Spotlight on...Derya, smart product engineer

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Octopus Energy is made up of 3,000+ fantastic people working on stuff you'd never expect, all pushing hard towards a shared goal: driving the global green energy revolution. In our Spotlight series, we'll introduce you to some of the brilliant people behind the scenes. (Fancy joining them? Browse Octopus jobs.)

Meet Derya, Octopus' senior product engineer. Without her, paying at a store with a simple swipe of your phone may never have happened. We may never have had the Hive thermostat. Now she spends her days carefully building products most of us have never even heard of, but which will become staples in every smart home of the future – including our mysterious new product, the Octopus Home Mini.

I had a chance to sit down with her to discuss her fascinating career and the cool new Octopus product that’s got people talking.

Samsam: Hi Derya, tell me what you do at Octopus.

Derya: I’m the senior programme lead for our product development team. I joined Octopus last year to work on a project which is getting a lot of attention at the moment: the Octopus Home Mini (a CAD, or Consumer Access Device, which can unlock real-time smart meter data for customers, so they can explore their energy in real time online like never before).

I’m also working on the UX (that’s ‘user experience’) design for the heat pumps we are installing, as well as developing controls that will allow users to navigate their heat pumps using our app.

Over time, we hope to work on ways to allow customers even more control over their heat pumps, to access information about how their heating works and how to save money.

Samsam: What did you study and what drew you to this field of tech engineering?

A picture of a trip down memory lane: the Commodore 64

Derya: As I was growing up computers were just coming out, and my brother and I had an early home computer called the Commodore 64. (Check out this photo for a trip down memory lane -->)

That really got me into software and once I got older I pursued engineering and electronics engineering because it was something new and different which intrigued me.

So really, I’ve always wanted to be at the forefront of technical innovation and engineering.

Derya back in the 90's sitting in a room full of computer equipment

A retro shot of Derya in the early days of her career

Samsam: Where’s your career taken you so far?

Derya: I studied electronics at University back home in Turkey and once I graduated I started looking for innovative electronics companies. There was only one company in the entire country that was developing cordless phones and I quickly joined them. After a few years, I heard about a company called Nokia that was developing mobile phones and I sent my CV via Dial-up (this was in the pre-internet days!), and within a few weeks I was working at the UK Nokia headquarters as an engineer.

I spent 15 years at Nokia and then eventually, different businesses in our industry started to disappear with the rise of Apple. I went looking for any other innovators in the technical engineering department, and landed at Hive working on building smart homes for the future.

Samsam: And how did you land at Octopus?

Derya: Because of the lovely Rebecca Dibb-Simkin. We worked together at Hive, where she was defining/designing products and I was creating/building them. She joined Octopus and reached out to tell me about the incredibly innovative products that Octopus was championing and developing and I knew this is where I needed to be.

Samsam: What’s the coolest product or hardware that you've ever built?

I was designing mobile phones before people had even heard of them.

Derya: I have been fortunate enough to work on some incredibly interesting and innovative products. At Nokia I was responsible for our mobile payments system using technology called Near Field Communications (NFC), which was far ahead of its time and the first step towards putting mobile payments into phones.

I was also at the forefront of developing a way to get the internet on mobile phones, and my designs actually drove the Silicon industry to adopt WIFI technology into mobile phones.

At Hive, I developed the Hive thermostat – I was in charge of everything from the designers sketches, to the mechanical engineering and final product.

Throughout my career I have been able to work on incredibly cutting edge, industry leading stuff, but my work at Hive is what I am most proud of as I was responsible for the end to end development of entire products.

An action shot of Derya working on her design hardware

An action shot of Derya working on her designs

Samsam: Can you tell me a little bit more about the Octopus Home Mini, and what sets it apart?

Derya: So, currently smart meters come with In Home Displays, which allow you to view your consumption. However, they don’t offer a lot of information, and it is often outdated/incorrect. It’s also confined to a room as they have to be plugged into a wall at all times, so often people will simply unplug it and forget about the entire device.

Our Octopus Home Mini has 2 radios; a Zigbee radio and a WIFI radio. Over its Zigbee radio it connects to a smart meter through the Zigbee Smart Energy Network and retrieves near real time consumption data. Over its WIFI radio it connects to the home WIFI router, and streams the usage data it retrieves directly from the smart meter to the Cloud and our Kraken platform.

An early photo of the Octopus Home Mini design

An early photo of the Octopus Home Mini design

What makes the Octopus Home Mini so special is that it offers an incredible amount of detailed, up to date information as it takes readings every 10 seconds. So customers can view their energy use in real time, with incredible accuracy, directly on their Octopus App.

This is monumental. It's never been done before by an energy company.

The Octopus Home Mini near a small plant

The Octopus Home Mini

Samsam: Why is this project so important?

Derya: The Octopus Home Mini will let us explore energy data like never before. It paves the way for the true power of smart meters to be unleashed, providing detailed, real-time data which will allow us to unlock the domestic flexibility potential.

As the world becomes more and more green, and the usage of electric vehicles and sustainable products become more prevalent, having access to this data is crucial. Balancing the energy grid can be complicated, particularly when the world’s run on green sources like the wind and sun – so this technology is a game-changer in the industry.

Whilst we’re still in the very early trial stages right now, this product has the potential to benefit customers hugely as it will provide up to date usage and pricing data. So, you could immediately see what your current usage is costing you, which isn’t an option with the current IHDs. Paired with one of our agile tariffs, this could allow you to adjust your usage in real time to ensure the cheapest possible prices.

This type of technology is one of the key ingredients to a cheaper, net zero future.

Samsam: How long did it take to create?

Derya: It was a super quick turnaround. We pivoted from an R&D project initiated by our Future Technologies Evangelist Phil Steele, first viewed the design at the end of 2021 and within weeks we’d built the first prototypes. After that it was just a matter of setting up manufacturing on a larger scale, and within a few weeks we had devices ready to be shared.

Right now, we’re in our pilot production stage, testing the product from end to end to ensure quality before doing a wide release.

We first viewed the design at the end of 2021 and within weeks we’d built the first prototypes... within a few more weeks we had devices ready to be shared.

Derya: What does your day to day look like?

Derya: There is a lot of variety in my role, and it does depend on what stage of product development we are at. I’m very involved with the technical aspect of designing and manufacturing our products. I supervise every aspect of product creation and my role is to ensure the entire process goes smoothly. The most important thing is to assure quality, without any delays so I spend my days constantly thinking of next steps, identifying any potential issues and resolving them alongside my team to ensure we are hitting out key milestones.

Samsam: What aspect of your job do you find most challenging and what do you find most enjoyable?

Derya: I love problem solving. I am very detail oriented and technical so solving complex and intricate issues is what drove me to this field of work. The only challenge I have come across is the frustration of not being able to access resources that I need to do my job. However, I am very lucky in this role as Octopus provides me with all the resources we need to bring our projects to life.

Samsam: Why is the work you’re doing so important?

Derya: Groundbreaking, innovative products and services are part of the fabric of Octopus. It’s all part and parcel of the green world we want to help create. We want to create value to our company and provide an important service to our customers that they can’t get elsewhere.

The products we are creating are revolutionary because they’re allowing our country to transition to Net Zero.

4 pink octopus home mini's placed on a table in the office

Samsam: What is next for you, can you give us some sneak peeks?

Derya: At the moment, the most exciting thing I am working on is the Octopus product that will provide customers full control over their heat pump. We are completely overhauling the support system and allowing customer’s full autonomy from the app to the device.

(Want to find out more? Watch this space).

Also, I commute into London and secretly dream of eventually getting a job with the National Rail and overhauling their system to be more organised and efficient, haha.

Samsam: What’s the most exciting development in the green energy world?

Derya: Definitely our software platform, Kraken. A platform and database with such reach and efficiency is spectacular and can help modernise the entire industry. Beyond that I am really inspired by the different solar and wind technologies that are transforming the UK, and the entire world. I’m specifically inspired by the optimisation algorithms around these renewable energy sources that will allow us all use energy cheaply when the wind's blowing.

Samsam: What advice do you have for people wanting to break into your field?

Derya: As a woman, and as someone from Turkey working in a very technical field, I know what it’s like to feel like an outsider, or have others treating you like you don’t belong.

So, my advice is to work hard and be great at your job because ultimately we are all the same. I have always felt like I can do anything anyone else can do. Plus, to not be intimidated and to focus on honing your skills, talents and interests.

It’s difficult but it’s doable, so find something you’re interested in and give it your all.

Quick Fire Round

Best memory at Octopus?

Although it's only been a year, I have a few great ones. The best one is getting to speak to Al Gore about heat pumps.

Most memorable day in your career?

When I had a telephone interview with Nokia in the UK the same day after sending my CV through a 2K dial up internet connection back in 1996 from my home in Ankara.

Any unusual hobbies?

I am a sharp shooter. I once won a competition at Nokia, against 63 men (one of whom was a shooting club member) and 2 women!

Favourite trip you've ever taken?

Japan, specifically Tokyo which was beautiful.

PS: I have worst one too as I got mugged at knifepoint in Rio (although loved Rio and Brasil otherwise)

This year I really want to spend some time…

In the baking sun in Turkey, and not complain about the heat lol

Favourite random fact?

They found new Penguin colonies in Antartica after seeing dirty ice on satellite images, and wondering what it was!

row of trees

Want to join our team?

Join Derya and thousands of other brilliant people across the world on a mission to build the future of energy.

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Published on 16th June 2022 by:

image of Samsam Farah

Samsam Farah

Writer

Hey I'm Constantine, welcome to Octopus Energy!

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