This article first appeared in our International Women’s Day issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published on 08 March 2023. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
Main image: article author Samsam Farah, Octopus Energy
Hardware engineers have a key role in the fight against climate change: creating the building blocks of a clean, green future to challenge our reliance on fossil fuels.
At Octopus Energy, a team of smart product engineers is hard at work developing tools that could come to transform the way society uses and understands energy.
Senior engineers Derya and Carmen work alongside product manager Jess in this crack team. They are pioneers in their field: one of them laid the groundwork for game-changing tech like mobile phone payments and the Hive thermostat.
In an industry where men make up almost 85% of the workforce, it’s time to meet the women building a smart future.
Tech to transform our energy system
Senior engineer Derya started her career in Turkey, where she designed mobile phones in the pre-internet days. She then moved to Nokia to develop tech like Bluetooth and wifi – and made the world’s first wifi call (via ‘SIP’) on a mobile phone.
Derya also helped to develop the technology that allows us to make payments with our mobile phones today (NFC) – tech so advanced it influenced developments in Silicon Valley. Then Derya moved to Hive, where she was the key engineer behind its cutting-edge, multiple-award winning smart thermostat.
Next, looking to join the most innovative players in the green energy space, Derya went to Octopus. She’s been with us for over two years, using tech and engineering to transform the UK’s energy systems and help us to move away from fossil fuels.
‘I have always been drawn to companies that are leading the industry and changing the world for the better’, Derya says. ‘I love creating efficient, easy-to-use products that are sustainable and drive down costs for customers’.
Smart homes of the future
Derya’s brainchild is the Octopus Home Mini – a true game-changer in the industry. When plugged in at a home with a smart meter, it beams readings to an Octopus customer’s mobile app every 10 seconds. This offers customers incredibly detailed, up-to-date information about their energy use, which they can see and analyse in real time in their Octopus app.
‘Knowledge is power, and I want to empower people with all the knowledge they need when it comes to their consumption, data and bills’, Derya explains.
Her next big feat: making electric heat simple and user friendly, by creating a product that will allow people to control their hot water and heating via smartphone – wherever they are.
One of the people to first bring boiler heating controls to the UK at Hive, Derya was uniquely placed to drive this project at Octopus.
‘My products are intended for smart homes of the future – homes where people control their heating using an app, whether they’re home or not’, Derya shared. ‘Where the solar panels are connected to the electric car’s charging station and home battery. Where a simple app gives customers 100% control over their usage so they can save money and stay sustainable.’
Derya’s next challenge has been to optimise battery storage to speed up the transition to renewable energy. ‘Electrification is the way of the future’, she said. ‘With batteries, solar power, electric vehicles and heat pumps, we can drastically reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. My goal is to make this possible for every home in the UK – and to make it a seamless transition’.
Derya is a true pioneer – and her achievements are doubly impressive in an industry where almost 85% of the workers are men. That hasn’t always been easy; ‘As a woman, and as someone from Turkey working in the UK engineering world, I know what it’s like to feel like an outsider, or like you don’t belong’, she said. ‘But I quickly realised that it doesn’t matter who I am or where I come from; if I’m good at what I do, I’ll be accepted anywhere.’
A connected team
Derya had never worked with another female engineer until her career at Octopus, when she started working with research and development engineer Carmen. Today they work closely together on the Octopus Home Mini and heat pump controls projects.
Becoming an electronics engineer hadn’t been Carmen’s original plan; she made the spontaneous decision days before her admissions exams at the Politehnica University of Bucharest.
‘Young girls need to be told they can do whatever they set their minds to’, Carmen says. ‘Had I known this path was an option for me, I could have been far better prepared’.
A polyglot, Carmen speaks her native Romanian and English, as well as some French, Spanish and Mandarin. At Octopus, she focuses primarily on firmware development, rigorously testing and certifying every product to a high standard so customers get the best experience possible.
Carmen also looks after the devices fleet, resolving any bugs and making sure the smart products Octopus Energy has sent out in the world are functioning as they should. ‘I love how incredibly fast-paced and challenging our work is’, she says. ‘It gives me the chance to prove what I can do and broaden my horizons’.
The team is constantly innovating new products, improving features, developing technical software, connecting with suppliers and building hardware.
‘While we work closely with other departments, we have a tiny core R&D team that is super connected’, Carmen explains. ‘Of course working with new tech all the time is challenging, but this supportive environment has been amazing. My advice to others is: there are no dumb questions and never put any limits on what you’re capable of.’