Sundar Ali - BEng (Hons), MIET CEng
Stockwood High School Student
I left School with barely enough GCSEs to take me into College or further education. These were English, Maths, Science, Technology and few others with a mixed bag of grades. The career prospect for me did not look good, particularly in trying to fulfill my late fathers wish for me to become an Engineer. My careers advisor at school wrote me off before I entered her office and the direction she was giving me was already in her mind beyond my capabilities. So I left school confused and not sure what career path I should take. The one good advice given by the Careers advisor was to point me in the direction of Luton Chambers of Commerce where they were looking for school leavers to join the newly formed Youth Training Scheme (YTS) setup by the government.
Renault Trucks Trainee
The YTS manager was a really good guy who provided excellent careers advice and got me a place in Renault Trucks in Dunstable where I joined as a Trainee. There I learnt about different engineering disciplines in manufacturing and worked in various departments from fitting pipes, wiring electrical dashboards, quality audit of truck cabins and supporting a range of test activities. This was really interesting, I got my first experience in engineering and also attended part time college course completing a BTEC Foundation in engineering. It was in Dunstable College I met the Apprentices from Vauxhall Motors who also attended the same course as me. I found out from them about Apprenticeship training in Vauxhall and really wanted to join.
Vauxhall Motors Apprentice
I got my big break when I managed to get a place in Vauxhall as an Electrical Apprentice. This was not an easy task as there were over 300 applicants and only 10 positions available in that year. I had to undergo various English, Maths and psychometric test and interviews. There were many rounds in the interview stage and I found out each time that I made it to the next and eventually in my final interview I was told that I got the job. Vauxhall had a really good structured engineering apprenticeship split across 4 years with part time college course providing industry recognised qualifications. It was a lecturer in Dunstable College who first said to me and few other students that we should consider an undergraduate degree course. At the time I thought this was not possible but the seeds were sown in my mind.
The first year of apprenticeship was completed in Luton and Dunstable Training centre which had many other apprentices from different companies. This was a really exciting place buzzing with apprentices learning multi-discipline trades such as electrical, electronic, welding and manufacturing. The 2nd and 3rd years were split into 3 months term in each department inside Vauxhall from body shop where the first bits of the car was put together by robots, paint shop, trim shop and final finish where the car was driven off the track for testing. I was shadowing qualified Electrical Technicians on the job and learning the trade from them while still attending college part time. In the final year you spent most of your time in the department where you have been offered a position. I qualified as an electrical technician in the body shop where they have just spent 120 million pounds on new robots and automation system to increase the production of cars to 60 per hour. I also gained a Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Electrical and Electronics with distinction in many modules from University of Bedfordshire (formerly known as Luton University).
University of Hertfordshire Graduate
As a qualified technician in Vauxhall I still wanted to carry on studying and my mind was set on starting an undergraduate degree course in Electrical and Electronics. I managed to get a place in Brunel University as an undergraduate, but I wanted Vauxhall to sponsor me on a full time course. Initially the training department was keen but then changed their mind and suggested I take a part time course. I agreed and started an Electronics degree with Telecommunications as the major part of the course in University of Hertfordshire. This is usually 4 years duration full-time but as I have already completed HNC, I managed to skip the first year which is mainly introduction to electronics. The Hatfield campus was a great place to be and though my work and study had to be balanced this was a very exciting period in my life. I learnt so much about engineering and finally understood mathematics and how crucial this is to engineering and in particular telecommunications.
My final year project was an anti-collision device that warned drivers about sudden braking of vehicles in front. I designed the circuits from first principles, bought components from Maplin and built the antenna myself from sheet metal. I wrote the machine codes and computer programs using C++ and used techniques such as Fast Fourier transform and converted analog signals to digital while creating display messages on my PC to simulate driver console. The nervous part was the 15 minutes project presentation in front of other students and lecturers who questioned you afterwards. However despite all this I managed to get a 2nd Class First (2:1) Honours degree and just narrowly missed First Class. I was over the moon and excited about my career prospects. I became a member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers (IET) to ensure prospective employers recognise my degree qualification.
Following my graduation from University of Hertfordshire I asked my Manager whether I could apply for any engineering jobs within Vauxhall. There was only one open position and I applied but was not successful. I was then offered supervisory roles but that was not interesting to me so I started looking for new opportunities. I applied to hundreds of companies and some wrote back and others never acknowledged. Eventually I was asked for an interview by One2One to go to their Sunbury office. I arrived along with 30 other graduates all keen to get the job. I was going to be successful and put all my effort in completing the psychometric tests, group role plays and interviews. At the end of the interview I was asked by the HR person, how well the interview went, I wasnt sure and replied accordingly. The two interviewers laughed and said youve got the job, welcome to One2One.
One2one was a really exciting place, buzzing with other engineers and managers and their office was located in Borehamwood & Elstree next to Elstree Studios where they make East Enders and other popular programs. I started as a graduate engineer and had the responsibility of Radio Planning in Kent, East and West Sussex. You had to learn fast on the job while fulfilling your responsibilities. Regular training was provided on site and off site through external companies as well as in-house training. It wasnt long before I was promoted to Engineer and then Senior Engineer.
T-Mobile Senior Engineer
The new 3G license auction was being planned by the Government and one2one was just bought by Deutsche Telekom and re-branded T-Mobile. This was a time when the whole Telecomms market was booming and I was looking for new opportunities. It was after the 3G license auction that T-Mobile created a new central group for planning 3G network. I applied and was offered a position in the Central Radio Design and Planning team. It was very exciting designing and planning new 3G mobile services and the role involved international travel to other T-Mobile offices in Germany, Holland, Czech Republic and Austria. I was really pushing myself and applied for the Principle Engineers post and was successful. I also applied for Chartered Engineer status with the IET and this involved a detailed application and interview at Savoy place London and was awarded CEng status.
MBNL Senior Engineering Manager
After the Telecomms bust there was a lot of cost cutting in all major companies and during this period T-Mobile UK and 3UK created a joint venture company called Mobile Broadband Network Limited (MBNL). This company is responsible for managing the 2G and 3G Radio Access Network (RAN). I applied for a post in MBNL for a Radio Design and Planning Manager post and was successful. In this role I am responsible for managing different engineering design projects and ensuring the performance of MBNL networks is enhanced and constantly improved.
MBNL manages Everything Everywhere (T-Mobile and Orange brands) and 3UK networks by sharing same technology and structures. They work with many key partners such as Ericsson, NSN, BT, Arqiva and Huawei to deliver best network for their shareholders. My role requires me to engage with our key partners to ensure the Radio Design and Planning activities are delivered at the lowest cost with the highest quality.
In 2015 I was promoted to Senior Engineering Manager. This came as a recognition of hard work and dedication supporting MBNL and it's shareholders EE and Three.