Five minutes with: Melanie Winter, Engineering Manager at PragmatIC

The second in our short series of career insight stories is with Melanie Winter, Engineering Manager at PragmatIC’s brand new production facility in NETPark, Sedgefield.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at PragmatIC?

I grew up in a village only a few miles from Sedgefield. I was there until I was 21 then moved around over the next 20 years…sometimes for work, sometimes for personal reasons. I’ve lived in Consett, Swindon and Newcastle before moving back to the area 11 years ago. I now live three miles from where I grew up!

I’m a single mum and have a daughter who is 14 and she was the main reason for moving back to the area as I wanted her to grow up amongst family and close friends.

I’ve been with PragmatIC now for three months as Engineering Manager for the Assembly Department and I lead the process engineering team. Assembly are responsible for post-fabrication processing – we mount the wafers onto wafer frame and singulate the die ready for automated pick and place.

Can you give us an overview of your career journey to date?

I started out around 28 years ago working as an operator on a manufacturing line. Since then I’ve held various positions including team leader, process technician, process engineer and for the last six years, operations and engineering management.

I’ve worked for large multinationals like Philips, Siemens, Atmel and Motorola, and for companies at the other end of the scale – small start-up’s with new and exciting innovations to develop. PragmatIC is somewhere in the middle – very quickly on the rise with big aspirations. I have worked in some form of the electronics industry for most of my career, from manufacturing TV screens to surface mount PCB production, medical devices and semiconductors.

When I left school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do…other than I knew I wanted to earn my own money, so after college I ended up on a manufacturing line in a local factory. I was promoted to team leader but then realised I found the technical aspects of the job more interesting, so back to college I went to study electronics at night classes. Not easy when you are working full time! I guess some would say I took the long way round (as opposed to staying in full-time education after school and coming into the industry as a postgraduate), but the experience I’ve gained along the way has been invaluable, and as I’ve come to realise, quite hard to come by.

What was it that made you pursue a career in semiconductors and electronics?

Semiconductors seemed exciting 20 years ago when I first started working at Siemens, it was the technology of the future. Working with a product whose features were smaller than the human hair seemed amazing to me, and I wanted to be a part of it. That still holds true today. I heard about the ground-breaking innovations PragmatIC are doing with flexible electronics and knew that I wanted to be part of it.

How do you think emerging technology will impact your role in the future?

Flexible electronics has a huge market…PragmatIC’s low-cost innovative solutions really does open up the market. It seems that almost every product you can think of would have a use for one of our products, whether it’s purely tracking and traceability, or interactive apps for games or information. The applications are truly endless.

What is the best thing about living and working in the North East?

For me it’s being able to work in a job I love and be close to family and friends. More innovative companies are coming to the area, and specifically to the NetPark Science Park where PragmatIC’s northeastern production facility is located. The opportunity to network, collaborate and call on outside expertise right on your doorstep is a huge advantage to emerging and growing companies alike.

The North East has a great community feel and the people are in general very friendly and helpful. We have a good mix between the busy city life in Newcastle, the cultural cathedral city of Durham and the coast on the doorstep…all within half an hour of each other. We also have Northumberland which must be the North’s best kept secret, with some of the best beaches in the UK and scenery to die for. And to top it off, the cost of living and housing is more affordable than most of the rest of the country. What’s not to love!

If you could give any advice to people about to embark on a career in Process Engineering – what would it be?

Process Engineering can be extremely challenging but also extremely rewarding, especially when you get the chance to join a company that is breaking new ground by bringing new innovations to market.

The skills needed to be most suited to this kind of role would be a good grasp on problem solving, a person who likes detail, who is good at collecting and analysing data, but who also knows how to summarise and present results effectively. Someone who has excellent communication skills. They also need to be able to work on their own initiative but collaborate and work as part of a team.

Engineering in general is thought of as a male dominated environment. It may well still be the case in some heavy engineering industries, but this doesn’t really hold true in electronics anymore.

But most of all, make sure you love what you do. We all spend most of our lives having to work. I can’t imagine anything worse than not wanting to get up and go to work every day.