Redefining an Engineering Career with an MS in Cyber Physical Systems
Jeffrey Machyo, M’23, cyber physical systems, decided to shift gears to the embedded systems field when he was working as an electrical engineer at an electric power company in Kenya. As an engineering student at Northeastern, he completed a co-op at Desktop Metal, which gave him hands-on experience with programable devices and set him up for a successful career change.
As an electrical engineer at the Geothermal Development Co. in Kenya, Jeffrey Machyo, M’23, cyber physical systems, found sensors and programmable controllers fascinating, and a bit frustrating. If a problem cropped up with one of these devices, he would need to seek technical support from the manufacturer, a process that could take days.
In addition to wondering why repairs took so long, Machyo says he asked himself this question: “What goes on inside these mystery boxes?” He decided to figure that out.
So, after a seven-year career in power systems, Machyo, who had received a BS in electrical engineering in 2013 from the University of Nairobi, started a search for an advanced degree program focused on embedded systems. As he was scanning YouTube videos for information, he learned about Northeastern’s graduate engineering programs, including co-op opportunities.
“The Northeastern co-op plan would give me an extended amount of time to get some practical training,” Machyo says. “So that’s why Northeastern became a no-brainer.”
In 2021, he began an MS in the cyber physical system program. One of the highlights was his six-month co-op at the Burlington, Massachusetts-based Desktop Metal, which he began in July 2022. The company makes three-dimensional printers.
At the start of the co-op, Machyo assumed he would be assigned routine tasks, but quickly found himself working directly with a senior engineer and writing code for microcontrollers built into the printers.
“At first I thought the co-ops wouldn’t be given much responsibility because we might break things,” Machyo says. “But just the opposite happened.”
“It made me learn all about printers and how they worked. It was just fascinating,” Machyo adds.
He particularly liked working with the mechanical engineers who were building the components for the printer. They would identify issues, such as a component’s speed (or lack thereof) that would require Machyo, in conjunction with the senior engineer, to make modifications to the code.
The senior engineer was available to answer questions, but he encouraged Machyo to write the new code and test it on its own.
“Sometimes, you have to be put right into it and figure it out,” Machyo says. “It’s the kind of learning experience that stays with you. It’s just a whole different level from what you would learn in the classroom.”
Machyo, who will complete his program in December, returned to campus for the 2023 spring semester and began working as a teaching assistant (TA), which has been another helpful educational experience. In his TA role, he has encountered students who are anxious or struggling to resolve a problem. “It taught me how to respond to people,” Machyo says.
Once he graduates, Machyo hopes to find an embedded systems software engineering job and spend at least four years fine-tuning his craft. Ultimately, he hopes to work in the sustainable resources field and build systems that help manage water resources.
“What hit me is that we can’t control nature, and we can’t control when it rains, but we can definitely control how we use the resource,” Machyo says. “I haven’t thought it through fully yet, but the ultimate thing would be to find a way through work to give back to my Kenyan people.”