We spoke with Keith Anderson, EVolocity Technical Lead (North Island) about his journey to Computer Systems engineering.
As a Computer Systems Engineer, tell us what made you choose this career?
When I was in high school I didn’t have EVolocity as an option, but I did get into building and racing drones. These drones were basically the same as EVolocity vehicles, but with propellers instead of wheels. I remember seeing all of the awesome open-source firmware involved and wishing that I could understand it and contribute to it. This combined with the influence of my physics teacher convinced me to take engineering at university. Once at university, I couldn’t decide on a specialisation. I enjoyed software and electrical the most, and then I found out that computer systems sits in a middle-ground between the two. It’s also the closest to what I was familiar with from the racing drones, which made it an obvious choice.
“When I found out that engineers are basically professional thing-makers it seemed like a perfect fit!”
How did your school experience help lead you to engineering?
I remember that in high school a lot of teachers would talk about engineering, and recommend it to basically anyone who was interested in STEM subjects.But I really didn’t know what engineering actually was. I spent a lot of my free time just making things, and I was involved in my school’s maker club. When I found out that engineers are basically professional thing-makers it seemed like a perfect fit!
Tell us about your involvement with EVolocity?
In 2019 I was in my first year of university, and I was also a member of the University of Auckland’s Formula SAE Team. We were asked to come and display our vehicle at the Auckland Regional Finals, and to help out with timing the efficiency event. I had a lot of fun, and when I became team leader of the FSAE team I continued to attend and assist EVolocity events, including launch days, pre-scrutineering, and regional events. I was super excited when I was given the opportunity, at the end of last year, to come aboard as an official team member.
Other than the technical knowledge, what else do EVolocity students gain from the programme?
I think that the most important skills that EVolocity students can learn over the year involve project management and team leadership. The non-technical engineering aspects are some of the toughest challenges in EVolocity. Students who are effectively able to work as a team, generate and stick to timelines and budgets, and produce a vehicle by the end of the year will have learnt extremely important life skills that will help them in any career and life in general.
What makes a great engineer in your opinion?
A large part of the engineering design process is iteration. It’s a cycle in which you design, build, test, and assess in a loop. A great engineer is able to apply a similar process to themselves. They can assess their own performance, and make changes repeatedly. This is especially important. Not just for the technical side of engineering, but also for those other essential skills such as communication and teamwork.
What does a standard day look like for a Computer Systems engineer?
“Generally it’s a lot of writing very niche code, breaking things constantly, and drinking lots and lots of coffee”
Imagine writing the code that allows your phone to wirelessly charge. Then testing it on a special version of your phone that takes up half of your desk, with all kinds of knobs and switches to emulate different functions. Another Computer Systems Engineer might spend their day at a factory in China overseeing the first production batch of the new CPU or GPU that they helped design over the past 5 years. Some Computer Systems Engineers instead spend their day building the operating systems that we use every day. Generally, though, it’s a lot of writing very niche code, breaking things constantly, and drinking lots and lots of coffee.
What’s been your career highlight to date?
“My internship at Halter NZ – developing innovative firmware which automates cow movements across farms using an app and GPS-enabled collars”
Definitely my internship at Halter NZ over the past summer period – developing innovative firmware which automates cow movements across farms using an app and GPS-enabled collars. I got to work alongside some very smart and talented people. The company culture was awesome – everyone was super kind and accommodating, and the work was super fast-paced. It was never boring, and I learnt a whole lot. I was also super stoked because the work that I was doing was having a real positive impact on the welfare of cows across New Zealand, and generating value for their farmers.
Tell us about any mentors or role models you’ve had along the way.
I’ve been super lucky to have a lot of mentors over the past 10 years. In high school I had a physics teacher who was like a second father to me. He helped to foster my interest in science and electronics. I started a maker club at the school which allowed me to mentor even younger students.
During my first year of University, the electrical leader for the Formula SAE Team also became a mentor for me. I learnt a lot about electronics from him, but more about engineering in general. In the year I became team leader, he left the team to join Halter NZ. He still kept in touch and would send me feedback, which helped me to improve as a leader. During my summer internship at Halter NZ I got to work alongside him briefly again, which was really cool. I was also mentored by basically the entire firmware team at Halter, in both technical and non-technical matters.
You clearly love engineering! Tell us about what else you do in your spare time.
I don’t have much time outside of University and EVolocity, so when I do have some free time I try to just relax. However, I have just started getting back into racing drones with my friends.