UQ Idea Hub

Luis Antonio Ayora Marín travelled to China in 2017 with the UQ Idea Hub China Mobility Program. He says the experience has helped to prepare him to be a practicing professional engineer and product designer.​

It’s been almost a month since I came back from UQ Idea Hub’s China Mobility Program, and I’ve decided to take some time to reflect on the experience and get a clear picture of how this opportunity has prepared me to be a practicing professional engineer and an aspiring product designer.

The program took a group of students to Caohejing High-Tech Park to intern for a startup over the course of a month; we were also invited to a series of activities that revolved around practicing and developing the skills required to be an entrepreneur, networking with a variety of people of different backgrounds, and visiting different working spaces offered to developing start-ups around the city.

Right from the get-go I was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of Shanghai, made more impressive when we found out that a large part of the city was only built in the last 25 years.

The technology park was immense and hosted both startup companies developing products, and larger companies, such as ARM, Rockwell Automation, Honeywell and Phillips, that have headquarters in the city.

The company that I worked for is called Moding Tech. They’re working on developing an internet of things (IoT) bus stop signal powered by solar panels to deploy them in rural cities around China; they’re currently working on version 1.2.

My boss, Gordon, had been working for Sony for ten years in Tokyo and had also lived five years in London; originally from Nanjing, he came back to China to start a company that would generate employment and provide something of value to his country.

I was immediately welcomed by my co-workers who were keen on knowing more about life in Australia and overseas. My responsibilities during my internship were to select some components to be used in a sub-circuit, design the circuit using software, write code for the microcontroller that we were using and test the functionality of the firmware, solar panels and sensors used on version 1.1. 

As a mechatronic engineering student, I was both jubilant and relieved that all the skills I’ve been learning in my courses are essential in industry, from the theoretical to the practical, my past experiences provided some value to the work I did in my internship; some of the software I’ve used at the university was also used by my company.

It has given me some encouragement to continue to put effort into my courses and work on a thesis that I believe can help me develop ideas for my own startup business at some stage.

Luis with other UQ Idea Hub students in Shanghai.

Luis with other UQ Idea Hub students in Shanghai.​

Perhaps the biggest difficulty that I had was breaking the language barrier, both with my co-workers and with most people I interacted daily. I learned some basic Mandarin to get around, a gesture that was recognised by my co-workers, who were willing to take some time during lunch to teach me new words and correcting my basic sentences. I’m considering taking some formal courses in the language now that I'm back home.

Besides work, I took the opportunity to explore and discover Shanghai. Among my favourite sights were the Bund, walking around Pudong, the Yuan Gardens, Jing’an temple, the French Concession – Xintiandi, and the Tianzifang alleys. It was a blend of modern and traditional Chinese culture, with a dash of street food for good measure. I even took some of my savings and made my way to Beijing with other students in the group, where we visited the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven.

Finally, the activities that the technology park and the UQ Idea Hub prepared for us were an amazing opportunity to network with innovators that were based in Shanghai, a lot of them expats that came to the city for its expanding investment in technology-oriented businesses. I made some valuable contacts who I keep in touch with to get advice and scoops on opportunities of investment, work placements or just to catch up.

While China in general has its problems, the main feeling that I got from visiting and working there was that Shanghai is a city filled with opportunity for those who seek it.

Luis in Shanghai on a tour with UQ Idea Hub student entrepreneurs.

Luis in Shanghai on a tour with UQ Idea Hub student entrepreneurs.​

I’ve learned the importance of being dynamic and adaptive, to embrace change. I believe that it is crucial in my growth as an engineer, and I would recommend that other students who wish to develop technological products consider working in Shanghai as there’s a lot of action and investment going on, as well as being a fantastic cultural experience.

Finally, I also encourage student engineers to work for startups for their placements, as it offers a more hands-on experience in developing and manufacturing a product than most large companies could offer a junior staff member.