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.


Day 2

The truth about setting oneself into a challenge lies in ensuring that this challenge survives long enough to rip the intended fruits. This requires to find the balance between the initial motivation for a new project (often with a goal) and the daily grind of walking a path, which is by essence challenging (why else would one set oneself a challenge otherwise).

In this context, the first hurdle will be to find topics to discuss on everyday. Yes, motivation will also be challenge at some points in the near future, but for now I’m still riding the wave of excitment which came with initiating this challenge.

Where to Start?

I suppose the easiest will be to define what the rules of this challenges. My present writer’s block is motivated by a fear of what others think and criticism, no so much about quality and quantity of said-writing. In this sense, sharing everyday will thus consistute the main objective, regardless of the length and elaborate level of the resulting piece of writing. Writing about what comes to my mind with minimal editing and rewriting (oh voices of perfection, I hear you loud of clear!) with the top priority to share everyday. There are numerous stories of people sharing everyday regardless of quality or quantity and have overtime learned a lot and even achieved a certain level of recognition for their work. CGI artist Mike Winkelmann (also known as Beeple) is one fine example. I want to free my writing from the shakles of my own fears, so let’s share everyday.

In terms of topic, I could have gone with the classic research-focused approach to present myself solely as an expert. However, part of my own fears are based on a sense of impostor syndrome where I see everyone around being more successful and me being unable to catch up. Life experience has taught me times and times again that this represents only the surface of people and everyone has their own flows and fears. Confronting mine will pass through removing (or most likely ignoring at first) my present mental constraints and being unlimited on which topics I will be allowed to share: power electronics research, engineering knowledge and skills, higher education teaching, mental health, politics (?), opinions, or simply interesting things I’ve come across in my daily errands on the internet or IRL.

As much as this post is already getting quite long for the purpose of this writing challenge, I still feel compeled to still share about one chosen topic. I will thus be quite unimaginative and talk about my approach to writing.

Of the Love of Writing

I love words!

What they mean, where they come from, and how much richness they often hide in plain sight. I suppose that my French heritage does play a big role and it took me a while to appreciate it; a node to my Latin classes which bored me to death at the time but some of it must have also sunk in. My father also deserves a lot of credits for sharing his own passion for writing (sorry Dad, I missed out on your great calligraphy skills though!). He made me discover and appreciate the definition of words and most importantly initiated me to Alain Rey and his vast knowledge of the French language; for those who know French I highly recommend you his radio shows ‘Le mot de la fin’.

I could elaborate more on this topic but it feels already quite late for today; more in another post, trust me 😉

Writing Tips of the Day

I will finish this post with a recommendation I read today on Twitter and most likely influenced my choice for today. This is the ‘How To Start Writing Online: The Ship 30 for 30 Ultimate Guide’ (, with a summary found in this thread by the author, Nicolas Cole.

Of these 19 tips, conciseness features already high on my writing habits (I never managed or even liked to fluff essays just to grow the number of words). Many of the tips on deleting or replacing words (e.g. ‘that’ or “tiny-word-chunks” as he puts it). The point about deleting “I” actually made me think since he rightly pointed out that being the author of this blogpost I do not need to include statements like ‘I think’ since they are implied and often covers a lack of confidence in one’s opinions. I obviously have some reservations regarding the recommendation to limit or avoid the use of semicolons; I think they have their purpose and their bad reputation often stems from bad writing practices. The 1/3/1 sequence is also interesting and I will try to exercise it (see what I did in the previous section :p)

Closing words?

I should bring this post to a close but dread doing it abruptly. A nagging feeling tells me to find a funny or original way of closing this and any future posts. This raises again alarm bells about setting the challenge too high, so I will leave it here for now but rest assured that the idea will carry on circling in my head.

In the meantime, take care and see you tomorrow.