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Saab Australia

  • 1,000 - 50,000 employees

Robert Oates

The opportunity to continuously learn new technical skills to assist in solving problems is what I love the most about being an engineer.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, where I completed my schooling. My first job was at Bunnings Warehouse stocking shelves and mixing paint. After finishing high school I decided to study science and engineering at Monash University. After a year I dropped my science degree and instead picked up a commerce degree to complement my engineering studies. Within commerce, I kept a maths focus by majoring in business modelling, and for engineering, I decided to keep my options open by majoring in mechatronics. One of the highlights of university for me was the opportunity to complete a semester abroad at Queens University in Canada. 

How did you get to your current job position?

I applied for Saab Australia’s graduate program during my final year of uni in 2018. I had heard about the company from talking to some employees at a career expo called ‘The Big Meet’. I was offered a 2019 position in April 2018, so had most of the year to prepare for the position and for the move to Adelaide. 

How did you choose your specialisation?

Despite studying mechatronics, my final year engineering project at Monash involved creating a virtual reality application to assist research on limb coordination, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This led me to explore career opportunities within software development or virtual reality. I discovered that Saab’s work has a strong software focus and involves teams that work with augmented reality. So I applied for the graduate program, was successful, and moved to Adelaide to work for them.

What was your interview process like?

The interview process at Saab was a bit different from other places I applied for. There was a recorded video interview, but I was given the questions beforehand, unlike most other company’s applications. There was an online aptitude test, a personal values assessment, and a programming test. I believe that it wasn’t necessary to pass all of these tests to progress to the next stage, so don’t be discouraged. After passing the online testing stage, I completed a group interview and solo interview on the same day. The group interview involved some problem-solving tasks that required discussion and teamwork. The solo interview was a discussion of my past internship experiences; a question about describing an engineering group project and my problem-solving process; a question about evidencing my communication skills; and some banter about football teams. 

What does your employer do?

Saab Australia is a defence and security technology company. Their main business is developing a combat management system (the software that controls the weapons and sensors on Navy ships) but Saab also develops many other technologies from combat, communications, and security systems to mixed reality and cybersecurity solutions.  

What are your areas of responsibility?

In my first year at Saab, I worked in the Underwater department, developing technology for Australian and Swedish submarines. I worked on building my team’s ability to easily create augmented reality experiences from 3D computer-aided design (CAD) models. This involved using a CAD program to adjust models of submarine components, such as water tanks or winches; programming any actions within augmented reality, such as animating moving parts; and giving augmented reality demonstrations to various people. I was also involved with developing software for the system that drives the Australian submarines, which involves writing code and testing it using virtual submarine simulators or a physical room set up with computers to imitate real submarine equipment.

I have just entered my second graduate rotation and moved to the Maritime Department. I’m currently completing an eight-week induction course to get me up to speed on developing the software for Saab’s combat management system. This involves learning about different weapons and sensors and learning about the software development processes and tools used at Saab.

Can you describe a typical workday?

8.30 am – Arrive at the office
8.40 am – Check emails, calendar, and to-do list.
9.00 am – Begin planning for my current programming task (creating the functionality for a new button to add to the Navy operator’s touch screen display).
10.00 am – Meeting with my team to see what everyone has been working on and to check up on issues blocking anyone’s work.
10.30 am – Review some code from a team member’s task.
11.00 am – The team takes a break to eat some scones in the Café together.
11.15 am – I’ll continue working on my programming task.
12.00 pm – Subsidised lunch in the café with friends from other departments within Saab. 
12.30 pm – Watch an online lecture to learn the technical skill required for my designated coding task.
1.00 pm – Continue working on my programming task.
2.00 pm – Attend a meeting to learn more about 3D modelling or 3D printing for the graduates’ community outreach program Subs in Schools.
3.00 pm – Complete some preparation for tomorrow’s grad school session on problem-solving. This may involve applying a structured problem solving or critical thinking technique to a work-related problem.
4.00 pm – Leave early to play soccer with the Saab Sports social group. I’ll make up the extra hour tomorrow.

What are the career prospects with your job?

The company has a fairly flat structure, so there isn’t an abundance of opportunities for promotion. Although upwards movement may be limited, there are lots of opportunities to move around sideways within the business and gain experience in new roles and domains. The main career pathways would likely be software engineering, systems engineering, and project management. The systems engineering pathway involves lots of high-level system design, whereas the software engineering pathway involves more application of technical skills.

What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now? 

If I wasn’t in engineering then I would love to pursue a career in behavioral economics or another form of applied behavioral science.

What do you love the most about your job?

Although the initial novelty of working on submarines does wear off, it is rewarding to know that code you wrote is running on a submarine somewhere under the ocean and helping Australia’s defence capability, even if in a small way. There are lots of smart people around to learn from and I’m always surrounded by interesting projects and technology. The opportunity to continuously learn new technical skills to assist in solving problems is what I love the most about being an engineer. The flexible working hours and extra two weeks of leave at Saab have also made it much easier for me as I can regularly travel home to Melbourne.

What’s the biggest limitation of your job?

Working in defence can be a slower pace than some other industries. This probably suits people who are self-motivated and enjoy taking their time to do a job well, however it may not suit people who thrive on tight deadlines, high pressure, and enjoy a rapidly changing environment. Also, due to the need for stability and the long lifecycle of projects in the defence industry, you may find yourself working on very old technology. There may be less opportunities to work with cutting edge, modern technology than in other industries.

Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?

  • Get as much work experience as possible while you are at university. The domain of the projects you are working on can be less important than the kinds of skills you get to use every day. For example, engineering a space shuttle may sound more interesting than engineering dishwashers, but the space shuttle may involve primarily administrative paperwork while the dishwasher may actually involve more creative engineering design. The best way to figure out what a job is actually like is by speaking to people in the field and trying it out yourself. 
  • If possible, go on an international exchange - I have never spoken to someone who has regretted this decision. Going on exchange to Canada was also beneficial to my career prospects as it offered new learning opportunities, boosted my grades, and provided a point of difference for my resume and interviews. 
  • Adopt a growth mindset. If you can see setbacks as an opportunity to grow then you turn a negative into a positive and can achieve far more. The only way you get better is by learning, and failures are some of the best learning opportunities – so fail often!