Interview with Miguel - Freelance Hardware Engineer

25.06.2019

Meet Miguel! A passionate Hardware Engineer from Brussels. Fascinated by electronics as a child, Miguel grew up creating and inventing several electronic systems that fashioned him into the brilliant freelancer he is today!


Firstly, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

I'm Miguel Baltanás, I'm from Granada and I'm currently working as a Hardware Engineer in Brussels. I have been working in the hardware design field since 2000.
 


What is your background? How did this background lead you to become a hardware engineer?

My passion - since I was a child - has been electronics. Children in my neighborhood called me the "inventor". I couldn't stop designing electronic things with motors, lights and other components that I took out of the old telephone sets that my father brought me.

When I was only 12 years old (back in 1984), I designed an electronic system to help deaf people because I have cousins who are deaf.

I wanted to study Telecommunications Engineering, but I couldn't get into the Technical University of Madrid even though I had the required grades. I was, however, accepted at the University of Malaga for my second study option: Naval Engineering. I ended up dropping out after 2 years because I didn't like it.

I returned to Granada then and started Computer Engineering since by then, I had been programming software for a long time.

For example, in Madrid, I programmed an air cargo management software for DHL. I also worked on business software for Ingenico (a well-known payment brand), as well as commercial management software for different types of businesses.

Within my studies in Computer Science, I focused on hardware and embedded systems, developing software for microcontrollers and others. I was now starting to design hardware with microprocessors, memories, PLDs, etc.

There I started working professionally on Hardware Engineering.
 


When did you actually decide to become a freelancer? What was the occasion to start freelancing?

I have actually worked almost my entire life for my own projects or as a freelancer. A few times, I have worked for others.  For some years now, however, I’ve been working solely as a freelancer.
 



Was it difficult for you to start freelancing? Could you share with our readers the most important lessons that you have learned on the way?

The great difficulty in working as a freelancer is having a constant line up of projects and finding clients who are willing to hire you.

The biggest lesson I have learned along these years is that I should not panic if I don’t have a project to start immediately after the end of the current one. You need to have patience and find alternate work in that period - or even a few months before finishing the one you are currently working on - before finding your next project and being hired for it.

It's a mistake to panic, and accept just any kind of project if you’ve had a couple of blank months. Presently, I have managed to minimize my inter-projects gap to no more than 2-3 weeks. That's a period of time that is acceptable to me and I use that time to improve my skills and catch up on the latest technology.

I think it’s very important to keep improving my skills and abilities constantly. Or even consider this time as a vacation - depending on the time of the year.  

 

I'm not frightened if I don't have a project to start immediately after finishing the current one.



What part of the job or tasks do you personally find most satisfying? Most challenging? Least satisfying?

The most satisfactory part is the commissioning of a prototype after conception and design.

The most challenging part is passing the homologation tests and laboratory tests - especially in areas such as automotive, medical, defense and space. They are very demanding tests. In consumer and industrial fields, they are more lenient.

The least satisfactory thing, and I think most engineers would agree with me, is the documentation. I offer my services of electronic design, from the conception, prototype, tests, homologations up to the final product ready for production. If the product needs embedded software I also offer this programming service.

The project that I am most proud of was the one that really launched me into electronics in a professional way. It was in the year 2000. A project based on a patent of mine in the telecommunications sector. It was a great challenge that I was able to develop successfully with a lot of economic and personal effort - and without the experience or knowledge that I have now.
 

I learned a lot and I can say that this project made me into what I am today - doing what I've always wanted to do.

 


Do you delegate any tasks such as invoicing, taxes, etc. or do you do everything on your own?

I do the invoicing personally. When working on a project, I generate a monthly invoice - which doesn’t take up more than 5 minutes of my time. For the rest - accounting, taxes, etc. - I work remotely with my accountant.

From my experience, my advice would be to not waste time on these tasks. Performing these tasks, (despite knowing how to do them) to me, is a mistake. My goal is to work on what generates added value for my business, which generates turnover and income.

In my free time, I prefer to be with my family and enjoy a little of what life has to offer or rest to recover energy for a new day.

 

Now tell us, how do you find new clients and projects? Is there a marketing strategy that you’ve proved to be great so far?

LinkedIn is my preferred tool and I have a very good network of contacts. To work in Europe, I mainly rely on consultancies established in different countries. They are the ones who contact me, really.

Although the commercial margin is lower when working with consultancies; they can make sure you reach large customers and projects. They do commercial work for you.

When you start working this way, projects start arriving, and they even wait for you to finish the one you are working on to start the next one.  You even get referenced to their other clients.

I think it's a good system, although these consultancies don't like you working for others. What I do then is trade exclusivity in exchange for a healthy supply of work by asking for no more than 2 weeks of time between scheduled projects. This way, they work hard to ensure you are available to them and you, in turn, have your next project ready for you.

 

How do you set yourself apart from your competitors? Special services? Marketing activities? USP?

I believe I distinguish myself from my competitors in terms of my ability, experience, and multidisciplinary skills. I have been able to adapt to many different types of projects and sectors - from consumer to defense, all at a very high technological level.

In addition, I have good communication with the mechanical, software, test, validation, production, etc. teams, which I think gives me a profile capable of completing projects in the short term - both in my capacity as a Hardware designer as well as a project manager.

 

What does a typical work day look like for you? Do you regularly work 9-5? On average, how long do you spend working on a project?

Typical hours are from 8:00 to 16:30. I work 40 hours a week. Sometimes you have to adapt to the project and work longer hours, even travel internationally. So the best thing is to be a flexible, responsible and committed professional. This is important for the project and for the client. Meet objectives on time.
 

The most important thing for the project and for the client is that you are a flexible, responsible and committed professional.

 

Do you sometimes think about going back to full-time employment?

Yeah, sometimes I think about it. However, I already had the experience in Spain of working for someone else and I really don't like it.

I am more of an entrepreneur and I like challenges and to carry out projects that are exciting and motivate me. And, above all, that helps me improve professionally. Waking up with enthusiasm every day to start working is very important to me.


I couldn’t spend 20 or 30 years at a table working on the same tasks every day.
 


Where can you find Miguel?  



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