How curiosity builds better products: a day in the life of a Senior Hardware Engineer

The way the Sophos Firewall team works together is one of the things I enjoy most about working at Sophos. Our new XGS Series appliances involve some very complex engineering. Delivering them has taken a great depth of knowledge—and I’m grateful to be a part of this extremely talented team of people.

The hardware team is split across two locations: one here in Ahmedabad, India, and one in Pittsburgh in the United States.  Even though we are in very different time zones, we meet most days—when it’s our afternoon and the Pittsburgh team is just starting their morning.

Those sessions are really helpful in keeping everything synchronized. That’s important because we’re a relatively small team with a big list of projects!

The strategy we use is to have two team members working on each family of firewall products—one located in the United States, and one based in India. This way, we can support each other and be productive across each 24-hour period.

I lead on three families of products and work with three project partners—Jack Dawson, Uwe Pack and Leo Wood. They’re super-talented guys and it’s really fun learning from them. If you drew a graph of my knowledge over the last few years, you’d see a spike since we’ve been working together.

Maintaining an appetite for learning

I joined Sophos after graduating from Pune Institute of Computer Technology in 2014. I moved to a different state to join Sophos, and it has been a great experience.

Since then, I have got married and my wife, Kavita—who works as a network engineer—has joined me here in Ahmedabad, along with my family. When I’m not working or spending time with them, I walk a lot, and I love reading. I’ve always got a list of books that I’m waiting to get to.

My interest in engineering started with barebone hardware building; taking a hardware kit from literally nothing to something you can run software on. At first it was frustrating, but I really enjoyed the challenge and it made me curious to learn more.

It’s the same today. When I see a colleague working so fluently on a complex piece of engineering, it keeps me eager to keep learning. When I find out more, the hunger is satisfied—until the next challenge.

This curiosity keeps me reaching out to my colleagues; the more questions I ask, the more I learn.

Remote testing across two continents

This collaborative approach hasn’t just enabled me to learn, it has actually helped us raise the level of our facilities here in India.

The Pittsburgh lab has really advanced remote testing capabilities—so our team in India can run automated tests on a prototype firewall appliance on a bench in America. This way, we can run 4,000 or 5,000 power cycles; far more than a user would ever need in the real world.

And now, thanks to help from our colleagues, I’m very proud to say we have those exact same capabilities in our hardware team here in India. So, we’ve actually achieved two milestones with this project: a new, more powerful kind of firewall, and a new, improved test lab.

Those new facilities mean we can go even further to test our products around the clock. We really roast them, and that means we can be certain they’ll work for our customers. I think they’d be surprised how much we put their appliances through!

Four factors in firewall performance

I’ve also been inspired by working with our hardware engineering leader, Mike Benson. His professionalism is amazing.

In particular, Mike makes sure we think about the customer’s experience of using their firewall day to day—right from the start of a project. To do this, we have to manage and balance four key parameters: power, thermal, noise, and performance.

Power is the first challenge. The new firewall is much more powerful than its predecessor—in some cases the specs have doubled or even tripled—so we have to be certain of the margins on all the power rails.

All that power produces a significant amount of heat, so the second challenge is to manage the thermal properties inside the box and prevent overheating.

That might involve using a fan—which brings us to the third challenge: noise. The customer won’t want an appliance that’s too loud in their work environment, so we either have to slow down the fan, or design a fan curve that builds up when it’s needed.

That leads to the fourth parameter, which is managing the performance load. For example, if the load on the firewall doesn’t match the load on the fan, it will degrade the performance, and we can’t allow that.

All four of these requirements have been specified since the very beginning of the project, for every firewall appliance in our range. And because all the engineers had them in mind throughout, we were able to deliver. The new firewall might be twice as powerful as the old one, but you wouldn’t notice a significant increase in noise.

Achieving all of that—for each of the models in the product family—was a thrilling experience.

A win for our customers and for the team

The XGS Series is the third generation of firewalls I’ve worked on. Our products are always increasing in engineering complexity and in capabilities—but this series is a big jump forward.

We’ve tested the new appliances intensively, and at every milestone they have exceeded the initial requirements that the team set. Our customers can feel very confident in the XGS Series.

The launch is a win-win situation for me. I’m proud of the products, and I’m also very proud of the testing capability we’ve built here for the team in India, ready for the next project.

It’s very motivating to see what it possible now. I’m excited at where the industry is going—all the new chips, and the capabilities—and that’s what keeps me in this field.

There’s so much more I want to learn. And as part of a great team, we can deliver the outputs needed. I don’t feel tired at the end of the day; just motivated for what we’ll build next.

Latest Posts