Working on requirements specifications and preparing for our meeting next week in Lyon.
I went to school in South Africa and Sudied at the University of Pretoria and Cranfield Institiute of Technology now called Cranfied University.
BEng (Electronics), MEng (Systems Engineering) and PhD in Hard Real-Time Software
Kentron, Denel Optronics, Agilent and now at the United Kingdom Astronomy Technology Centre
Head of Group Systems Engineering and I am currently the HARMONI Integral Field Spectrograph Systems Engineer
My office is in the Crawford Building below.
I am a South African who married a Scotsman and now lives happily in Edinburgh and works at the United Kingdom Astronomy Technology Centre and who loves gadgets and technology.
I was born in South Africa and went to school and university in Pretoria, the capital city of South Africa. Then in 1995 I met my husband who came to visit my company in South Africa. In 1996 I brought out a team of engineers to Edinburgh, my husband and I met again and the rest is history. We are most likely are one of the first couples who had to conducted our romance using internet relay chat (which is a very slow text chatting channel (in today’s terms it would be something like Face Time or WhatsApp). We got married in 1999 and now live and work in Edinburgh very close to Edinburgh airport.
I play tennis, love swimming, hill walking and cross-country skiing. Unfortunately I am also hooked on my iPhone and spent way too much time playing games on it in the evening after work.
We don’t have any children or pets and both my husband and I spent way much of our time working. Typically we get up at 5 AM, I get to work between 6 and 7 in the morning and typically work until 7 PM. These long hours are not expected however I love what I am doing and therefore I tend to work too much.
We typically go to South Africa once a year to visit my family and also to spend time with Themba and his family who is living in our house in Pretoria. My husband and I have taken on the task of making sure that Themba and his three older sisters are getting a good education, so that they can grow up with the prospect of becoming financially independent by contributing to the economy in a productive way.
I am a systems engineer and is therefore responsible to design and build amazing instruments that can be used by the UK and European astronomers to work out anything and everything about the universe.
I am the Head of Group Systems Engineering and I am responsible for all the systems engineers working at the United Kingdom Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC). The UK ATC is part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), which is one of the seven UK research councils. If you want to remember STFC, then just think of Swindon Town Football Club, because our head office is in Swindon.
Not only am I the Head of Systems Engineering, I am also a practising systems engineer. As a systems engineer you typically study one of the traditional engineering disciplines such as optical, mechanical, electrical or software engineering. After years of design, building and testing products, you could progress and become a systems engineer. In my case I studied electronics engineering at the University of Pretoria, followed by a master’s degree in systems engineering and finally a PhD in Software Engineering from Cranfield University here in the UK.
As the systems engineer I am responsible for designing the system architecture meaning that I am the person who figures out how the system technically will work. In science and astronomy I work with the astronomers and scientists and everyone else involved in the telescope and/or instrument to understand what the instrument (system) has to do, how well it will do things and who will do what; this task is called requirements engineering.
I analyse what a system has to do (functional analysis), how well it has to do it (performance analysis) and under which conditions (constraint analysis of all of the parts of the system and of the final assembled system) it must operate. I decide together with the engineers who are designing the “things” that will be used to implement the required functions, which “things” are going to be part of our instrument (system) in terms of hardware pieces (your smart phone for example) and software applications (for example Candy Crush or Facebook which runs on your smart phone).
Finally I am also responsible to work out how we are going to test our instrument (system) to show that it can be used by the scientists and astronomers.
A typical instrument looks like this:
This is the HARMONI Integral Field Spectrograph (IFS). You can only see the outer enclosure which is called the Cryostat. The Cryostat above is the work of Angus Gallie, one of our mechanical engineers. As the systems engineer my version of this is a block definition diagram showing all the “things” we need to make an integral field spectrograph.
Because Angus gets to play with cool computer aided design (CAD) software and I am drawing boring diagrams I made a cake model of the IFS!
My Typical Day
I spend a vast amount of time in front of my computer, and I also go to a lot of meetings. Some of our meetings are held at interesting international destinations such as Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
I get to work between 6 AM and 7 AM in the morning, I eat my breakfast, lunch and drink coffee and then go home! I wish this was true, however the first thing I do when I get to work is to read and action all my e-mails. I then typically work on either creating a system architecture, defining interfaces, doing a functional analysis or writing a document or requirements specification. On a typical day I might need to attend between one or two meetings. On a good day I don’t need to go to a meeting but I always have to speak people, either project team members or the other systems engineers working in my group.
Once or twice a month I have to travel to a meeting, typically at one of our collaborator’s institutions. Depending on which project I have to travel for it could be somewhere in Europe or somewhere further afield.
In addition to my head of group role and systems engineering I also get the opportunity to work with great artists. For example currently I am working with two local Edinburgh artists, to provide the art for the new Higgs Centre of Innovation building, the latest addition to the architecture history of the Royal Observatory Edinburgh.
What I'd do with the money
Establishing a Lego club at a primary school in South Africa or building a working model of the James Web Space Telescope.
Currently I have two ideas and I would like you, the students to help me decide.
The first idea is to start a Lego Club at a primary school in South Africa. The Local school is where Themba is going to school.
The second idea is to use the money for material so that the next UK ATC work experience students can build a small working prototype of the James Webb Space Telescope. At the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh we run a work experience week to give school students a chance to experience a week in the life of an engineer. Below is photograph of students working with John Davies, one of our scientists.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Insightful, inquisitive and incisive
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
By coming up with the idea of a micro-autonomous robot to place small mirrors very precisely in a focal plane to pick up an astronomical object such a massive star or galaxy.
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
My interest in technology.
What was your favourite subject at school?
What did you want to be after you left school?
An electronics engineer
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Yes, when as class captain I refused to tell the teacher who were making a racket while she was out of the class room.
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Who is your favourite singer or band?
The Sixteen Ensemble
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
White river rafting on the Zambezi River and trekking across Botswana and the Kalahari in a Land Rover.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Healthy, happy and to be instrumental in really making poverty history in Africa.
Tell us a joke.
Did you hear about the mathematician who's afraid of negative numbers? He'll stop at nothing to avoid them.