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Ever wondered what a Technical Analyst does? Well wonder no more! For this blog post we went behind the scenes to meet with Birthe Klebow, a member of our Software Development team to find out more about her role, what she loves about it and what advice she would give to other women entering a profession in a largely male dominated industry…
What attracted you to working in Software Development, particularly for IES?
I enjoy challenging myself to find elegant solutions for complicated problems. Working in software development gives me the opportunity to think outside the box and explore ‘uncharted waters’ every day. It is a great privilege to work with a company whose vision I fully support: the development of more sustainable buildings and cities by exploiting the potential of dynamic simulation. Working as a member of an expert team in IES, I actively shape and enhance the company’s market leading software products.
What does your role at IES involve?
As a technical analyst I bridge the gap between our product managers, external project partners and our software developers. My role is to understand user / project requirements and research, envision and formulate concepts for innovative solutions meeting their needs. I finally create software specifications which serve as the foundation for the development of the final products.
What project are you currently working on?
I am the technical lead for two European Horizon 2020 research projects which are both coordinated by IES. They are called NewTREND and IMPRESS. Together with research and industry partners from ten different countries, we are developing software solutions for Building Information Modelling (BIM) supported building energy retrofit. The goal is to help significantly reduce energy consumption in existing buildings and make building energy retrofit projects more accessible, effective, efficient and affordable.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I highly value the impact my work has, not only in terms of the enhancement of existing products, but also with respect to influencing the future direction of the company by designing new and innovative software tools which IES is well known for. I appreciate the variety of my work and enjoy being challenged every day. Day-to-day interaction with international project partners and participation in conferences allow me to stay up-to date with recent university research and the latest trends in technology.
What do you enjoy most about working at IES?
A definitive highlight is the great working atmosphere we have in our Glasgow headquarters. It’s a pleasure to work with highly motivated and skilled people in multi-disciplinary international teams.
What contribution to IES are you most proud of?
Shortly after I joined IES, I took over the internal technical lead of the European research project Energy in Time. Within the frame of this project, our team have been developing calibrated building energy models for real-time building performance optimisation. We are now getting to the final stages of the project and its very satisfying to see that the project has emerged from a very ambitious and challenging proposal to a solid final solution.
What advice would you give to anyone entering your profession?
As an analyst, it is essential that you are a good listener and know how to put yourself into your customers’ shoes: only when you understand their real needs, you can design products making people happy!
Building engineering/physics/software development is very much a male dominated industry. What do you think would encourage more women into these industries?
I think we are still lacking a rich portfolio of attractive career profiles for these industries. Successful women serving as role models are probably one of the best motivations for young women to follow similar career paths.
As a female role-model what advice would you give to other women considering a career in this industry?
I think the best advice I could give women in this situation would be to follow their interests, be self-confident and trust their own abilities.
Interested in a career with a highly innovative company that offers a flexible and supportive working environment and the opportunity to work with a team of friendly, interesting and diverse people from across the globe? Keep an eye on the careers section of our website for upcoming positions or feel free to send your CV over to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow @IESCareers on twitter.
In a testament to the talent and high level of expertise of our people, Consulting-Specifying Engineer (CSE) magazine, for the 5th time, have selected an IES member of staff to receive a prestigious 40 under 40 award. This year’s winner is Colin Rees, Consultancy Manager at IES.
The award is given to 40 non-residential building industry professionals age 40 and younger who stand out in personal and professional aspects of their lives. And Colin certainly does. As the longest serving Consultant with 14 years of service, Colin has supported the start-up of two IES office’s, San Francisco in 2007 and Pune in 2010. He’s played a key part in ensuring the sustainability and high performance of many renowned projects across the world and has used his expertise and experience to mentor and train other consultants in the IES Consultancy team to help make it the dedicated, highly experienced team it is today. Read Colin’s full winner profile.
Previous IES winners are:
We pride ourselves in hiring people who are committed to sustainability and passionate about what we do. And in turn we offer a flexible and supportive working environment and the opportunity to work with a team of friendly, interesting and diverse people from across the globe. If IES sounds like a place you’d like to work, then keep an eye on our vacancies and follow @IESCareers on twitter. You can also send in a speculative CV to email@example.com.
You can view profiles of all this year’s 40 under 40 winners on CSE Magazine’s website.
This article was originally published in the September 2015 issue of Physics World Magazine, http://physicsworld.com.
As a software developer in a building performance analytics firm, Michael Bennett uses his physics skills to help design more environmentally friendly and cost-effective buildings.
When architects and engineers design new buildings, they have a lot of different factors to consider. Lighting, shading, wind direction, heating, ventilation, airflow and many other elements all need to be taken into account. However, the rising costs of heating and cooling – coupled with concerns about climate change – mean that the way buildings use energy is also an important part of their design.
The company I work for, Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES), offers integrated software and consulting services that help architects, engineers and everyone else involved in the creation of a building to make better performing, sustainable and energy-efficient buildings. Our software analyses a number of different inputs (including climate data, building design, and the design of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems, among others) to calculate a building’s energy consumption and performance and suggest the best possible design strategies.
At first glance, it might seem strange that an astrophysicist like me would find a niche in this industry. However, in a nice coincidence, some of the heat processes (such as diffusion or convection) in stellar models that were relevant to my PhD are also relevant for buildings. In a few cases, the algorithms are directly applicable. For example, the finite difference methods used to calculate diffusion of heat across a wall can also be used to calculate matter transport in the interior of a star. I think it is amazing and wonderful how parallels can sometimes be drawn between celestial bodies and things closer to home.
Putting core knowledge to use
Following my PhD at the University of Keele I was unsure whether to pursue a career in academia or industry. I found doing research at the frontier of current knowledge exciting and interesting, and I was fascinated by the software models that are part of such research. However, I also wanted job security and the ability to settle somewhere and call it home. So, after some careful consideration, I started looking at industry.
This was in 2010, however, and with the UK economy in recession, there didn’t seem to be much demand for physics graduates. Most of my colleagues pursued academic careers, became physics teachers or found themselves in careers where physics was less relevant. Disheartened, I reluctantly concluded that in order to get a job, I would need to focus more on the value of my mathematical ability and transferable skills, rather than the value of the core physics knowledge I obtained during my degree.
The turning point came when, after several unsuccessful interviews with software and engineering companies, I signed up for recruitment agencies specializing in science and software related careers. Most of these agencies did not seem very motivated to find me work, but one of the exceptions, ECM, put me in touch with IES. When I found out that they were based in Glasgow, I was shocked, as I had mainly been looking for jobs near my friends and family in London. Nevertheless, I went for an interview and was happy to find that IES was looking for physics graduates to work on software related to heat transfer. It was clear from the interview that my core physics knowledge would be valued and so, after some thought, I accepted the job and moved to Scotland.
A model assignment
Although I am a software engineer, almost all of my daily tasks require physics knowledge and skills. Before I can start designing software, for example, I need to understand the model that is being implemented and identify its limitations and capabilities. This requires me to retrieve, understand and critique scientific literature – a task that often entails a considerable amount of mathematics, especially when the model involves fluid transport (usually air or water, but sometimes refrigerant or other substances), heat exchangers, convection or solar radiation.
Once I am confident that I understand the technologies and processes I am modelling, my next task is to develop proof-of-concept models, so that I can identify possible complications or unusual situations that might arise. For example, certain renewable technologies involve convective heat transfer from a surface into an air stream at a flow rate relative to some design flow rate for the system. What if a user specifies a very low design flow rate or doesn’t specify one at all? We will need to consider natural convection, transition to turbulence and sensible default values for flow rates in the absence of important input data. Preliminary models of such things can identify issues such as these.
The next step is to write (and then test) the software code. I also perform validation studies in which I compare the output of our thermal models with real building data. Sometimes I perform uncertainty studies, too, to check how robust the models are.
Coding and communication
Because my role is “client-facing”, I regularly keep our clients updated on progress, and I also give presentations regarding the outcomes of our studies. Communication skills are essential as we often work with people who have had little or no exposure to analytical and numerical models of physical phenomena (especially the physics of buildings), and who therefore find such models incredibly complicated. Being able to break complex scenarios down into something that is simple to understand, and then build on that in order to describe the situation more fully, is very important.
As for the coding part of my job, I learned most of the basics required to write software code during the last year of my physics undergraduate degree. However, I also developed these skills considerably during my postgraduate studies and in my spare time, so if you are interested in a career in software engineering, I recommend spending some of your free time programming. There are many amazing open-source resources on the Internet and tutorial websites that can help you learn, and if you choose a project that sounds fun, you will be more motivated to continue working on it. For example, you could try making a simple computer game or a “physics sandbox” tool in a high-level language (like Python or Lua). Then, if you want more of a challenge, you can go on to experiment with lower-level languages such as C++ or Java. There is a huge demand for programming skills at the moment and they are incredibly useful for many things (including science).
While communication skills are important, you don’t have to be an amazing performance artist or conversationalist to be able to communicate your ideas effectively. If communication isn’t your strong point, practise! Give short presentations to others, form discussion groups, talk about technical topics with people you know and gauge their reactions. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback so you can identify areas where you can improve. There are plenty of opportunities to do this during a physics degree and it can even be fun if you’re discussing something you are passionate about. It will also help you with job interviews.
My advice is to be active, open and motivated. I’ve found that the best aspect of my job is the knowledge that my experiences, science knowledge and skills are useful to people. After spending many years studying physics and mathematics, it is flattering when people need my help and rewarding when I can see how their jobs are made easier following my input. It is also great to be able to continue studying physics and learning new skills as I do my job; nothing feels static or predictable and the projects are always varied and intellectually stimulating. My experience shows that there are great physics jobs out there if you look for them.
This summer we were pleased to welcome Adalberto Guerra Cabrera, a Research Assistant from the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, to the IES Team on a five week internship. Now that his time at our Glasgow HQ has come to an end, we asked Adalberto to share his experience on our blog. Here is what he had to say about his time with us…
What is your background? What do you do at Masdar?
I’m currently a Masters Degree student at Masdar, studying the Sustainable Critical Infrastructure program. I’m just coming to the end of my first year and will be starting my second and final year shortly. My study time is divided equally between classes and research and my research topic is ‘Microclimate in cities’. Prior to studying at Masdar I was a Civil Engineer in Mexico, so it’s been a big change for me, moving country and occupation.
My family and girlfriend all live in Mexico and I get to visit them during holidays mainly, however I am lucky enough to be attending a conference there in October and look forward to seeing them all then.
How did the opportunity for your internship with IES come about?
I had a keen interest in the VE and its capabilities and during a discussion around strategies and solutions in a team meeting I mentioned this to my advisor. A week later I received an email asking if I’d be interested in an internship with IES at its headquarters in Glasgow. I was delighted to have been asked and accepted straight away. I am very grateful both to IES and my advisor for allowing me this opportunity. My advisor is very experienced and understands the real value you get from combining your studies and research with real world work experience.
What has your role involved at IES during your internship?
For the last 5 weeks I have been working with the Model Interface team and Birthe Klebow, testing the master planning tool. I used the tool to test models from Abu Dhabi and provided feedback from the tool. In the short time I have been here I’ve learnt many of the features of the VE and feel I can now use it properly and appreciate its vast capabilities. In Masdar there is a shortage of people that know how to use the VE, so one of my tasks when I return will be to help others use the software.
What have you enjoyed most about your time here with IES?
I’ve loved being around so many smart and very motivated people. Everyone is so enthusiastic and works very hard: it’s contagious and motivates me to be the same when I can see just what can be achieved. It’s been great to have experienced a real life working environment related to my studies and it is very encouraging to see how the work I am doing at Masdar can be applied to the real world and make a real difference. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know a different culture and seeing the way a company is organised here. I only have previous experience of working for a company in Mexico where everything seemed very rushed and stressful with extremely long hours. Here things are more focused, specialised and relaxed which makes for a much more productive environment.
How would you describe the people and culture at IES?
The people at IES are very smart, dedicated and passionate. Everyone treated me very well from the moment I arrived. The HR team have been very supportive throughout the whole experience, organising my trip and accommodation and giving me a nice introduction to the company on my arrival, telling me how everything works and who is who. The team I’ve worked with also made me feel very welcome. On my first day I had a team meeting where I was assigned a project based on my interests and was given realistic goals which I am pleased to say I have achieved. Throughout the internship, the team have been very supportive. I’ve had weekly meetings to review my progress and the team have given me some great advice and helpful information for my research. I have lots of new ideas and tools I can use for my thesis now.
Something that really struck me about the company was the transparency of information available to staff from senior management, for example, the statistics given in the quarterly presentation by Don, showing how the company is progressing. I think this is really important and really helps with staff motivation. I have never known this type of transparency before in a company.
Overall, if I were to describe the IES culture in one word I’d say ‘collaborative’. The way everyone works really well together and helps each other is really nice to see and I’ve really enjoyed being a part of this for the last 5 weeks.
What have you learned from your experience working with IES?
I’ve learned the importance of collaborating with others to achieve goals. It’s been a wonderful learning experience in that I can see the similarities between my research in the lab at Masdar and the research that is being carried out here with IES and it really motivates me knowing that we are on the same track. IES is one of the only companies that I know to combine commercial activity with research and it makes me really happy to have been a part of this.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking about undertaking an internship with IES?
I would highly recommend it to anyone considering an internship and I look forward to reporting back at Masdar on how good it has been for my development and my future studies. If I were to offer any advice I’d say: do your research and check out current developments IES are working on so you are prepared before you go. Most importantly, remember to pack a rain jacket or buy one if you don’t have one!
Anything else you’d like to tell us about?
Aside from what I’ve learnt with IES, it’s been a good cultural experience, visiting Scotland. It was my first time in the UK and I have really enjoyed visiting museums and taking in the city of Glasgow. I’ve even enjoyed the weather – it gets so hot in Abu Dhabi so the rain has been a nice change. Also, the landscape is so very different. In Scotland, everything is green so I’ve made sure I’ve taken my camera everywhere so I have some great pictures to take back to Masdar.
Although my time here has been short, I have built some great working relationships and I look forward to keeping in touch and continuing those relationships when I return to Masdar.
This article was originally published in Building Services News Magazine. ‘Postcard from Abroad’ is a regular feature that highlights the experiences of graduate engineers from Ireland that have gone on to live and work abroad.
It is a pleasure to share my experiences abroad with you as a building services engineer who left Dublin in 2008. During the past seven years I’ve been working all over North America as a project manager and business development manager with Integrated Environmental Solutions Ltd (IES).
Many of you will be familiar with IES Ltd and IESVE software, which is used in Ireland and the UK for building performance simulation and analysis of buildings. Typical applications for using IESVE software are often necessary for new construction projects in Ireland, e.g. Part L Compliance. However, things are quite different in North America.
I graduated from DIT Bolton Street’s building services engineering course in 2006 with a 1st Class Honours Degree having come up through the diploma courses which was hugely valuable to me, even today. White Young Green (WYG) were generous enough to give me a start as a graduate building services engineer in 2006 as I had also gained valuable work-experience during the previous summer with them.
IES opened an office in Dublin in 2007 and I was keen to join with such an innovative and ever-expanding company. At the official Dublin office opening I met Dr Don McLean (IES founder and CEO) and walked away inspired by his enthusiasm for making a difference in the world by way of sustainable building design through technology.
While working in the IES Dublin office I was fortunate to work on some great consulting projects for the Office of Public Works and a few international projects too in the UK, the US, Australia and the UAE. These international projects gave me an appreciation for building performance benchmarking under different codes and standards. I also began to understand what real sustainable design meant versus making design decisions simply to play the system, or simply in order to “get the certificate”.
At IES a huge portion of our activity is driven by various energy rating systems. In North America, those rating systems can often be voluntary (eg LEED) depending on the region or building owner. You need to know your IECC / ASHRAE Standards as much as the local rating systems. This complex challenge was one of the reasons I moved to work in the IES Boston office in 2008. Six years later, I would move west again.
Settling into life in Boston
I was lucky in three areas: visa, work and accommodation. First, if you move to the US to work (outside of a J1 student visa) you will likely need either an H-1 or L-1 visa, although there are other less common options. The L-1 visa is essentially an intra-company transfer, so IES were supportive of the move. With an H-1 you could be applying to a new company, so there’s a risk involved for the employer. The one thing they have in common is the profound stress involved.
Second, with my work at IES, it was somewhat “business-as-usual” and I was performing a similar role to the one I had in our Dublin office, plus I already knew my colleagues (we are a tight-knit group at IES). Third, IES were generous enough to have a furnished apartment for me to move into. The view from my roof deck included the Massachusetts State House, the Charles River and Boston Commons.
Boston itself is a fantastic city with a large and welcoming Irish community. It is also a huge sports-centric city and there is always a Boston-based team involved in some play-offs. There are legacy neighbourhoods — the Irish are in Southie, the Italians are in the North End, there’s a Polish neighbourhood and, as always, a Chinatown.
Working in Boston was not without its challenges. There were the dreaded IP units, which at the time felt like being forced to learn how to speak Latin… why, oh why, have you not evolved? The toughest challenge was trying to convince a design team to consider something like mixed-mode ventilation, which was strangely considered a new concept.
I was shocked to learn how conservatively the New England AEC industry perceived high-performance building design. I was yearning for an equivalent to the EU’s EPBD or Ireland’s Part L. Years later, my role has evolved to encompass a much bigger region and I’ve had a chance to see how other locations embrace high performance design.
My role in North America today
Today, my region is ‘North America’. I’m not trying to be vague; below are green pins for each place I commonly work…
Yes, it is a massive geographical spread and involves a lot of travel, but that’s part of the business development challenge that IES has given me.
In my first six years in North America I was primarily focused on the East Coast, which I loved. I’ve had some interesting experiences along the way. For instance, one evening in Washington DC I went to see the White House and take in some US history. However, what I recall most clearly from that visit was looking up at one of the few snipers on the roof.
About 10 months ago I left Boston and moved west to the IES San Francisco office in order to support a new statewide compliance for building energy benchmarking. This time I moved with my girlfriend Alayne and dog Oscar. My work has mostly been focused on the west coast now, particularly in California.
The San Francisco Bay Area is still experiencing a huge tech-boom and there are constantly large volumes of people moving here. The apartment monthly rental costs are now $3,000- $5,000 (€2,750-€4,500). I feel sorry for the older locals of San Francisco who feel the artsy vibe to the city is now drowning with young techies.
It is a very different settling process on the West Coast. The time-zone difference to Ireland is now eight hours, there is a different culture to the harsh East Coast people and a different sense of humour. However, the AEC industry is an improvement. Sadly, 98% of California is currently categorised as being in “exceptional” drought, which is the worst level of drought and the worst in 163 years of record keeping.
You don’t need to convince anyone here about climate change. California has the most net-zero energy buildings in the US and there is a strict energy rating standard in place.
Earlier this year I was working with the US Navy in Honolulu. I took an opendoor helicopter tour over Pearl Harbour on my day off and got some excellent scenic photos. However, the ones that interested me most were of the endless rows of solar-panelled homes and buildings. In Hawaii, they pay $0.25- $0.33/kWh for electricity, so PV makes a lot of sense. Note: The US average is ~10-11cents/kWh. Just imagine being the odd-one-out in this neighbourhood.
Each place I go to is different and I’d sum up the US engineering culture as diverse and regional. In my day-to-day work I deal with various professionals including building physics engineers, architects, software developers, architectural engineers, contractors, energy modellers, mechanical engineers, and energy consultants. I also deal with lots of people involved in policy, from the Canadian Green Building Council to the California Energy Commission.
I’m very proud of my engineering background in Ireland and made sure to return to earn my Chartered Engineering status in 2010. I did a part-time Master’s degree in Brunel University in London during 2006-2009 but, if I’m honest, it didn’t compare to the education that DIT Bolton Street gave me.
For my B. Eng. Thesis I studied the effects of a below-ground thermal labyrinth. Then years later I was heavily involved in one for a hospital in Western Canada. Outdoor air is “bounced” through this below-ground maze, thus utilising the thermal storage of the soil and concrete to pre-heat the outdoor air in winter and pre-cool the outdoor air in summer. The tempered outdoor air is then fed into the back of two dedicated outdoor air system air handling units.
Something a lecturer in DIT, Chris Montague, said always stayed with me: “The design team won’t consider it if you don’t speak up and suggest it.” Thanks for that Chris!
My final thought
While I combine lessons from both my training in Ireland and experiences in North America, there are cases that aren’t comparable. There’s always room for comparing and contrasting the different approaches to environmental engineering and building services, and I would encourage everyone to take the differences into consideration in any decision to move abroad. Overall, I’m glad I made the move west just over seven years ago and I’m happy with the work I’m doing in the US. However, I never could have excelled as much without my training and encouragement from home and from IES.
In this week’s blog post we go behind the scenes at IES and meet one of our software developers to find out what it’s like working at IES and being part of the team that creates the Virtual Environment. So everybody meet Tom, our Anglo-French software engineer who has been working at IES since July 2013. We sat down with Tom to ask him the following questions…
What attracted you to this profession and how long have you been a software developer?
Growing up I was always interested in graphic design, 3D imagery and computer games. I loved being surrounded by gadgets and technology – which was encouraged by my dad, who as a photography lecturer would bring home photography tools and computer programs that I could spend hours inspecting and working out. I also loved animated films like Toy Story and I was fascinated by how computer code could be used to create this striking imagery. I was keen to find out how it was done…
It was this interest in the technical side of things that influenced my decision to get into computing. I went to the University of Angers in France to complete a degree in Computer Science and then followed that with a Master’s in computer graphics at the University of Lyon I. My Masters in computer graphics allowed me to specialise in software development applied to 3d computer graphics, 3d geometry and image processing. I finished it in 2008 and have now been working as a developer for 7 years.
What does your role at IES involve?
At IES, I work as a software engineer as part of the “Urban” team. In a nutshell, my job is to design and implement software components and algorithms which fulfil a set of requirements for a given project.
In practice, this also involves:
– Reviewing requirement and specification documents and providing feedback.
– Writing technical specification documents and reports.
– Prototyping given features or technologies.
– Taking part in development and project meetings.
– Providing input and reporting progress to project managers.
– Reviewing other team members’ code.
What project are you currently working on?
At the moment I am working on a R&D project called INDICATE, which is a prototype for a new interactive tool to help transform cities into smart cities. It will provide assessment of the interactions between buildings, the electricity grid, Electric Vehicle grid and Renewable/ICT technologies so the knock-on effect of changes can be understood within the urban context.
It’s a really interesting time to be working at IES as we go from looking at the energy of single buildings to also analysing cities and communities. I enjoy the technical challenges that arise in this area, as working with a group of buildings means more data to handle and visualise, more calculations and more complex interactions.
What tools do you use?
What software/tools/website could you not live without in your role?
Also, an excellent resource when faced with a specific technical problem is the Q&A site stackoverflow.com. Often someone else will have faced the same problem before you!
What contribution to IES are you most proud of?
I’d have to say my work on the Glasgow Future Cities Project, a web platform and app that was developed to allow building owners (domestic and commercial) in Glasgow to understand the energy consumption of their buildings and to suggest ways of reducing this consumption. The app and web portal, which are coming soon, will show the city’s energy performance at both district and building level.
I was responsible for how these energy performance results were viewed by the user. I created an application to view the results over the whole city in 3D and to display the energy performance of the buildings at district and neighbourhood level.
What do you like most about working at IES?
The best thing about working at IES? It has to be the opportunity we get here to create innovative software. There are a lot of new projects and products being created at IES at the moment. It’s also very rewarding to know that these tools we create can then be used to make a real impact on the planet’s future and the fight against climate change.
I really enjoy the R&D aspect of the job as well. I like the problem solving involved and having time to go and research the best course of action or technology in order to make something work for a particular project.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a software engineer?
Firstly, it’s a very good time to follow this career path as there are lots of opportunities available and
interesting technologies to work with.
My advice to someone starting off would be to not get too fixated on a specific language or tool. First understand the concepts, then you can apply them effectively in any language.
Outside of IES, what do you do for fun?
I enjoy hanging out with friends at the bars and restaurants that Glasgow has to offer and taking the time to explore other parts of Scotland, whether it be a day at the Fringe in Edinburgh or a trip up north to the highlands.
I also like to cycle, travel around Europe and at the moment I’m learning German – tschüss!
Interested in becoming a software engineer at IES in a position that gives you freedom and flexibility and allows you to work with the latest technologies to develop new and sophisticated products? Keep an eye on the job section of our website for upcoming positions or feel free to send your CV over to firstname.lastname@example.org.