Here is a little look into the mind of a systems engineer. We recently interviewed Sage Belanger to allow us to share a little more about who we are, what we do, and what our employees find important about their jobs. Enjoy.
How long have you been with ePropelled?
Three years. I started working here in February 2019.
You have a brand-new job title. What is it?
Applications and systems engineer.
What was it before?
Systems engineer. A difference of one word.
But what is the difference in your responsibilities?
I interact with customers and resellers more, answering technical questions that they have. I did it partly before but I do it much more now. I have also been sitting in on new meetings with potential partners and clients.
What do you do in any given week?
The plan is to shift some of my responsibilities on to other people. Mostly with the Arena stuff. I’m an administrator and guru for Arena, our product lifecycle management system. Being the only one who has a lot of experience with it, I’m still the one helping to manage that.
I’m certainly not a design engineer. I’m not the one who’s making the PCB, designing it, picking the components, and laying it out. As a systems engineer, I can help with specifications. Trying to determine what the system as a whole has to accomplish and let the requirements trickle down to the designers.
So I guess I do a little bit of engineering but I do it at a higher systems level. A lot of my job is customer-facing, answering questions, but also compiling documentation such as datasheets, manuals, and things like that.
I am also involved in testing sometimes. I’m not doing the testing directly anymore, because now we have other people to do that. At one point I was because I was the only engineer. Occasionally though, they will run into issues and when they do and have trouble debugging something, I’m usually the first one they go to. If I can’t immediately help them, I will send them to a designer. But I would say that at least a good 50% of the issues they run into, I am able to help them overcome.
I do a lot of other random little things that need happening. I spend most of my days dealing with things as they come up. I switch tasks pretty quickly and I jump from one thing to another.
Do you have a good mix of actual hands-on mechanical engineering and theoretical work or is your job heavily skewed towards one?
I really don’t do much bench engineering. I’ll leave that for other people to do. It’s not really my strong suit. I went to school for electrical and computer engineering. And I was certainly much better at the theory of that, carrying the math through, etc. Because of my vision, I don’t make a particularly great bench engineer. Being able to probe around on a circuit board and messing with the oscilloscope to see exactly what I’m looking for, etc. I struggle to do that. It’s a little tough.
So I guess I’ve always leaned towards the theoretical or even the paperwork side of things. With the systems engineering, I’m looking at requirements a lot. I’m rarely putting my hands on things to actually test them. That’s not to say that I don’t ever do it, but it’s certainly not my strongest suit, so I’ve tried to transition myself away from those kinds of activities.
Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Customer interaction is nice. I like talking to people and I’m fairly personable. I have a good enough grasp of our products and technical concepts, so I hopefully I give them helpful answers. For the most part, the questions are fairly technical in nature coming from an engineer on the other side. Easy ones are answered before they even reach me.
When I was in school, I liked engineering and problem solving. But I really liked math. Just the straight-up numbers on paper. I even watch a couple of YouTube channels that are just math videos. 3Blue1Brown is one of my favourites. He’s got some really, really cool animations on some intense mathematical concepts. I also watch other sciencey-engineering kind of stuff. One that I really like is Stuff Made Here. This guy has a whole shop with every tool you could want. And he makes some crazy fun stuff. Mark Rober is another popular one. He’s got some really good stuff too.
What made you choose your profession?
I’ve known from a pretty young age that I wanted to work in a technical field. My dad is a civil engineer. I remember growing up and talking to him and asking him: “Hey dad, what do you do?” Even in middle school and high school and knew I really liked math and was pretty good at it. And so when it came time to go to college, engineering seemed like an obvious choice. I didn’t consider anything else.
I did bounce between what type of engineering I wanted to do: civil, electrical, mechanical, etc. I actually started construction management engineering at first, figuring that it would be a nice mix of engineering and leadership. I wanted leadership because I’ve got a bunch of that kind of experience through Scouts. I quickly realized that there was no engineering there. So I switched to electrical because it seemed most math-heavy.
What makes you excited about your job?
I’ve been here since the beginning, so I’ve had a chance to get my hands in all sorts of different stuff. Getting to work with the electrical guys, and the mechanical guys, and looking at the thermal simulations, and talking to people who work with firmware, etc.
So my experience here has been quite wide. I got to do a lot of different things I wouldn’t have got to do elsewhere. I’d just be doing systems engineering only. I’ve got quite the breadth of experience here. I like being well rounded.
What are you most proud of when it comes to your professional life and/or anything you’ve done at ePropelled?
I’m proud of what we’ve done. Don’t get me wrong. I still think we have a long way to go. But when I started, we didn’t have anything. So to see us have built a whole facility, a couple of different product families, all this equipment, testing, procedures, documentation, etc. What we’ve been able to build up to this point, I’m fairly proud of. Give it another year, maybe I’ll be really proud.
I feel like I haven’t accomplished much outside of ePropelled. The only other company I worked for was a small company that hired me out of college. I didn’t do a ton there. Certainly, what we’ve done at ePropelled has been more impressive.
What do you need (personality- and interest-wise) to be a good engineer?
You have to be curious. And be driven to work through and solve problems. It’s problem solving. If you have those qualities, you can find your home in engineering.
What would you like to achieve in your job?
Move towards management at some point. I like people and I like engineering. Engineering management is close enough to technical and not getting too far away from it while being able to manage a team towards a goal. I’ve dreamed of being a math professor in my old age. I did a bunch of math tutoring in college and I really enjoy the straight-up numbers. At some point I’d like to go back to school.
Technology-wise, is there something you always wanted to invent or improve?
Not really. But the biggest tech I’m looking forward to is probably EVs and self-driving cars. With my vision, not being able to drive is my biggest complaint. I hate not being able to drive. Honestly, it drives me nuts sometimes. Getting to the point where I could own a car, get into it and say: “Bring me here” and it would do it, that seems really cool to me.
Does it bother you when you see badly-engineered tech or is it a chance for you to think about ways to make it better?
Screwing up math irritates me. Bad engineering not really. Something that’s poorly engineered can be simply a first pass. It never happens right the first time. We can learn lessons from it though. It doesn’t bug me as much as poorly done math.
What would you recommend to young people interested in engineering?
Go for it. At the end of college, I tried to do a double degree: engineering and math. I didn’t have the time to do both. So I had to decide. My heart was with math, but engineering is more marketable. Engineering degree is probably one of the best ones you can have. It opens so many doors for you. So many people all over the place started their career there. It’s problem solving and you can apply those methods anywhere.