Biography diary

The Yellow Brick Road of a Power Research Engineer (Part 1)

A Personal Journey

For today’s post, I thought that a little bit of background presentation would be welcomed.

One curious question to ask to older people (I’m no longer young, nor old – does that make me you-ld?) is which path they have followed to end up where they are. This question often stems from a desire (or sometimes fear) to find the most efficient paths by looking at successful people (or alternatively avoid those from perceived less-sucessful people) and replicate  (or alternatively avoid) these paths.

There is indeed something too learned from elders but strictly copying someone else’s path is at best misguided and at worse a trap. The explanation basically lies in the fact that a career path is often characterised by its uniqueness and replicating it will most likely miss some elements (due to the passing of time, differing trends, personal contacts). An illustration could be like taking a train to travel fast to a place far away: one could come to the same platform at the same time at which an older mentor used to take, but the timetable has changed since then and one cannot travel to their dreamed place. The lesson here would be that trains are a good way to travel fast and far but not to focus on the one train that this older mentor used to take 20 years ago.

But I’m getting distracted. The point of this blogpost was not to sermon you with a life lesson but to share the story of my own (ongoing) path.

An Objective Set from the Beginning

For all the ups and downs and twists on this road which is life, I profoundly love the domain I’ve ended up focusing my career: Engineering.

Since an early age, the passion for assembling and disassembling things was strong. You could call that the knack if you know the reference 😉 One of the early experiments which made a strong impression in my early memories was a simple electrolysis by short circuiting a battery with electrodes plunged in water. Lego sets obviously played a big part in my playtime back then, and even now I like using my niece and nephews as crime partners to justify playing with Lego bricks again.

So it was clear back then already that I would head to an engineering programme when applying to university.

A First Failure

Amongst the pletora of engineering schools available in France, I ended up registering to UTBM (University Technology Belfort-Montbeliard). Something about being far from Paris, something about their hybrid university-school approach, something about their multi-disciplinary approach… Something, many things prompted me to move 600 km away from home into the unknown.

Living in Belfort had been a tremendous and life changing experience. I’ve met many amazing friends, some of them I’m still in touch with to this day. Living far from home also massively boosted my independence and one of the unanticipated consequences turned out to be my developing passion for home cooking; ranging from baking breads or brioches to making chocolates and experimenting with foreign cuisines, to the delight of my flatmates and friends back then (my wife also greatly benefits from the learning of this period). These friendships also taught me lot about self-image, confidence, extraversion, social culture, sharing, and trust. The student societies I participated in also taught me a lot more on other topics such as work ethic, team working, passion for a shared project, enabling events for others, networking, and more.

University-wise, the picture was however a lot less rosy. The hybrid university-school approach wasn’t working for me. I’m sure this will constitute the subject of a future blogpost but, in a nutshell, I felt behind by Year 2 and faced the disciplinary council for under performance. This led to my dismissal of this university, with a comment from a prominent professor that “I wasn’t cut for higher education”.

A Windy Road Back Up

As I was seeing the end of the road at this first university, I prepared another application for a local, lower-ranked university (you could call them vocational school or polythenics in British culture I think). It was a huge relief when my application had been promptly accepted to the Institute University Technology Belfort-Montbeliard, specialty Genie Electricity and Industrial Informatics (IUT BM GEII).

The much more practical approach to teaching (loads of labs, theory after practice, friendly and supportive teaching staff) resonated with my passion for engineering and something clicked back then. My marks shot up to the top range of the class and I even started working on some home electronics projects.

After the 2-year programme at this institution, my knowledge started accumulating, my confidence mostly restored, my passion for engineering massively inflammed, I was hungry for more.

Closing Words

This covers the first few years of my university journey and there is still quite a lot to cover. Let’s thus split this post into another multi-part post. Hope you’ll enjoy the serie.

Thank you for reading. See you tomorrow.