How does that work?
With a desire to know how things worked on one hand and the desire to help people in the other, Matt Williams has scored his ideal job.
First of all, what made you choose Biomedical Engineering at UNSW?
I chose Electrical Engineering because I wanted to know how stuff worked. I saw a TV or a mobile phone and immediately wanted to break it apart to see all those little green circuit boards and know, to the smallest detail, what was happening in there. I moved into Biomedical Engineering because I also really like the idea of being able to work with people and do something that contributes to society.
What have you done since you graduated at the end of 2012?
I started out on a grad program working on the Snowy Mountains Scheme for the first couple of years. I really liked my job but I found the remoteness really hard so started looking for opportunities back in Sydney.
I applied for a job at Saluda Medical that I was completely unqualified for, which I didn’t get, but I did say to them, “Look, I’m really interested in your company and what you do is great. Can you keep my resume on file, and if you ever need someone in a more graduate role then hit me up?” Then I forgot about it. A few months later I got an email from a guy at Saluda (who also did Biomedical Engineering at UNSW) asking if I was still interested in a job! I went for it and got it.
What kind of things are you working on at Saluda?
We’ve got one product. It’s called Evoke and it’s a neurostimulator for chronic pain. Electrodes get implanted into your spinal cord which stimulates it to mask pain, primarily in the region of the lower back and legs. What’s special about Evoke is that it’s the world’s first closed loop neurostimulator. This means it measures the response of nerves to stimulation in real time and constantly adjusts the stimulus based on that measurement. This results in a much more consistent therapy for the patient. One of the problems with existing devices is that when a patient moves around the stimulation can be unreliable.
Is Saluda a relatively new company?
It’s a spin-off from NICTA and has been around for about three years. We’re just in the process of taking Evoke to market.
What’s been the most satisfying project that you’ve worked on?
I have actually worked with patients, and just seeing how much the technology has helped them is pretty heartening.
Matt Williams, UNSW Biomedical Engineering alumni
I think the spinal cord stimulator I’m working on now is probably the most satisfying. I’m a research engineer, and my two main areas are signal processing, so implementing new, novel algorithms that’ll improve the therapy for patients, and data analysis. We capture all this data from the patients, and I develop tools that look at that data and work out if they’re getting the best therapy, as well as think about how we can improve it.
As a research engineer I have actually worked with patients, and just seeing how much the technology has helped them is pretty heartening. They’re so pleased that they don’t have to live with this debilitating illness anymore. The first guy who got the implant actually came into the office and met everybody who’s been working on it, so we got to see the fruits of our labour first-hand!
What’s your fondest memory of studying at UNSW?
I really liked UNSW. I really liked being part of the engineering world there, especially Biomedical Engineering because it was so personal and everyone knew each other. I also really liked the attitude of people. It wasn’t really a competitive environment; it was as if everyone knew it was a hard degree and wanted to help each other out to excel.
What’s the most important skill for an engineer to cultivate?
Dumbing things down to a level that other people can understand. It’s pretty easy for an engineer, who’s got all this technical background, to spit out words that no one else can use and no one else understands. Even when you’re communicating things to other engineers, I think it’s important to be able to speak at a basic level.
What would you like to be doing in the next 5-10 years?
I want to travel and work overseas in the next five years or so. I’d like to work more directly with patients in the future and I’d also like to work towards some kind of leadership role as well.