Hot Young Engineers!

Cambridge Computer Engineer Gets Freedom To Find Her Passion!

Written by Seb Murray | Hot Young Engineers! | Thursday 28th November 2013 15:29:00 GMT

After moving to the UK from China, Hanlin Xu studied a M.Eng at the University of Cambridge. It gave her the freedom to test-drive a range of fields and discover her passion in engineering.

© Konstiantyn -

© Konstiantyn -

When Hanlin Xu began studying a Masters of Engineering at the University of Cambridge, she didn't have a clear-cut idea of which field to enter. She had moved from China to the UK to study A-Levels in Hertfordshire, before taking up a place at the French language institute, Alliance Francaise, in Paris.

After getting into of the best engineering courses in the UK, Cambridge provided Hanlin the opportunity to test-drive different functions. Chinese universities don't provide the same level of "taster" courses, she said, and studying at the prestigious British institution gave her the freedom to find her passion.

"I was not absolutely sure about the area I was choosing and therefore I was not keen on studying engineering in China," she said.

Cambridge is renowned for its flexibility and during the four-year course Hanlin is studying; students can try their hand at a raft of different fields. She tried electrical engineering, mechanics and even thermodynamics for the first two years.

As her engineering specialities have been so diverse, so too have her projects and internships.

Before studying at Cambridge, Hanlin worked and studied in China, France and Kenya. In the latter, she was a volunteer at the Upendo Foundation, a charity which seeks to improve the health and opportunities for the very young and bring awareness to the AIDS pandemic in some regions of Africa. Hanlin spent a summer there teaching children maths and giving music lessons.

Many engineers seek international experience and by becoming a volunteer, you can develop a range of useful skills while working for great causes. Other universities in the UK, such as University College London, partner up with Engineers Without Borders – an organisation similar in its approach to providing engineers the opportunity to do social good.

Hanlin, too, wants to use engineering to impact people's lives. Her work in Kenya may have been independent from Cambridge, but there is no doubt that it was an important step in her career progression.

Although specializing in Information and Computer Engineering in her final two years year at Cambridge, Hanlin worked as a Structural Drawing Technician at the Ningbo Engineering Design Institute in China. She later took up a summer internship at British Airways and worked as a Software Developer, before this year working at RealVNC.

Internships are crucial for engineering students and Hanlin takes lessons from her time with the airline. "I became more open-minded," she said. "I experienced a high level of teamwork, and valued teamwork more."

RealNVC provides remote access software for computers and Hanlin previously worked with the company as a software testing intern while wrapping up her Masters at Cambridge.

Her internship background has been diverse and so too her choices at university. "The best thing, or some people say the worst thing, about studying Engineering at Cambridge is that you get to choose an area that is the most appealing to you after two years' general engineering course," she said.

"In the first two years, I studied electrical engineering, structural engineering, mechanics, thermodynamics and all sorts.

"People often say that it is hard to know whether you like something until you try it, so Cambridge gives you the opportunity to try them and then make a sensible decision in your third year and I really appreciated that."

It has given her the space to develop a speciality in information-related engineering: "I am now specialising in Information and Computer Engineering and the different tricks you can do between an input and an output interests me," she added.

Hanlin wants to use engineering to impact people’s lives and her volunteer work was a stepping stone towards a career doing just that: "I always knew that I wanted to make real impact on people's lives."

Through Information and Computer Engineering, she can apply sciences to achieve her goals.

"Engineers apply sciences and build things and that fascinates me," she added.

It is a shocking statistic that less than 6 per cent of engineers in the UK are female. But after studying at one of the highest-ranking engineering courses in the country, Hanlin is well on her way to helping to giving that figure a boost.

Cambridge gave her the freedom to discover her passion and after two years of testing, a career in Information and Computer Engineering beckons.

To find out what an engineering course can do for you, visit the University of Cambridge page here. To read more stories and interviews with real engineers in the UK, visit our Demystified and Hot Young Engineers sections.


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