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Written By

Bianca de Loryn


College of Science and Engineering

Publish Date

12 March 2024

Inspired by SpaceX

JCU Alumni William Belcher recently graduated with a combined Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) - Bachelor of Science and won Engineers Australia’s C. N. Barton Prize for his outstanding Honours thesis. William shares his journey from creating websites for friends and family to working as full-time software engineer for an IT company in Cairns.

After recently completing his Bachelor’s degree, William says he has always been interested in engineering. “I loved seeing the rockets from SpaceX when I was in high school, and I just thought working in this area would be cool,” William says. “From there, I looked at what careers would lead into working in this field, and I realised that engineering was the career for me.”

William was also interested in science and decided he wanted to study a combined Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) - Bachelor of Science. “I majored in data science, and it really benefitted the engineering degree, where I majored in Electronic Systems and the Internet of Things,” he says.

“In engineering, and especially electronic systems, we study all of the sensors and we collect data. And then my data science degree helped with processing and visualising the data. So, the two majors really complemented each other."

William says that a double degree allowed him to combine two areas of specialty and save time as well. "I actually started studying just engineering. But it was only an additional year to complete a joint degree, so I decided to add in the Bachelor of Science as well."

While studying at JCU, William also worked as a self-employed web developer for almost three years. “That was fun. It was something I learned in school, and then gained experiences with managing clients,” he says. “It was a great step into learning the software development cycle and managing client expectations. "You had to learn to communicate, so people understand what you can and can’t do. That gave me a lot of great experience.”

C. N. Barton Medal finalists and winners 2023. Supplied by William Belcher (3rd from left).

An eye-opening placement experience

William’s experience in web development, along with his interest in networking with like-minded people, helped him land his first job with TensorWorks, who are based in the Ideas Lab at the JCU Nguma-bada campus in Cairns.

He says that three years ago, a chance to meet with people at the pop-up ‘Triumphs and Disasters Café’ in the Ideas Lab provided a new opportunity. “Engineering students like me would talk about their studies, and these startup people would talk about what's going on in their startups.”

This was also where he met the TensorWorks team and asked them if they were interested in an intern.

JCU engineering students gain real-world experience with 12 weeks — equivalent to 60 days — of industry placements. “I did 30 full-time days with TensorWorks, and then worked the other 30 days part-time with them,” he says. “After that, they offered to keep me on as a part-time employee, and I've stayed since.”

William adds that his internship was a paid placement. “I'm very grateful for that, because it allowed me to focus on my placement without having to worry about a second job,” he says.

“This opportunity meant I was able to focus fully on my internship. That was very beneficial and allowed me to learn a lot more.”

Streaming video data

William says that working for TensorWorks also had an influence on his final-year Honours research project and enabled him to develop technology for real-world applications.

His Honours research focused on improving live stream quality and speed. “For instance, if you are in a self-driving car, the video data needs to be transmitted quickly,” William explains. “If you need to make decisions quickly based on video data, you can't have a long lag time between that video getting transmitted and processed. It needs to happen instantaneously.”

Another application for William’s research is improving remote gaming for people with less powerful computers. “If someone is sitting on their couch, playing a video game that's actually running on a computer somewhere else, it's beneficial to have that application transmitting and receiving data at a high speed, or ‘low latency’,” he says. “This means the input from your game controller, for instance, is faster and more accurate.”

While improving livestreams has been an area of focus in the technology industry for a number of years, William says that he was focused on a specific aspect. “Technology giants and research bodies have been focusing on storing data, like storing data on a hard drive. But when you actually want to transmit data over the internet, it's a little bit different,” he says. “You have to completely rethink how you do that. That was very daunting, but a lot of fun and very challenging as well.”

William Belcher presenting his Honour's thesis at JCU (supplied).

Starting a career as a software engineer

After presenting the outcomes of his Honours research and receiving the Engineers Australia C. N. Barton Prize for his Honours thesis, William is now working full-time as a software engineer for TensorWorks.

“My job title and the type of work has changed, now that I'm full-time, and I've finished study. I can start to take on more responsibilities within the company,” he says.

William says that he is still working in video streaming, but the focus of his work has shifted. “We focus on the streaming of video over the internet and specifically interactive video. For instance, we do virtual events or architecture visualisation where you are walking through virtual environments,” he says. “We focus on the interactivity and the streaming of that video. My role is working on new features and fixing issues as they arise.”

Growing tech opportunities in Cairns

Looking back, William says being motivated to do the hard work was definitely worth it for him. “Studying science and engineering requires time and effort,” he says. “But it's also hard if you don't put in effort and then don’t understand what’s going on.”

In terms of his career, William says he is happy to have the opportunity to work in his dream job and stay in Cairns. “Since moving up from Brisbane as a 10-year-old, I have enjoyed the space and the greenery in Cairns a lot more than living in Brisbane,” he says.

“There's a growing tech industry in Cairns, I've got this job, and I can do it here in Cairns. I definitely prefer to stay here and just enjoy my space and quietness a little bit more.”

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