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Taking digital apart | with Julian Swiestowski

Julian has been with the team for just over a year, a local lad, he discusses his wild childhood fantasy of being a gold miner, his stint in cadets, and his current obsession with monster drones.

Julian Swiestowski, Technology Transfer Engineer at WMG, interviewed by Charlie Ward, Marketing and Communications Executive.

You can contact Julian directly via Julian.Swiestowski@warwick.ac.uk

Julian has been with the team for just over a year, a local lad, he discusses his wild childhood fantasy of being a gold miner, his stint in cadets, and his current obsession with monster drones.

Read about Julian Swiestowski, Technology Transfer Engineer at WMG, interviewed by Charlie Ward, Marketing and Communications Executive.

Tell us a bit about yourself

My parents are from Dudley and, at age eight, I went to boarding school in Leicestershire. I’ve since lived in Stoke on Trent working for General Electric Company and drifted back to Coventry, Northampton and Daventry. I worked in Nuneaton on automotive security once upon a time, I’d basically be designing the hardware for automotive locksmiths and agencies. It was fun to see how fast we could bypass vehicle security - the “expensive” cars were the most fun, mass-produced cars were more of a challenge. Now, I live in Coventry with my partner of ten years.

What is your speciality?

I am an electronic engineer who applies analogue and digital electronics to real-world applications.

How did you get into that?

After realising I didn’t want to be working in a corporate science lab, I turned to electronic engineering. I got a taste for it at boarding school where I was part of the Army cadets, royal signals section. Because boarding school means you don’t have many friends at home, I’d signed up for every cadet course going during holidays, which included rock climbing, fork-lift driving, signals training, electronics, and so on. I learnt a lot. The Army breakfasts were legendary!

For me, boarding school was no Hogwarts, and it wasn’t a great experience. I didn’t get great A levels and ended up resitting at Dudley Technical College – maths, physics, chemistry and all that. Then I went to Coventry Polytechnic to do a four-year BSc sandwich course in Electrical and Electronic Engineering. I loved it because it was really hands-on and my placements threw me in at the deep end. I particularly enjoyed being part of a team designing custom graphics chips at IBM Research Labs. I had access to a great kit and a huge mainframe computer.

Did you always want to be an electrical engineer, then?

My Dad was a GP, and I think that’s what my Mum wanted me to do, but I was a bit of a rebel and far too interested in how things work.

It’s weird, when I was young, I was obsessed with Wilber Smith’s books and the South African gold mining scene – obviously given the ethics of it all I quickly changed my mind. I did work in San Jose Silicon Valley for a few stints and went panning for gold in a dried-up river bed in North California. I guess, I thought I’d find my fortune there! Unfortunately, it turned rather sour when I got a very bad poison oak rash from the upstream bristles… gave another meaning to gold fever! I still watch Gold Rush on Discovery and I do find it exciting to watch the scaling up of machinery and their efforts to break even – anyway, I digress!

What has been your favourite job role – apart from this one?

I think my most challenging role was working with scientific lasers. I got to work with Rutherford Labs, National Physics Laboratory, and CERN. It wasn’t all about science too, we sold lasers to the diamond community to help them cut diamonds. It was not very financially rewarding, but it didn’t matter to me.

What hobbies do you have that tie to your role?

I have a rather good double garage – dry line insulated, satellite TV, Fridge – it’s a proper cave for me. I love tinkering with new electronics. When a new processor or technology comes out I normally beg, borrow, or steal a development board so I can take it apart and see how it works. It’s a good way to keep “current” with new electronics.

I’m also interested in drones. I built my own monster hexacopter drone from a kit. It has full autonomy and intelligence, with GPS and telemetry. Being geographically aware you can plan missions and let it fly itself. A long time ago, I was into black and white photography and wet processing of film and prints. These days, my drones have one-inch Hasselblad sensors with 4K cameras. I’m working with a friend in the Daventry countryside to take aerial shots searching for evidence of Roman activity. The drones can spot subtle visual artefacts in crop colour and reduced growth. My mate then goes in with his metal detector to find the odd trinket or coin.

At work, when are you happiest?

I like being introduced to a new client where I can get my teeth into their challenges. It’s great to deliver a solution that has a clear impact and give local SMEs access to new technology and techniques. It can enable their workforce to be retrained produce and protect a robust supply chain. It’s so important that we keep making stuff here [in the UK].

What do you like about working at WMG?

I am astonished by the diversity of skills and depth of knowledge in the team, it really enhances your own role.

Here is Julian in his ‘happy place’:

flying a drone on the beach in Anglesey.