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Jake Wallis tells his story, from student to Lontra’s Principal Design Engineer
Jake is still comfortably in the 1st quarter of his working life having pursued many avenues before his Lontra career, and all with an underlying focus on seeking out innovation. He graduated from the University of Birmingham having studied Mechanical and Automotive Engineering and accepted a job as a technology consultant at tech giant IBM.
“There was an assumption that because I was good at engineering I should be applying to automotive OEMs and the like, but I was keen to try something new and see if I was any good at other things. I saw the scope and opportunities for innovation at a world leader like IBM as a great opportunity. There was also the personal challenge of getting myself a place on a highly competitive grad’ scheme”
The world of work beckoned and Jake began working as a technology consultant in London, primarily on a large scale data migration.
“A new job, city and way of life is quite a dramatic change. The biggest thing that I noticed was no longer having my network of friends and peers there all of the time. These are the people who know you best and are the people who have likely helped you work through the most complex problems you’ve encountered. Stay in touch, keep discussing and sharing ideas, they can offer great advice even without disclosing anything confidential.”
“IBM was a fantastic place to work, however, I wasn’t really prepared for the amount of working away and missed the challenges of engineering. So as I looked for a change I cast my net slightly further and learnt of a PhD opportunity”
Jake returned to the University of Birmingham and began PhD research in combustion engine development.
“This was a great opportunity, but not the right opportunity for me, so I opted to cut it short and move on. My biggest piece of advice would be; Don’t be afraid to admit when you are wrong or have made the wrong choice, just do something about it.
I gave up a good job at a world leading technology company to pursue academic research as I thought that was what I wanted to do. Deciding that it wasn’t was the best thing I ever did as I was able to consider the things that I had done and decide what I wanted to do. That was to pursue a career as a design engineer.”
“I went for a design engineer job at Lontra with no professional engineering experience; but went armed with a portfolio of design work that I had done for the Formula Student project and the broader experience that I now had. Lontra were more interested in my aptitude and potential than my experience, I spent the interview having my designs critiqued with my now boss and was offered the job the following day.”
Starting in a relatively junior capacity, Jake worked initially on updates to prototype parts and developing sub-system test rigs, whilst learning and gained an understanding of the unique Blade Compressor technology.
“Starting work in a technology start up is an unusual experience, it’s all new so you can’t go and look it up in a book, although the experts in the field and the inventor of the technology are sat on the desks next to you! The learning curve was pretty steep, but having those people and resources enabled me to succeed”
As his experience and skill as a design engineer increased and Lontra looked to leverage the ground breaking Blade Compressor technology in other market segments Jake has had opportunity to work in a wide range of areas of design. From concept design through to pre-production prototype parts with a volume manufacturing partner.
“To get the Blade Compressor to a fully-fledged product I have had to design everything from gear trains to bespoke hydraulic actuators, large iron castings as well as components designed specifically for additive manufacture. It has given me a range of skills that I would have struggled to accumulate in a bigger business.”
Five years on Jake seems to have made the right choice as he is still at Lontra. Promoted to Principal design engineer, he still works across the wide range of business and design engineering tasks required of a small team. His general focus is more on compressor geometry development to move the core technology forward and build on Lontra’s IP portfolio. He won Design Engineer of the Year at the 2017 British Engineering Excellence Awards and intends to continue making an impact in the engineering design world.
“I guess you could argue that I am now one of those experts!”
His advice to undergraduate engineers?
“Whenever I speak to aspiring design engineers at university, my advice to them is to do some extracurricular design work!
For me, university was great at teaching engineering theory but group ‘design’ projects were a waste of everybody’s time. I learnt engineering design and putting that theory into practice taking part in the Formula Student project.
This is a great scheme that I am still involved with, but there are plenty of other projects and competitions for undergraduate engineers to get involved with. Or just spend some of your free time working on something that you think will save the world or make you that first million. Even if it does neither, I guarantee it will help to cement your theoretical learning, making you a more rounded engineer and put you one step ahead of the competition when it comes to that 1st interview as a design engineer.”
“Bring a pen to an interview and don’t be surprised when you get a technical interview having applied for a technical job! The Lontra interview was tough, but worth it”