewhat sales oriented with a high emphasis on relationship building and problem solving. The only guidelines that Karen had were the quota and how to do the best with her personality and skills to find the best solution.

After a few years in this position Karen moved to Portland to join the Marketing team as a Technical Marketing Engineer .

“This role is one more step away from engineering. It combines the understanding of IC design and parasitic extraction. I work with engineering, application engineering and give customer feedback to engineering. I give training, workshops, seminars and write articles for magazines.”

Karen has written various technical papers and articles which can be found at EE Asia, Mentor and RF Design. Her role within the team is defined by each person’s strengths and skills.

We talked about what she does asides from work. Karen has continued her interest and passion for music and currently plays bass in a 80s cover band. She is participates in various sports. She likes karaoke and her latest hobby is quilting.

Karen finds engineering very interesting with new technologies. It encompasses a wide range and can be technical or people focused. So lots of opportunities and fun jobs.