AT THE YOUNG age of 30 and with a rocketing career as a senior software engineer at Motorola Solutions Penang, Angelene Koid became the 2019 recipient of the Young Engineer of the Year award. The accolade is presented by The Critical Communications Association (TCCA) to individuals who embody the skills, insight and inspirational personal qualities that will help drive critical mobile communications towards another generation of success.
Penang Monthly catches up with the trailblazer to talk about her career achievements, the opportunities and challenges that come with being a woman engineer, and how she is paving the way for more women engineers in the telecommunications sector.
What inspired you to pursue a career in software engineering?
I found that software engineering opened up more opportunities for me to work within different areas in telecommunications. It was evident to me that software engineering would be a key differentiator in the industry because of the numerous applications being developed that touched every aspect of life. Additionally, being a software engineer enabled me to have a more flexible working style because all I needed was a computer and internet connection to work from anywhere in the world. If I had chosen to be a hardware engineer, I’d have had to spend most of my time in the lab!
You started your career under the Graduate Training Programme with Motorola Solutions in 2013, and was chosen as part of a new team to develop TETRA radios which you helped grow from three support engineers to a team of 120. What were your challenges and key contributions, and why is TETRA technology important?
When our TETRA radio team was established, there were only a few of us and I was assigned to the signalling team. We had to learn everything from scratch from our counterparts in Poland. One of the key challenges was understanding the cultural differences between different teams, and being respectful of their working cultures. I learned plenty and gained many good friends throughout the journey. I enjoyed working as a team and I think one of my main contributions was in training new engineers to pick up new tools and to improve their coding and debugging skills.
As a new team, sometimes we may lose knowledge through multiple transitions, but we have been successful so far in mitigating the problems we faced. As a result, our team has been entrusted to handle software engineering in TETRA, from design and development to the validation phase. TETRA is a standardised protocol defined by ETSI to enable two-way communication for public safety, and is predominantly used in Europe. It is an important technology because it is used by police officers, ambulance crew, and also for fire services. Without TETRA, these services will be crippled.
You were the technical lead and feature architect in a team developing the Norway-Sweden “common cross border” project. The feature won the ICCA Best Use of Critical Communications for Public Safety award in 2018. Can you explain what this feature does?
The feature enables the police forces in Norway and Sweden to use each other’s communications network seamlessly when working near each country’s borders. One of the key challenges of the feature was embedding intelligence into the communication device to detect the movement and handover from mobile communications terminals when connecting to different networks and mapping key parameters from one system to the next. I was the technical lead in charge of developing this feature and I worked with a local team and with counterparts in China, Krakow and Copenhagen. Communication with external stakeholders was also challenging. At one time, we suffered a communication breakdown which resulted in the misalignment of expectations between the team members. This could have significantly impacted the project, but we overcame the issue – despite working across different time zones and cultures – through regular synch-ups to realign expectations.
You’re quite young! Professionally, do you think your age and gender work to your advantage or detriment? Or both?
I think it’s both. It’s advantageous because people are more willing to teach and help me whenever I need it and I have a strong support network at work. I have also been given many opportunities to pursue pathways for women engineers through support groups, including the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and the Women’s Business Council at Motorola Solutions. On the flipside, I do also sometimes feel that my age can be a disadvantage because some people may not take my input seriously enough. In these situations, I have to strive hard to get my point across.
A key part of your role at Motorola Solutions is to train and nurture young women engineers in the field. Could you tell us more about it?
I believe I can lead by example. I have been very fortunate to have senior staff members who have taken me under their wing over the years, and I hope I too am able to inspire young engineers who see me leading technical discussions and designing new features to do the same in mapping out successful career paths. At Motorola Solutions, we are also encouraged to have mentoring sessions. To date, I have mentored engineers who have gone on to have well-established careers. In the future, I plan to reach out to schools and the wider community to inspire more women to join the engineering field with the SWE.
What would you say is the biggest issue women engineers must contend with today, e.g. maintaining a work-life balance once they are married and become parents?
I do not have children, but I do think this is one of the challenges commonly faced by women engineers. But we have to find a way to make it work. I think having flexible working hours, an understanding boss and a great support system are really important.
You used TCCA’s prize money to attend the WE19 – the world’s largest conference for women engineers organised by the SWE last year. What are your takeaways from it?
I attended some speaker events related to self-management and development, strategic leadership, innovation and disruption, inclusion and cultural awareness, as well as tech talks. Collectively, this provided me with more insight into future technologies including 5G and IoT.
Innovation is one of the key areas where I need to grow if I am to progress in my career. I also networked with other women engineers during the event, and picked up ideas on how to cultivate interest among women for engineering, which I shared with my peers upon my return.