Lucinda Cahill (2016): From Santa Maria to Silicon Valley

Lucinda Cahill (2016) is currently working for one of the most influential companies in the world and is extremely passionate about what she does. We were fortunate to have her graciously spare a few moments of her valuable time to provide insights into her time at an Ivy League School, her experience working at Apple, and a glimpse into her volunteer work.

Tell us about your high school experience at Santa Maria? Are there any remarkable anecdotes you’d like to share from those days? 

My high school journey was amazing. I always look back on my days at Santa Maria with a smile on my face. I have very fond memories of being in some of my favourite classes – Physics with Mr C and Maths classes, are particular highlights. I really loved the 2016 NASA tour, where some of my classmates and I got to spend a few weeks in the United States, learning about all things space related. We went to the Smithsonian’s in Washington DC, The Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral and Disneyland in Orlando. This was an incredibly fun trip where we all learnt a lot about space history. 

Following your graduation from Santa Maria, what path did you taken in your educational and professional journey? 

After graduation, I sought to obtain a scholarship to play Division 1 college field hockey in the US. In March following graduation I received a full academic and athletic scholarship to study and play at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut.  I jumped at this opportunity as they had a 3+2 program with Columbia University, my dream Ivy League school. The 3+2 program involved three years at Sacred Heart University, where I obtained an undergraduate degree in mathematics, followed by two years at Columbia University, where I obtained a second undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering. While at Sacred Heart, I was involved in the creation of a brand new ‘IDEA LAB’ – a young engineers dream. I spent eight hours a week working in the IDEA lab, where I became proficient in the operation of many small machines used for manufacturing. 

In 2020, I moved to the Upper West Side of Manhattan to begin my studies at Columbia University. My two years as an undergraduate student at Columbia were a wonderful experience. I learned from professors who were world-renowned researchers in their respective fields and the curriculum was filled with first-hand anecdotes and examples of cutting edge technology and concepts. This level of education, as one would expect from an Ivy League school, was both challenging and incredibly rewarding. I graduated from Columbia ‘Summa Cum Laude’ (top 5% of engineering students) in May 2021. 

The summer following graduation, I interned for three months at Rivian, an electric vehicle startup in Silicon Valley. My role at Rivian was a field reliability engineer, focusing on the mechanical side of the vehicle. My main project was focused on improving the reliability of the Rivian trucks air suspension system. This was such an interesting role as I got to use my mechanical engineering knowledge on thermodynamics and fluids mechanics to asses the system design, as well as my knowledge of mathematics and statistics to evaluate and predict the systems reliability. 

Following this internship, I returned to Columbia to complete my masters in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on energy systems. As I had already completed much of the required coursework during my undergraduate studies, I was able to fulfil the masters degree requirements in just one semester. During my final semester I worked in a lab at Columbia’s Electrochemical Energy Center. In this lab I helped in the mechanical design for various battery related research studies, much of which was focused on improving battery capacity for electric vehicles. 

Post graduation I received an offer to work for Apple as an iPhone reliability engineer. In February 2023 I moved to San Francisco to begin this role. I work out of Apple’s main campus in Silicon Valley, Apple Park. This is an incredible office with amazing facilities (you should Google it). 

Could you share the story of how you made the transition to the United States? Was this a lifelong aspiration for you, or did circumstances lead you here?

My dream to live in the United States began when I was 15, specifically when I began watching Gossip Girl. I was drawn to the idea of living in New York City and dreamt of going to an Ivy League school. I convinced my parents to take my sister and I to NYC when I was 14, and after spending 10 days in the Big Apple, I knew I had to return. 

Your extensive volunteer experience is commendable. Could you provide us with insights into your journey as a volunteer?

During my time at Santa Maria, I was given many opportunities to volunteer. These experiences were incredibly eye opening and really helped shape my perspective on the world.  

I had the opportunity to go to Punmu where I was able to immerse myself in the community and culture, interacting and engaging with the youth at the school. This was an experience I never would have had if it not for Santa Maria’s relationship with the community. Living and working in a community such as Punmu gave me a truly unique perspective on the aboriginal experience and disparity they face. It was eye opening to see the health and education gap. This is an experience I have been able to share with people all over the world, to offer them insight and educate them about Australia’s First Nations People. 

I also was given the opportunity to go to Ethiopia and spend a month volunteering at the School of  St Yared’s. After school, we went to the children’s villages and houses, where we bought them and their families supplies. To see the harsh reality of life for so many was a challenging experience in itself.  It was inspiring to see the determination of these young children, having come from such humble beginnings, to learn. They were engaged in their classes and loved to have fun. I think I learnt more from them than they did from me. 

Since leaving school I have volunteered from time to time at various places. One example is my continued effort of encouraging the youth to attend and engage at school. I would spend mornings at schools in tough areas of Connecticut, helping particular children who were struggling with engagement. I was also involved with a program at my college aimed at providing opportunities for young adults with developmental issues. I was assigned a buddy and spent an hour each week doing some form of physical activity with them. My buddy was training for a 5km running race, so we would often spend our time on the treadmill or going for long walks. 

What are your daily responsibilities as an iPhone reliability engineer. What does a typical workday look like?

As an iPhone reliability engineer I work closely with the iPhone product design team to highlight and drive critical reliability issues to ensure the next generation of iPhones can withstand real world use cases. My team and I develop and implement reliability tests on new hardware, support failure analysis and advise design teams on the best path forward. Due to confidentiality reasons I am unable to disclose much more information on my specific role or the products I work on, however it is an incredible job and I work alongside some incredible and inspiring people. 

Lucinda (Back row, second to the left) and her Santa Maria friends at NASA

Staying current with industry trends and technologies is crucial in the field of engineering. How do you ensure you are always up to date with the latest developments?

I use LinkedIn a lot! I follow a lot of science and engineering companies. This way I can stay up to date with the latest developments from the world’s most innovative companies. Having a great network on LinkedIn also exposes me to new developments and technologies all the time as I always get to see what my network is engaging with. 

For students aspiring to enter the engineering and technology sector, what words of advice or guidance would you offer to help them navigate this career path successfully?

I believe there are two things that make a good engineer, 1. Curiosity, 2. Effective communication. 

  1. Ask questions, challenge your curiosity. If you are inquisitive and enjoy solving problems (whether this be with simple or complex solutions) then you will excel in this field.
  2. Engineering requires one to be able to clearly communicate complex ideas to audiences that may not have the technical background. An engineer’s success is governed by their ability to socialise ideas and engage in discussion. I think this is one thing that people don’t realise or think about, but it is critical.

After a demanding week, how do you like to unwind and indulge in your favourite pastimes? Do you have any hobbies that you particularly enjoy?

I love being active! I try to get some form of physical activity in every day. After a long day at work I usually go to the Apple Park fitness centre, where I use the gym and sauna. This is a great way to unwind and get my focus off work. I also love going for runs around San Francisco and around the bay.  I recently joined the Marina Run Club. We run every Saturday morning along the Golden Gate Bridge. This is my new favourite Saturday activity! Living in Northern California has also made me obsessed with hiking! There are so many beautiful places to hike both close to SF and within a few hours drive. I try to go on an adventure every weekend. This has included weekend hiking trips to Yosemite, ski trips to Lake Tahoe, a short weekend drive over the Golden Gate Bridge to go hiking along the California coast or through Redwood forests or even a beach day in Santa Cruz. This is a great way to connect with nature and make new friends while being active!

A heartfelt thank you to Lucinda for graciously sharing her extraordinary journey post-Santa Maria. Her story serves as a shining example of the remarkable outcomes that dedication and curiosity can generate in the pursuit of success.

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