Clara Juanes-Vallejo is a systems engineer who works in e-Security at Thales. Here she reveals what systems engineering is all about – and the importance of looking at the bigger picture.
What is a systems engineer?
A systems engineer is someone who looks at the whole picture, from conception to delivery. We focus on understanding an entire system, rather than one specific area within that system. It’s our job to ensure that all the different parts of a project work together, not just in isolation.
What kind of work do you do within e-Security?
We deliver data security to tech companies, banks and governments. It involves lots of cryptography. For instance, if a software company wants to send a software update to their customers, we’ll make sure the update is secure. Both for the customers, so that their devices are protected, and for our client, so that no one can copy their software.
What’s one of the most memorable projects you’ve worked on?
My favourite project was the one I worked on most recently. The project was in response to the needs of customers with geographically dispersed data centers and those embracing cloud adoption. The aim was to enable the remote administration of our hardware security modules (HSMs). Previously when a customer needed to change the configuration or make any updates to the HSM, several people would visit a server room in a remote location at the same time. Then, using high security cards, they would manually activate the changes. This project allows our customers to do all of this remotely, which saves the company lots of money and time.
What’s it like being a systems engineer at Thales?
I think the main thing is agility. I work in an agile environment. So rather than developing an entire system up front and then sharing it with a client, we’re in constant contact with clients throughout the development process. It means we get to engage with clients more often, and respond more quickly to client needs or changes in the market. In my experience, it also leads to more innovative results, which makes every project more rewarding.
Did you always enjoy working in an agile way?
It took a little bit of getting used to. As a systems engineer, I always had lots of control. I’d get the requirements for a project and then go away with my team and develop it. Then, once we were finished, we’d deliver it to the client. It sounds great in theory but sometimes that whole process would take a year and during that time the client’s requirements had changed. Whereas now I’m talking to my clients every two weeks, so I can react immediately to any changes they want. It’s just a much smarter way of working.
What’s it take to succeed in an agile environment?
Soft skills are always useful in any work environment, but they’re essential in an agile one. You especially need to work well in a team as it’s all about interaction and trusting your colleagues and knowing that you can go to each other for help.