Copyright © 2009 Integrated Environmental Solutions Limited. All rights reserved
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.