Vicky Larmour, head of embedded software in the Wireless and Digital Services Division, has worked at Cambridge Consultants for 23 years and heads up an 80-strong department.
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Vicky says: I was headhunted to join Cambridge Consultants back in 1998. To be honest, at the time I had a touch of imposter syndrome and I would not have considered applying otherwise. However, the support I have received from the company as I worked my way up through the ranks has given me confidence. Today, an important part of my role is now to encourage and nurture new talent in our team of 80 software engineers.
I fitted in quickly once I joined Cambridge Consultants and really appreciated the friendly and collaborative ethos of the company. I now divide my time 50:50 between management of the department and technical work on projects.
In my 23 years here I have never felt the need to look anywhere else for career fulfilment. Our department handles truly fascinating projects. As core technology partner for Iridium, we work on a lot of satellite technology – many of my favourite creations are now 450 miles above our heads, travelling at 17,000 mph. I have also worked on a wide variety of projects from a cardiac monitor for Philips Healthcare to a de-icing system for jet engines, a ground-breaking new dialysis machine and the first ever commercial Bluetooth headset.
I first considered studying computer science after participating in a STEM outreach programme during my sixth form education, so paying it forward for other young people has always been important to me. Since 2017 I have headed up our thriving STEM outreach programme which offers opportunities to pupils aged 8-18. The company covers the time for people to volunteer and more than 100 of my colleagues now contribute every year, from online Q&As to school visits and activity days in our Cambridge HQ. It’s such a pleasure to give something back and, as a parent myself, I often trial our ideas on my own children. A recent project with 11-year-olds set them the task of devising ways in which a boiled egg could be cooked and eaten with one arm. It was a lot of fun. Yes, you can buy a one-handed pair of egg scissors but the children were far more excited about devising robot egg lasers.
During my time at Cambridge Consultants I have had two children, now aged 9 and 18. I have felt supported as a parent and in my career. In fact, I had been working towards a major promotion for a while when I let my line manager know that I would soon be taking a year of maternity leave. He worked with me to get the promotion case finalised before I went on leave so that I could come back straight into the new role when I returned. I have also been offered a lot of flexibility and understanding as a parent. For example, when the children were younger I asked not to do international travel to see clients and that was never an issue.
As a manager myself of 80 staff, my mantra is always: family and health come first. We support all the staff here to have a good work-life balance. That’s another reason why I have never been tempted to jump ship.
In terms of recruitment, we very much welcome applicants from related industries. Many of our new joiners at senior level have been in a specific industry – say, telecoms or automotive – and want the opportunity to work across a wider range of projects and fields.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a frightening prospect when we were all sent home in March 2020, unable to see the future clearly. However, I am so proud of how the staff and the company handled the crisis. We offered a lot of one-to-one emotional and practical support to staff to ensure they could work from home to the extent they were able, taking into account their different circumstances – some had small children to take care of, others were in shared houses with no suitable working space, or lived completely alone and risked feeling very isolated. In our department, on a practical level we also needed to work collaboratively on embedded kit. Instead of trying to find ways to send the kit home to people, we set it up on desks in the office with full network connectivity so that all staff could “drive” it from home. It was a big undertaking in terms of infrastructure but it really paid off, and worked so well.
We’ve just surveyed the staff on how the COVID measures we put in place have worked for them and the response was excellent, our company feedback had an overwhelmingly positive response. For the future, we are now going to continue with the option for staff to work from home if they prefer it. For my part, though, I have missed the casual chats by the coffee machine, not to mention having my lunch made for me by our amazing canteen staff! So I will be back in the office before long, I am sure.
Tarika George is a Project Manager at Cambridge Consultants. After two years with the company, she looks back at her time in our Industrial, Consumer and Energy Division.
Tarika says: Prior to joining Cambridge Consultants, I worked for seven years in the automotive industry, most recently for a luxury English automotive manufacturer. I came to the UK initially to study for a master’s in mechanical engineering at Coventry University after taking my first degree at Manipal University in my home country of India. So why leave the automotive industry, particularly as I had achieved my dream job?
In truth, I wanted the opportunity to work across different sectors – and I find it really exciting now that I get to work across such a diverse range of industries. Our projects are wide-ranging and absolutely fascinating. I have already worked on everything from agritech to logistics in my two years here, as well as a wide variety of automotive projects which build on my skillset and knowledge of that industry.
One aspect of the culture here which I really appreciate is the opportunity to work on internal projects which are not client driven but which we believe are worth undertaking for their own sake. These are run like start-ups – you pitch your idea to senior leaders and win the time and funding to work on them. I have recently worked on one such project focusing on 3D simulation for vehicle scenarios using sensors and algorithms. I’m delighted that not only has it been a creative and practical success, we are now working on client projects where we have sold this onto.
In my everyday work here at Cambridge Consultants I usually work on projects involving anywhere from 10 to 15 people, often drawn from right across our various departments and our offices in the US and Asia. I was one of only four women on my 160-strong degree course in Manipal but at Cambridge Consultants there is a wealth of female company among the staff, which is a really refreshing change after years working in very male-dominated settings.
One of the unexpectedly positive things about working from home during COVID is that the effort made by all staffers to reach out to colleagues online has really helped us through. Indeed, I plan to continue to work from home from now on – it suits me as an early riser to start at 7.30am and to take short walks with my dogs during breaks. Everyone has made such an effort to be inclusive and welcoming to all colleagues working online that I feel it is now a really level playing field between remote and office work. This is really good news for attracting talent to the company internationally and suits working with our international offices and clients.
Kate Farrell-Thomas is a Group Leader in Design Engineering in Cambridge Consultants’ Medical Technology Division.
Kate says: I studied product design engineering at the University of Glasgow in a course that was jointly run with the Glasgow School of Art. It was a chance for me to combine my love of art and creativity with my interest in maths and physics. My dad was a doctor and mum was a nurse so I had a strong interest in healthcare, reflected in my final year project, which was a chest drain for use on collapsed lungs. The design won first prize in my final degree show and confirmed for me that medical product development was where I wanted to develop my career.
I approached Cambridge Consultants for a job on spec, through a recruitment agent. I knew the company by reputation, and it really appealed to me. That was in May 2008, so I have now been here 13 years. It may sound cheesy but I’ve always said I would stay with a company as long as I continue to have the chance to take on enjoyable challenges and opportunities, and my roles at Cambridge Consultants have more than achieved that.
Something that was especially gratifying about starting here as a graduate was that we went straight into working on real projects, not made-up traineeship exercises. I’ve been given the support and coaching I needed from buddies and senior mentors. I have had lots of mentoring from amazing tech experts within the company. Here, you can talk to really senior people very easily, people are very approachable and only too happy to offer you the experience to watch, learn and be supported in development.
One of my early projects was a novel take on an injector-based system which was difficult and ground-breaking but brought huge benefits to the patient. It was my first experience of working in a big team and I found it really rewarding.
Over the years I have travelled a lot with my projects and worked with many blue-chip companies worldwide. More recently, I took a role on our COVID ventilator project in the spring of 2020 in which we manufactured an NHS ventilator from scratch in six weeks in response to the crisis. I’m immensely proud of what we achieved, not only in terms of the production itself but the robust risk analysis that went alongside it.
Many of our clients are major global players in the medtech world. We are pushing boundaries, making life so much better for the patients who use our products. I definitely promote an ethos of work smarter, not longer – my evenings are my own and there is a good work-life balance. Personally, I enjoy the sociable nature of office life but I haven’t missed the commute while working from home. It’s an incredibly friendly community to be part of. Many of my colleagues are now lifelong friends – one was even bridesmaid at my wedding. I’d recommend Cambridge Consultants to anyone who wants a challenging and rewarding career in an incredibly supportive environment.
Authors: Vicky Larmour, Tarika George, Kate Farrell-Thomas