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Saab Australia

  • 1,000 - 50,000 employees

Rob Oates

The best way to figure out what a job is actually like is by speaking to people in the field and trying it out yourself.

What's your job about?

Saab Australia is a defence and security technology company, within which I work on technology for Australian and Swedish submarines. I’m currently working on building my team’s ability to easily create augmented reality experiences from 3D computer-aided design (CAD) models. This involves using a CAD program to adjust models of submarine components, such as water tanks or winches; programming any actions within augmented reality, such as animating moving parts; and giving augmented reality demonstrations to various people. I am also involved with developing software for the system that drives the Australian submarines, which involves writing code and testing it using virtual submarine simulators or a physical room set up with computers to imitate real submarine equipment.  

What's your background?

I grew up in the outer suburbs of Melbourne, where I completed my schooling. My first job was at Bunnings Warehouse stocking shelves and mixing paint. After finishing high school I decided to study science and engineering at Monash University. After a year I dropped my science degree and instead picked up a commerce degree to complement my engineering studies. Within commerce, I kept a maths focus by majoring in business modelling, and for engineering, I decided to keep my options open by majoring in mechatronics. My engineering honours project involved creating a virtual reality application to assist research on limb coordination, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This led me to explore career opportunities within programming or virtual reality development. I discovered that Saab’s work has a strong software focus and involves teams that work with augmented reality. So I applied for the graduate program, was successful, and moved to Adelaide to work for them. 

Could someone with a different background do your job?

Absolutely! It’s helpful to have an education in engineering or computer science, but Saab is great at training staff and supporting them to gain the skills they need for their job. For someone to be well equipped for my current role, it would be useful to have some prior experience with programming, but the specific language isn’t that important. It may also be helpful to have some experience with using computer-aided design programs, such as Solidworks or Creo Parametric. But as I say, these aren’t essential skills to have before starting the job.

What's the coolest thing about your job?

Although the initial novelty of working on submarines does wear off, it is rewarding to know that code you wrote is running on a submarine somewhere under the ocean and helping Australia’s defence capability, even if in a small way. There are lots of smart people around to learn from and I’m always surrounded by interesting projects and technology.

What are the limitations of your job?

Working in defence can be a slower pace than some other industries. This probably suits people who are self-motivated and enjoy taking their time to do a job well, however it may not suit people who thrive on tight deadlines, high pressure and enjoy a rapidly changing environment. Also, due to the need for stability and the long lifecycle of projects in the defence industry, you may find yourself working on very old technology. There may be fewer opportunities to work with cutting edge, modern technology than in other fields.

3 pieces of advice for yourself when you were a student...

  1. Get as much work experience as possible while you are at university. The projects you are working on can be less important than the kinds of skills you get to use every day. Engineering a space shuttle may sound more interesting than engineering dishwashers, but the former may involve primarily administrative paperwork while the latter may actually involve more creative engineering design. The best way to figure out what a job is actually like is by speaking to people in the field and trying it out yourself,
  2. If possible, go on an international exchange - I have never spoken to someone who has regretted this decision. Going on exchange to Canada was also beneficial to my career prospects as it offered new learning opportunities, boosted my grades, and provided a point of difference for my resume and interviews.
  3. Adopt a growth mindset.