Thanchanok (Tara) Sutjarittham studied Telecommunications Engineering at UNSW Sydney. She went on to complete a PhD using the Internet of Things to optimise the experience of university students commuting to campus. Now she works as a Data Scientist for a telecommunications start-up ensuring that large telecommunications companies make the most of their resources.
Tara was originally going to study electrical engineering but switched to telecommunications engineering as she was interested in learning about the essential infrastructure and technology that keeps us connected. We asked her why she chose to pursue a degree in telecommunications, and what that entailed.
During high school, I excelled in subjects like science and mathematics and was fascinated by the way things around me can be explained through science. So, I knew from an early age that I wanted to pursue a career in the engineering or applied science fields.
Initially I picked electrical engineering because I loved learning about how electricity works. I found the subjects challenged yet really interested me. During my undergraduate study at UNSW, I took some telecommunications-related courses as my electives. These courses sparked my interest in learning how the Internet or mobile communications work under the hood, and that was how I decided to pursue telecommunications engineering for my undergraduate degree.
Telecommunications engineering is part of study areas offered within the School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications. Because electrical engineering is a vast field of study, the first two years of the degree also involves subjects that cover the fundamentals of the wider electrical engineering field such as electronics, power systems (how electric power is generated and distributed), computer systems, signal processing (analysing signal such as sound and image), and telecommunications itself.
Toward the second half of the degree, multiple courses within telecommunications engineering can be selected such as Internet Technologies (learning how the Internet works) and Mobile and Satellite Communications System. At UNSW, the degree also involves an industrial training requirement where students will get some real work experience in a professional engineering environment.
I got to work on a wide range of hands-on engineering projects during my degree, for example, designing a temperature control system using a PID controller, building a voice activation system to switch the light on and off, and designing a transmission system to transmit binary data over noise channels.
Some other projects that are more relevant to telecommunications engineering include building a network monitoring system (to monitor user’s Internet usage) using the concept of software-defined network (SDN). These group projects gave me real-world experience in multiple specialisations within the electrical engineering field.
In a nutshell, my PhD aimed to leverage the Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to build a “Smart Campus” in order to explore how the technologies can deliver tangible benefits to the community and improve operational efficiency of the campus. The project involves building an end-to-end smart sensor system, from real deployment of over 100 IoT devices, to implementing infrastructure for real-time data collection, and finally leveraging the collected data to improve operational efficiency of the campus. One example project I worked on during my PhD is a “smart classroom attendance monitoring system”, where sensors were deployed to collect classroom attendance data. Many semesters worth of data were used to build forecasting models that can predict future classroom attendance so that course-to-classroom allocation can be improved in such a way that maximise the utilisation and minimise the wastage of room spaces.
Since the Internet of Things system involves communications between the sensing devices as well as transmission of data to the server, knowledge I obtained from my undergraduate degree was useful in understanding how these communications between different systems work.
Right now, I’m working as a Data Scientist at a start-up company called Canopus Networks. The company provides artificial intelligence-based network traffic analytics solutions that give telecommunications service providers deep visibility into application usage and user experience of their networks. This enables Telcos to utilise their trillion-dollar infrastructure more efficiently, reduce customer support and churn costs, and create new revenue-generating offerings for cloud gaming and enterprise applications.
My role involves designing and implementing data infrastructure and a platform that provides analytics of the collected network traffic data, aiming to execute the use cases of relevance to customers.
There are several career paths telecommunications engineers can take. Some examples are Network Engineer, Security Engineer, and Network Architect.
Most of my friends from my telecommunications studies are now working as System Engineers in the telecommunications or technology industry. Some are working as Software Developers in the tech consulting sector.
I think one way to figure out if the degree is right for you is to look at subjects that you enjoy learning. If you like subjects like maths and physics, and are fascinated about how the Internet works or how data can be transmitted from one place to another, then telecommunications engineering might be for you 🙂
For more information about studying Telecommunications Engineering at UNSW Sydney visit the School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications.