Battery Reliability Engineer | Pritika
Pritika interned as a battery reliability engineer at Apple. Keep reading to learn more about how she got there, what her job is like, and how you can break into battery tech too!
How did you get to where you are today?
When I was in grade 12, I had absolutely no clue what I wanted to do with my life and career. When I found out about the nanotechnology engineering (NE) program at the University of Waterloo, it seemed like a broad-enough degree to give me a bit more time to figure out what I enjoy and find interesting. Yet when it came to finding my first co-op position after my first year of university, it felt like I had no options. I only got a handful of interviews and zero job offers despite having applied to over 100 job postings. I ended up offering to volunteer as a research assistant for a professor just so I’d be able to get some sort of relevant experience. It was a bit discouraging when I realized on my first day that there were other first years working for the professor who were also doing the same position as me, yet they were all being paid and I was the only volunteer. But I decided that even if I wasn’t gonna be compensated for the work I was doing, I was still going to work just as hard, if not harder, than I would if I was getting paid, so that I could prove that I was capable. After a month of volunteering, the professor decided to promote me to a paid position because he was happy with how hard I worked and everything I had accomplished so far. This experience taught me that it’s important to work hard and put in effort for every opportunity that you’re presented with, even if it doesn’t seem as impressive as what other people are doing. Working hard will open up the door to future opportunities that you may not even expect.
After completing my first co-op, I realized that I really enjoyed the hands-on aspect of working in a lab, but doing pure research didn’t interest me that much. What motivates me is being able to see the real-world impact of the work I am doing, which generally isn’t the case with academia. For my second co-op, I was luckily able to find an R&D position at a thermoplastic pipe company, where I did materials formulation and testing. This experience allowed me to transition from research to industry. Although I wasn’t very interested in the thermoplastic pipe industry specifically, having some experience with developing a product that meets customer specifications was super useful for finding future positions in other industries.
With this materials-related experience, I was able to find my third (and favorite) co-op position at Tesla as a materials engineer on the battery pack design team. I spent 8 months at Tesla and worked on the development of materials that go in the battery pack. Due to my longer period there, I was able to work on the full lifecycle of the materials, from preliminary lab-scale development to implementation in mass manufacturing. It was really cool to be able to see the materials I was working on going into actual customer-sellable cars, and it was really rewarding to see the impact that my work had while I was there and even after I left. Although I’m not super passionate about materials engineering, I’ve learned that the other aspects of a job like the impact of your work, the team, and the company culture are what truly allow me to enjoy a role. These are the things I try to look for and focus on now when applying for jobs. Although my co-op experience at Waterloo started out pretty rough, I tried to make the most out of every opportunity and have been able to gain some really cool insight into what makes a job enjoyable.
What are the main responsibilities of your job? What project(s) have you taken on?
I’m currently interning as a battery reliability engineer at Apple. My team develops reliability testing procedures for possible future battery designs of our various product lines. Then we analyze the data to learn what the design weaknesses are and to determine what the best overall design is. My main project on this team is to run a test-to-field correlation study for iPhones. With this study, I’m trying to determine if the reliability testing we run in-house is representative of the failures we actually see in the field.
Since my position is remote, the initial portion of my internship consisted of developing a test plan for the correlation study and determining how to get all the testing done. This included designing a test procedure for the in-house reliability testing, as well as determining a failure analysis process for the field return units in order to root cause the failures. The second portion of my internship consisted of analyzing the data that I was receiving from the reliability testing and field return units. I applied reliability models to the data in order to establish whether there are significant differences in the failures between the two.
Any tips for getting a job at Tesla/Apple or in battery tech?
The most common question I’ve gotten about my career, especially from first year students coming into the NE program, is if I have any tips on how to get a job at Tesla or Apple. My answer is always the same: your career goal shouldn’t be to work at one of the big tech companies, but should instead be to find a job you’re truly passionate about.
I’m not going to pretend that I wasn’t the same when I first started university. I met upper years that talked about their co-ops at big tech companies and hoped I could accomplish the same one day (although I doubted I ever would). But I’ve now realized that there are so many more factors (your daily tasks, the team, company culture, etc.) which will have a much bigger impact on whether you enjoy your job and are a lot more important to consider. Although it might feel impressive to have a big tech name on your resume, there are so many interesting and really cool opportunities at startups and smaller companies that you’ll enjoy just as much, if not more. And smaller companies will also allow you to have a larger impact with the work you’re doing, while also providing you with more room to grow and move up within your company. So the most important thing is to try to understand what type of job and culture you find interesting and will enjoy, and try to find positions that will fit what you want. Co-op is a great time to try out different positions/industries to explore your options and figure out what you might enjoy. So even if you’re coming into the NE program with no clue what you like, you’ll have at least four different job experiences to help narrow things down by the time you graduate.
In terms of tips for getting a similar position to mine, battery technology can be a tough field to get into. It’s helpful to take technical electives which are related to battery tech, so that you have some background on the subject. Having some sort of relevant hands-on experience would also be super helpful, whether it’s working with a professor that does research related to batteries or your own personal projects. Additionally, being able to demonstrate a strong understanding of electrochemical systems (through courses or your own research) will go a long way in interviews. But there will always be a learning curve with any new position, so being able to demonstrate an ability to learn based on your previous experiences will help you seem more employable even if you don’t have relevant experience.