I worked for a few years in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire in an engineering research lab. I did my masters and PhD there and also worked as the research coordinator for the lab for a couple of years. It was an exciting place to work, with many interesting technical challenges as an engineer. We often collaborated with therapists and clinicians in the hospital to develop technology for specific patients who were paralysed or had some kind of disability. In particular, I worked on systems to let people communicate or use a computer. When I began working there, I think I was too optimistic about how easy it would be to improve people’s lives with technology, but eventually I realised that I needed to listen more to what the end users actually wanted rather than trying to impose whatever invention I had dreamed up onto them. Sometimes, when I built something for someone and it didn’t work out, I felt like I had let down someone who was relying on me. I learned some tough lessons and emerged as a different engineer to one who started working there. If I was back at the beginning of that phase in my career, I would approach it very differently. I think people with disabilities potentially have a lot to gain from technology – but it needs to be the right technology – and although I tried hard in the hospital, I don’t think I always did a very good job. Sometimes that’s how you learn valuable lessons though!
No, I don’t have any regrets as an engineer.
You don’t always meet all of the goals you set for yourself, but when you’ve done your best on a project and made a positive contribution, you have to give yourself some credit. You learn how to be more effective on future products, or to have more realistic expectations.