Hang Tran - Systems Designer / Controls Software Designer

Name: Hang Tran

Age: 28

Born: Sai Gon, Viet Nam

Profession: Automation Engineering

The field of engineering covers a wide range of different careers. Hang Tran, a Systems and Controls Software Designer who specializes in robotics talks to us about her career path.

What is a Systems Designer?

A System Designer is an engineer who works with the customers to understand their product and develop machine design concepts on how to automate its production. However, I am also a computer engineer with a strong controls software background, so I perform Control Engineering tasks such as writing software to control machines and robots and make sure that everything works before delivering the machine to the customer.

What is the definition of a 'robot' in your field of work?

A robot is mechanical arm operating under computer control.

What is a typical day as a Systems Designer like?

The automation engineering industry is dynamic and is not the same from day-to-day. Our work comes in the form of projects, one after the other or sometimes more than one at time. Each project goes through phases. In the early phases my job consists of having a lot of meetings with the customer and writing documents outlining the requirements. This is important because customers tend to change their minds and if we don't keep the scope of the project under control then the project loses money. After that we work with a team of electrical, mechanical and controls engineers to develop a machine design concept and then we start designing it. The system designer does a lot of the mathematical calculations to make sure the machine will do what it needs to. The design gets reviewed and approved and then we send it to the manufacturing group in our company. Once the machine is sent to manufacturing we start software design and programming. Depending on the project the software can be written in VB, C++, or PLC. This is usually done at our desk in the office area. When the machine is manufactured we put the software on the machine and debug software on the machine to make sure it can do what we need it to do. This is done on the plant floor. Once the machine is functioning, the customer comes down to test it and then we travel to where ever the customer is from and make sure it still performs at their site. We travel all over the world. I've been to all parts of USA, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. Others in the company have been to Europe and Asia as well.

Did you always want to be a Systems Designer?

Not really. In high school I found that the courses that I was good in and enjoyed the most were physics, mathematics and computers. This led me to applying for the Systems and Computer Engineering program at the University of Guelph, despite not actually knowing exactly what an engineer was. Throughout university, I found that I really enjoyed my courses and knew I had chosen the right field.

What is the last movie you saw? Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Transformers — Awesome movie!

How did you become interested in robotic systems design?

I took some robotic courses in university and found that they were the courses that I enjoyed the most. I even did my Masters in Robotic Control and Automation at the University of Waterloo to become more specialized in robotics.

What courses in high school prepared you for this field?

Computer programming, physics and algebra.

Would you rather smell intensely of raspberries or be blue like a Smurf?


Where did you go to university?

University of Guelph (Undergrad) and University of Waterloo (Masters).

How did you decide where to go?

University of Guelph had the highest ratio of female students than any other engineering school in Canada. The campus is beautiful and the staff is very friendly and helpful. University of Waterloo has a great reputation and has a large variety of courses that can help you decide what you want to do. Employers also recognize UW as a strong engineering school.

Was there extra training required for this career after you finished university?

Although not necessary, my Masters definitely helped.

What is the coolest part of your job?

See the machine move properly for the first time in every project. It gives you a great sense of accomplishment.

What's the worst part of your job?

Too many meetings and documentation phase is dull.

You just won a million dollars. What's the first thing you'd do?

Buy a larger LCD HD T.V.

Ooooops! Everyone makes mistakes so what was the dumbest thing you've ever done at work?

I blew up a motor, it was smoking. I accidentally ran the motor with the wrong parameters and fried it with too much current. We got it replaced quickly so it was okay.

What's your favorite cartoon character?


What's your zodiac sign?


Any advice that you would give others seeking a similar career?

Develop programming skills, independent learning, organizational skills and thinking on your feet.


What are some great web links or references for someone interesting in reading up more about this career?

My supervisor's research:

Amir Khajepour

, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Waterloo


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