Systems engineer, Ivana Popvac works for Cochlear Limited, a company that produces Cochlear implants to help people with nerve deafness to hear.
Ivana studied Maths Chemistry and Physics at high school where she also enjoyed English and Computer Studies.
When she was at school, her mother wanted her to be a doctor or a lawyer but she did not like the idea of too much blood or arguing. Her father was an electrical engineer so she went to university open days to find out more about engineering.
I went to the UNSW open day and saw a stand for biomedical engineering – artificial heart valves, robotic arms, and artificial ears. Being able to apply multidisciplinary fields of engineering to the human body really excited me!
My father was an electrical engineer so I went to university open days to find out more about engineering. I’m a classically trained guitarist and a singer as well and music is my passion. I saw Cochlear as a place where I could work every day towards something meaningful - giving people the opportunity to hear the world as I do.
University and first job
She then went on to complete a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering and biomedical Engineering at university.
Ivana’s first job was as an intern engineer at Cochlear, doing a 3-month engineering project with the Cochlear Digital Signal Processing team. She designed and implemented a software plugin used for testing our recipient’s sound processors. The plugin cut the time needed to calibrate sound booth speakers from taking a day to taking half an hour.
After interning at Cochlear for three months, Ivana joined Cochlear officially as a Graduate Engineer where she was able to try working in different areas of engineering under the guidance of world-class engineers, in a company that aligned with her values.
Ivana’s advice to students
Ivana says that it’s a difficult task to pick your uni course, and your eventual career, without knowing what you’ll do day to day and if it suits you or not. She suggests:
- email companies you are interested in and ask to shadow one of their employees for a day or two – that will give you a taste for it.
- don’t be afraid to ask – the worst thing that could happen is they say no and you try again somewhere else!
I think my passion for the cause is my most valuable attribute; it gives me a clear vision of what needs to be done and motivates me to succeed because I know the end result is helping more people hear.
Other important works skills and personal attributes she values include:
- self confidence
- conflict resolution skills
- good communication skills
- ability to negotiate.
In the future, there will be jobs that we haven’t even uncovered yet. We are moving to a more automated world, using Artificial Intelligence and robotics, so that is one field that will likely take off. The other is the health field, of which Cochlear is a part. With an ageing population, people will be alive longer and will need revolutionary ways to stay healthy. I think young people should be thinking about how they can take the way we do things today and turn them upside down on their heads – disruption is and will continue being the way we move things along quickly.
Get yourself some practical experience before graduating to give you a better idea of where you want to go.
Ivana’s current job
Ivana tried out different types of engineering, then settled on Systems Engineering and after a number of promotions is now the Principal Systems Engineer at Cochlear. Recently Ivana was working on a new product, the Nucleus 7 Sound Processor that includes Cochlear True Wireless TM which will give wearers access to mobile technology allowing them to make phone calls, listen to music using high-quality stereo sound, watch videos and have FaceTime™ calls streamed directly to their cochlear implant using a phone app.
Ivana now manages a team of engineers who design new Cochlear products from beginning to end. Being a systems engineer means understanding the customer and their needs, translating what they want into a product design that our manufacturing team can then create.
My role involves running from meeting to meeting, talking to other engineers and people in marketing, regulatory, clinical, as well as interfacing with external companies. It involves problem-solving skills, designing new products, and communications skills as I often present learnings to other people. My role also involves working with a team of engineers to develop their skills so that they can achieve great things!
Ivana chose to work for Cochlear because of its mission to restore the sense of hearing to people. She also wanted to give back to the community who have supported her and her family who migrated to Australia in the 1990s to escape the war in Croatia.
STEM at work
Science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) are all very important to my job. I rely on knowing about current and future technologies and how to apply them to new products.