On the job with a Graduate Engineer from Cochlear

GradAustralia sat down with Matt Zygorodimos to learn about life as a Graduate Engineer at Cochlear
Erin Delaney
Team GradAustralia
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Matt studied a Bachelor of Science (Science Scholars Program) at Monash University (graduated 2012) and a Master of Engineering (Biomedical) at (graduated 2015)

What do you do day-to-day?

Cochlear’s mission is to help people hear and be heard. We design and manufacture implantable devices (which we call cochlear implants)  as well as sound processors that are worn outside the body to sends signals to an implant to restore the sense of hearing.

As a Graduate Engineer at Cochlear, I’m spending a year rotating through various teams for about three months at a time. About half of my time on each rotation is spent performing small tasks with my team members, and the other half is spent on a longer-term project to prototype or research new features for future products with my supervisor.

A recent example of a task I had was to investigate the way we test our microphones in the production line. This involved running tests in the sound lab and visiting the production site to learn more about their processes from the on-site engineers.

Why did you want to get into the industry?

I grew up in Melbourne as the oldest of three brothers. My younger brother Ben was diagnosed with profound hearing loss shortly after he was born and he grew up wearing hearing aids. As a family we learned to sign and at school Ben would have assistant teachers, but it was still challenging at times. I liked to think that one day I could help make things easier for people in situations like ours.

In high school, I was certain that I would study “something sciency” but beyond that I didn’t really know. I chose to study maths, and during my degree I studied abroad at UC Berkeley. A few months later I had a neuroscientist friend sleeping on my couch while he visited Melbourne, and within a few weeks I had researched postgraduate biomedical engineering degrees and was certain that it was right for me.

During my masters program, the cochlear implant was often discussed and I became pretty familiar with the technology. Ben had received an implant a few years prior, and I was enthusiastic to know all about it. When I saw an internship opportunity at Cochlear in Sydney, it was a no-brainer.

As well as an opportunity to learn about how a large company designs and manufactures products, the internship at Cochlear is the pathway to a graduate engineering position at the company. After finishing for the summer I returned to Melbourne to finish my studies before commencing my current position in early 2016.

Could someone with a different background do your job?

The graduate engineering program is all about exposing you to new or unfamiliar disciplines, and the internship program is open to university students with a wide range of STEM backgrounds. My job would be accessible to anyone with strong problem-solving skills and the enthusiasm to complement it. These aren’t really skills that you can learn from a book; you pick them up along the way.

What's the coolest thing about your job?

For me, the most important thing about working is that it is fulfilling. In my job I don’t ever feel like I’m just doing busy-work, and I feel motivated to come in each day.

Hands down, the best moments are when I get an opportunity to sit down at talk to someone who has received one of our implants. When I can see with my own eyes the positive difference our work is making to someone’s life, any and all frustrations I might be having just melt away.

What are the limitations of your job?

Because we operate in the medical space, there is a lot of emphasis on documentation and procedures. It can seem a bit daunting at times, but it is important that we keep detailed and accurate records of what we do.

The pathway from an idea to a product is quite time-consuming and expensive, so it can feel like things are moving very slowly at times and this can be a frustrating feeling.

Three pieces of advice you’d give to interested students?

  • All of your work is intended for another person, ultimately. Think about how they will use it, and what they need from you to do that.
  • Don’t be afraid to learn about something unconventional, and apply it in a new way. You never know what knowledge might come in handy one day.
  • A complex solution to a problem isn’t the same as solving a complex problem. Aim for solutions to your problems that are simple, robust and accessible to everyone.