Job title: Embedded Linux Software Developer
Employer: Ericsson Nikola Tesla d.d.
Year of graduation: 2015
Supervisor: Associate Professor Hrvoje Džapo, Ph.D.
Study profile: Electronic and Computer Engineering
Hello, my name is Saša Tepić. I graduated from FER 6 years ago and I currently work at Ericsson Nikola Tesla as an Embedded Linux Software Developer. In my spare time, I ride my bike, assemble home automation systems, and self-host anything I can.
What do you do now? What’re your responsibilities at work?
I’m currently the Operative Product Owner for projects developing devices from the Ericsson portfolio. This means that I lead our team and at the same time I’m the responsible person that everyone else turns to when they need something from us… The device we’re working on right now is a very compact embedded computer system running an embedded Linux operating system. One of our team’s tasks is to boot the device from a shutdown state to the proper and successful booting of a specific Linux distribution with associated software support. To do this, we use U-Boot as an initial boot loader that follows the secure boot paradigm with closely guarded keys, our own software packaging solution, and we’ve implemented a failsafe system in case an attempt is made to boot incorrect or unauthorised software. Once the device boots Linux, we’re responsible for the correct initialisation of all peripheral components and implementation of the main interface to them, which is used by applications from higher layers.
What do you like most about your current job and what’re the challenges you face?
At work, we mainly communicate with colleagues from other Ericsson companies around the world. I particularly like that because although we’re different, we do very similar work and have the same problems. We often work with companies like WindRiver, NXP, Marwell, and Intel, so it’s very interesting when we get to see documents that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to. One of the challenges I face is tracking the development of team members. The team I work with is very diverse in terms of skillset and we often have new colleagues contributing to this diversity. We try to have a good onboarding process for everyone who joins us. One example of this is that we give new people tasks that are closely related to the day-to-day work on the projects so that they feel part of the team from the start. I also often act as a mentor for new colleagues, but also the seniors, and I like doing that. We don’t expect applicants to know everything that’s needed for the job, and certainly not to understand the whole system straight away. That’s why we take great care to introduce our new colleagues to everything at a pace that suits them.
What previous work experiences played a role in your decision to choose the profession you’re in now?
During my primary and secondary school years, I participated in various competitions in robotics, electronics, and computing. These experiences led me to develop various electronic devices, some of which I produced in series during the summer months while I was studying. There were many hours of soldering, debugging code, and repairing hardware, but I think it was a valuable and irreplaceable experience, especially for a person who wants to work with embedded computer systems. At FER, this desire was only confirmed, especially in the company of colleagues with the same interests.
What experiences have helped you realise that you’re on the right path and that you’re doing what you want?
During my studies, I often took part in different events, either as a contestant or as one of the organisers. As a contestant, I participated with my colleagues in global competitions organised by companies such as Texas Instruments and Samsung. This was particularly interesting because we could see that we were working with the same quality as our colleagues from other universities around the world. In an organisational role, I learned what it meant to be part of a team or to lead a team, especially in the context of student organisations. Today, working in a company the size of Ericsson, all this experience is very useful. For many things, there are exact specifications on how they are to be done. For every single part of the system, we’ve procedures and specialised teams from all over the world that we work with, instead of designing the PCB, writing the software, doing the safety analysis, and manufacturing the device all at the same time. We take care of the software and have full responsibility for it, so we cannot be responsible for everything else at the same time. This impression is reinforced every time it’s decided to speed up production, so that several thousand devices leave the Ericsson factory every month – each with our software.
Thinking about your experience at FER, what prepared you for your career?
Even in the early years, one could feel the emphasis was on the method rather than the result, although that was important too. This was most evident in all the mathematics courses we had. The rule was: if you use the right method with enough concentration, you’ll arrive at a good solution. That was quite different from my earlier thinking, where it was more important to see the solution at first glance. In the higher years of study, this was often referred to as an engineering way of thinking, so it seemed to us that you could answer any problem question with “it depends”. This taught us to think correctly when approaching a particular problem, which eventually evolved into “will this really work well?”.
What advice would you give to students who are considering a career in your field?
For students who are thinking of doing something in the field of embedded computing systems, I’d first and foremost recommend that they try to design their own devices. This includes the box, documentation, and instructions for those who don’t know how to use it. During studies, we usually focus on the purely technical part, which is understandable, but most of the major problems are discovered precisely when the intended users start using the device. This whole process not only sharpens our technical knowledge but also gives us a broader view of the industry we’re in, which is a valuable experience that certainly helps us in our first job.
If you’ve any further questions for Saša and would like to talk to him about his work, please feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.