Product Reliability Engineer | Athulya Nambiar

What's Nano?
5 min readNov 15, 2023

Athulya Nambiar worked at Exo, a medical imaging startup in Santa Clara, California, USA, that is using PMUT technology to improve ultrasound imaging. Keep reading to learn more about her journey in nanotechnology so far!

How did you get to where you are today?

When considering what I wanted to study for my undergrad, I was all over the place. I was interested in medicine, astronomy, chemical or mechanical engineering and even linguistics. My interests didn’t seem to fit into any category because honestly, I still didn’t know what to do. When I found the Nanotechnology Engineering program at Waterloo, it felt like a great combination of everything that I wanted to learn about but to the next level. Nanotechnology isn’t just about what technology is now, but what it could be.

Exo is a startup company that seems to be doing just that. They saw current ultrasound technology and its inefficiency and decided to make it better using nanotechnology. I had volunteered in the electro diagnostics department of my local hospital in the past, so I had a little bit of background in this field and I understood the need for their product. I also did an enterprise co-op term which allowed me to understand the startup environment by working on my own startup, Olnaire. I also worked part-time in a professor’s lab throughout my undergrad which helped me develop valuable wet lab skills. These experiences along with my other co-op terms is what allowed me to get this position at Exo.

What are the main responsibilities of your job? What project(s) have you taken on?

My job is focused on product reliability. I develop and conduct reliability tests, collect data and perform failure analysis on the device. One of my major projects is programming a robot arm to conduct reliability tests and also coming up with tests for it to run. I am working on a six axis robot arm and using its motions to simulate different scenarios through which we can test our ultrasound device. The work we do determines what makes the product a success and it’s interesting to decide what the pass/fail criteria is. A project I enjoyed was the drop study, where I just got to drop the device and understand what patterns and failures are expected. I also assist with different reliability tests every week and learn about the basics of reliability engineering. I also get to work in a cross functional environment as I frequently collaborate with the mechanical, test, and transducer engineering teams. I also work on-site every day and it’s a very fast-paced environment, so my responsibilities are always changing, which I enjoy!

What’s your favourite part about your job?

Reliability gives me a chance to see the bigger picture about everything that goes into building a product. Programming the robot arm is a lot of fun too. It’s giving me a chance to self-study a whole new field of technology while still being tied to the rest of the work at Exo. My job requires me to understand the basics of all the engineering teams at the company so I can perform failure analysis correctly for different components of the device. I also love the work environment, everyone here is friendly and willing to teach me about their work so it’s been a great learning experience as well.

What skills do you need for this job? What skills did you learn in your job?

I needed to know some basic programming so I could learn the programming language of the robot arm. I also had some knowledge of Python which is used for running some of the other tests around here but my job is more focused on hardware reliability than software. I also needed to have an understanding of microfabrication, polymers, circuits and physics.

Being on the job has taught me quite a bit about robot arms and how to program them. I am also learning about microfabrication processes, transducer technology, acoustics, integrated circuits and materials. I am also learning about current medical imaging standards, regulations for medical technology and the future of ultrasound technology.

What NE courses had an impact on your career goals? What NE courses, if any, are helpful in your job?

To understand some of the technology like Exo, I had to refer to my notes from NE343: Microfabrication and Thin Film as well as NE 344: Electronic Circuits. The team here also gave me a chance to learn about different polymers, plastics and materials properties similar to courses like NE 333, NE 125 and NE 100. I am also using some of my knowledge from the physics based courses we have taken so far including NE 131, NE 241 and NE 242. I am also using my skills from our programming courses NE 111, NE 113 and NE 336. To be honest the NE program as an overall prepared me for this role because I need to use a variety of toolsets from courses throughout our undergrad.

What are you planning on pursuing after graduation?

I’m really enjoying working here in the Bay Area so I mostly intend to go directly to industry after I finish school. I want to spend around two years working and then decide if I want to continue my studies and what field would be the best to pursue. Currently my interests are split between materials or hardware engineering. I am also considering if I want to do a masters in business so I can take on more management roles. Truthfully, I haven’t yet decided what I want to do after I graduate but I hope I will have some more clarity at the end of this co-op term.

Any tips for getting a similar position to yours or entering a similar field to yours?

Demonstrate your interest! My past experiences volunteering in hospitals is really what gave me an edge for this position. Even though it was not an engineering experience, it still gave me an understanding of how the medical field currently is. I also participated in pitch competitions which helped me develop my presentation and communication skills, both of which are very important for industry roles. When you’re at the start of your career, employers care more about your willingness to learn, interest and adaptability in your work. They know we don’t have every single skill on their checklist but we just have to show them we’re capable of learning.

Ending Remarks

My experience in the Nanotechnology Engineering program allowed me to explore a variety of different industries. My current position allows me to do the same and is a combination of many of the skills I developed both through my courses and my co-op terms. Exo is a company that is challenging the status quo for medical imaging and healthcare using nanotechnology. They are creating something truly groundbreaking here and I’m happy I get to be a part of this team.

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What's Nano?

The future of medicine💊 energy🔋 electronics⚡ robotics🤖 materials 🔗