Developing industrial machines and devices that touch people’s lives are all in a day’s work for Brett Matthews and his team.
They make technology that powers planes and trains and provides power for large and small grids all over the world. The technology they create also allows them to make devices more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.
“Our business partners usually come to us with some technical problem they’d like to solve,” Brett explains.
Those technical problems include increasing operational efficiency or safety, reducing costs or harmful emissions, or detecting or preventing mechanical failures.
“These machines are equipped with many sensors: pressure transducers, vibration and acoustic sensors, arterial blood pressure,” he adds.
Brett says his job is to use his professional background in digital signal processing, machine learning, and statistical pattern recognition to make machines smarter.
How Does He Do That?
“I develop and apply digital signal processing and machine learning methods, which we call ‘analytics,’ on these signals to solve our businesses’ problems,” Brett says.
“My work usually involves getting volumes of data from our business partners, conceiving mathematical and technical solutions, building those solutions in code, evaluating the solutions on data, and refining and improving,” he adds. “I typically write code in Mat lab, Python, C/C++, and a few other languages.”
GE makes many types of machines. They run from large, jumbo-sized jet engines to locomotives, enormous wind turbines with blades more than the length of a football field, and heart monitoring devices about the size of a pack of chewing gum or a USB memory stick.
How Can You Prepare for His Job?
Brett is a lead research engineer. He is one of many scientists and engineers in the Software, Sciences, and Analytics division of GE’s Global Research Center, which comes up with advanced solutions to serve the needs of GE’s business units in aviation, healthcare, energy, and transportation.
“In terms of education, I have a Bachelor of Science, a Master of Science, and a Ph.D., all in electrical and computer engineering,” Brett says.
“Someone looking to do this job should have a background doing research in some data science-related area,” he advises. “Often people in related fields, like physics, have skills that apply here as well,” Brett adds.
Some examples of data science areas:
1. Statistical signal processing
2. Machine learning
3. Applied statistics
4. Operations research
5. Mathematics or statistical natural language processing
How he got to GE
As he was nearing the end of his Ph.D. program and seeking jobs, most opportunities he saw for someone with his background were in academia, government defense labs, or Wall Street, Brett recalled.
“Ideally, I wanted a job where I could do research in machine learning and signal processing but also apply it to real problems and have the freedom to try new things. I really didn’t know such a job existed, and that’s exactly what this job turned out to be,” he said.
Brett joined GE after finishing his Ph.D. program about four years ago. It was his first full-time position, but he had chalked up 10 internships at five different companies as an undergrad and a grad student.
Brett says he gets to work on important, challenging projects with very smart people every day. He also gets to be at the cutting edge of technology in GE Digital and learn lots of new things all the time.
“My job at the research center is actually the dream job that I didn’t know existed,” he said.
Do as Many Internships as You Can
Most of the people who work at GE’s Global Research Center have Ph.D.s, but many others come through the Edison program, which requires a master’s degree at the entry level.
“I recommend taking as many internships as you can,” he says. “My 10 internships were at Lucent Technologies (1), Sikorsky Aircraft (2), Texas Instruments (3), IBM TJ Watson Research Center (3), and MIT Lincoln Labs (1),” he explained. “You gain experience in a working environment while you are still in school, which looks good to employers when you start your full-time [job] search.”
Over four years at GE Global Research, Brett says he has learned about internal combustion, gas compressors, locomotives, wind turbines, and even arterial blood pressure and heart arrhythmias.
“I’ve also learned about the business value of all of these things and how to manage projects,” he said.
‘Be a mentor and have mentors’
The GE Edison Engineering Development Program is a two- to three-year early career program consisting of three or more rotational assignments. Participants have the opportunity to earn credit towards an M.S. degree in engineering or other real-world application technologies.
You’ll receive education and mentorship from the top minds in your field while working on projects driven by real GE business priorities.
“I think it is very important to be a mentor and to have mentors in our careers as well,” Brett says.
“I participate in GE’s African-American Forum (AAF), which is an affinity group for African-American employees at GE. AAF gives me the opportunity to meet other GE employees, who have become mentors to me, and to mentor students at universities through recruiting. While it can be difficult to find time, meeting with someone for a couple of hours or so, monthly or quarterly, is definitely manageable,” he recommends.
Brett’s job requires a lot of work, and he says frustrating setbacks happen all the time.
Would he do anything differently?
“Overcoming these challenges is a big part of the fun, so it all balances out,” he says.
1. I attended Brooklyn Technical High School and graduated in 1996. I graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, with a B.S. in computer and systems engineering in 2001 and then went on to Georgia Institute of Technology to earn an M.S. in 2003 and a Ph.D. in 2012, both in electrical and computer engineering.
2. I got involved in Internet of Things (IoT) work mainly through my current job at GE Global Research. Although I was always interested in signal processing and machine learning, my job at GE involves working on many machines, which benefit from remote monitoring and diagnostics, a natural problem for IoT work and research.
3. I love programming in Matlab, C/C++, Python, and other languages. I would love to have either many monitors or a smaller number of very large monitors for my computer.
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