But, we're not robots made up of circuits so we need a way of converting digital signals - the way your MP3s are stored - into sounds that we can hear.
This is one of the projects that Mairead works on as a Design Engineer at Dialog Semi-conductor.
Dialog also take part in a scholarship programme run by the UK Electronics Skills Foundation, so read on to also find out about the benefits of summer placements in finding the right job for you in engineering...
Name: Mairead Kelly
Job title: Design Engineer
Company: Dialog Semi-conductor, Edinburgh
What first got you interested in engineering?
I have always wanted a career which is challenging, allows me to be creative and is useful to society.
What did you study at A-level and why?
Maths, physics and computing. I chose subjects that I enjoyed as I find it much easier to motivate myself to study when I’m really interested in the subject. They have all been very useful, especially during the first few years at university.
What did you study at university and what did you enjoy about it?
I studied an MEng in Electronics and Electrical Engineering at the University of Edinburgh. My favourite part of the course was the practical work as you got to put your knowledge from lectures into practice. Practical work is very important in engineering as it shows you understand the material you’ve been taught and you’ll be able to apply this knowledge in a range of situations.
Tell us about your work at Dialog Semiconductor?
I work on audio chips for mobile phones and MP3 players. After a couple of years of designing a variety of blocks, my work is now focused on the design of analogue to digital data converters. (Most modern music is stored on your MP3 player or phone as digital information so it can be easily accessed, stored and shared. But, it needs to be converted into an analogue signal before you can play out and hear your music through your earphones on the bus – Ed) This is a very large field to work in, and every day I continue to learn new things!
I applied to Dialog Semiconductor 6 months before I graduated as they had recently opened up an office in Edinburgh. I liked the thought of starting my career in a small office where everyone knew each other. I knew this office was formed around a few very talented engineers who I was keen to work alongside and learn from.
In my opinion the first few years out of university are crucial as your aim is simply to learn as much as possible and Dialog Semiconductor seemed to be the perfect environment for me to do this. I joined as a Junior Design Engineer in July 2008 and was promoted to Design Engineer in August 2009.
What is your favourite part of your job?
I like it when we get a chip back and the designs I’ve been working on perform correctly. The time-frame from designing to manufacturing and testing a product can often be several months and it’s a nice relief to find out that your work is a success.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
The hardest part of my job is working to deadlines. It is very important to get a chip out on time, but it is no use having a chip that doesn’t work properly so we have to manage tight deadlines whilst still ensuring that there are no mistakes in the design.
Can you tell me about Dialog’s involvement with the UK Electronic Skills Foundation (UKESF) scholarships?
Dialog was one of five founding sponsors of the UKESF and sponsors a number of students through it every year. These students get financial support from Dialog whilst at university, an industrial mentor and guaranteed work placements with the company during summer holidays.
Working in a company is a great way to gain experience and it enables the students to see what life is like as an engineer, first-hand. There are opportunities for placements at all our locations globally. Last year one student was placed in our Tokyo office in Japan. This year placements will include Edinburgh and Austria.
What can people expect from this scheme and why is it a good idea to take part?
It is a great idea to apply for this scheme, because if successful you will get first-hand knowledge from engineers in the industry. It’s a great point to have on your CV and there is also a summer workshop organised by the partner companies and universities so you can meet with the other people on the scheme, listen to guest speakers and work in teams on a mini project sponsored by an industrial partner.
How did you benefit from an industrial placement during your degree?
My industrial placement gave me a head-start for my final two years at university as I was exposed to topics that we hadn’t yet studied. It also confirmed to me that I wanted a job in chip design after university and the knowledge I’d learnt was very helpful during my interview at Dialog. An industrial placement gives you the opportunity to develop your knowledge in a real working environment without the pressures of deadlines and customer driven tasks.
If you could go back in time and invent anything, what would it be?
The X-ray machine! I think it would be great to be involved in the invention of something which then becomes so useful to society.
What do you like to do outside of studies and work?
I absolutely love sport and I’ll try my hand at most sports, but my passion is triathlon. I find it is a good way to clear my mind after work which is often quite mentally challenging.
MP3 player image: Ataraxis : Flickr | Creative Commons