A Monster Interview with Matt Becker, Chief Engineer at Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd.
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They asked him 10 questions in 10 minutes all about his Engineering career so far and what advice he would give to someone looking to start their career in Engineering.
Q: So, how did you get into all this?
A: My father was quite senior at Lotus for many years so I grew up going into work with him on a Saturday. He was engineering director; technically the same job I’ve got. From a very early age I knew what I wanted to do. Career discussions for me didn’t need to happen. I started at Lotus in 1998. I did an apprenticeship - I did a year at a training centre with the machining and fabrication and fitting skills then I did day release at college as well, so I did an ONC (Ordinary National Certificate) over a four-year period alongside a practical apprenticeship.
Q: And how did you make the leap to Aston Martin?
A: I left Lotus in 2014. I was a technician but I became an engineer on the first Series I Elise and then in general development, and from that I ended up the dynamics lead on all Lotuses. Then Andy Palmer [CEO of Aston] came calling.
Q: Would you recommend automotive engineering as a career now?
A:Yes. There are a lot of people who would kill for my job. It’s an exciting place to be and I think automotive engineering has such a wide scope of what you can do - there’s electrical, body, design, development, chassis development, NVH [noise, vibration, harshness] - such a wide span. The only thing I would say is, it doesn’t pay as well as being a stockbroker - they earn the money to be able to afford to buy the cars we build, but we get to drive the same cars all the time…
Q: Are maths and physics still essential qualifications?
A: Yeah, physics and maths are still critical. But graduates who I interview also have to show more human skills. We get them into a graduate session where we interview all of them and it’s not just about their qualifications; it’s about their personality. They get scored on many different attributes once they’re in.
Q: And what about employees with degrees in coding or software? Technology is taking over the auto industry…
A: A degree in coding is as important as a degree in physical engineering. Software is such a big thing now. You think about connected cars and the autonomy that’s coming, it’s all about coding and systems.
Q: How many people do you take on every year?
A: We take at least 12 graduates a year. One of the things that’s important is that as people progress through their careers and come up the ladder, you need to feed in at the bottom again with graduates.
Q: What’s more important, academic graduates or gifted apprentices?
A: It’s a mix - some are so highly educated - one of our guys has got a PhD. It’s important to take these people, as well as apprentices. You get graduates but they’re not always that practical and the way we worked at Lotus and now at Aston is you have a blend of practical people and academic people - if you blend those two together you end up with quite a good team.
Q: What happens if someone comes to you for an interview as an engineer but is actually more suited to, say car design?
A: The graduates do rotations every four months once they’re accepted into the company, so they get a learning of the whole company and at the end of it they’re not always best suited to where they think they want to be at the start. Some also drop out or don’t accept our offers; then we move to Tier 2 level to fill the bucket.
Q: How do you feel about electric cars?
A: I really like electric cars because I think the instant performance you get is so impressive - people think of electric cars as milk floats but obviously times have moved on and they’re now a lot more exciting than they used to be. Aston is all about beauty and we can do that with an electric car. The biggest challenge for Aston will be sound: how do you create an exciting sound with an electric car? Basically, you can’t. So another attribute has to be at the forefront of electric cars to make up for one of the most important attributes we’re going to lose.
Q: And autonomous cars? Aston is such a performance-driven brand - where do they fit in?
A: We’re thinking about autonomous cars, for sure. What you’ll end up with when we go to autonomous is a choice - you switch it off or on, so the car still has to be engaging when you switch autonomy off. If we think a car we develop will be 70 or 80 per cent autonomous, you’ll concentrate a lot more on things like ride quality, road isolation than you will if you have a car where autonomy is only going to be used 30 per cent of the time - in a sports car, for instance. You then switch your attributes to be more focused on handling and steering and performance rather than ride. Autonomy is exciting, but it’s scary - it really is. It’s going to be a challenge.