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Professional Spotlight: Development Engineer


BY DENISE HABERGER

Development engineers are problem-solvers. They work out why something does not work and make it work again. Within companies in almost all sectors, they develop new technologies or optimise existing solutions.

Professional Spotlight: Development Engineer © Foto Hemstedt in Leck Philipp Rostalski, a development engineer at Dräger, is able to combine theory and practice in basic development
The industrial applications appealed to Dr. Philipp Rostalski: after the doctorate and post-doc phase, the electrical engineer desperately wanted to do something practical. "I worked on fascinating theoretical projects at the universities, but always missed the step towards implementing this theory," the 34-year-old tells. In 2011, he joined Lübeck-based Dräger as a development engineer. The company manufactures medical and safety technology products. Philipp Rostalski works in the basic development department. His role is to keep sight of scientific innovations and review whether these ideas could be of interest and their realisation feasible for his employer. This involves keeping in touch with universities and regularly attending conferences. If the company is impressed with an idea, the next step is to consider the feasibility of its realisation.

For Rostalski it is a particularly fascinating aspect of the job having the opportunity to influence new technologies. He sees one major challenge in the growing complexity of the systems and in being well networked. "Nowadays, you no longer do anything alone, but rather must be able to work with many different people," Rostalski explains. He also considers the ability to rapidly familiarise oneself with new problems crucial for his job.

Checklist - Facts on the Role of a Development Engineer

1. Tasks:

Development engineers work on new products and/or technical processes. They develop new ones or optimise existing ones. Depending on the size of the project, it can be broken down into subprojects.

2. Fields of application:

Development engineers are required in almost all sectors, and are particularly in demand in the automotive, mechanical and plant engineering, and electronics industries. Typical fields of application include white goods (i.e. domestic appliances) and automation, automotive and medical technology.

3. Career entry:

University graduates with the according qualifications are able to join most companies with a development department. Alternatively, there are sometimes also trainee programmes.

4. Requirements:

It is possible to find a foothold as a development engineer with virtually any engineering degree. Mechanical and electrical engineering are the classic subjects. Many job advertisements do not stipulate the need for professional experience. However, applicants should already have gained a fundamental basis for the work in the respective field during their studies. They can then acquire the specialist knowledge within the company itself.

5. Soft Skills:

In Germany, the pace of development is high; hence, engineers must be able to keep at it. Those able to move effortlessly from one topic to the next, and rapidly to familiarise themselves with new issues possess important skills. Creativity, an eye for detail, and team and communication skills are also essential qualities. Development engineers are increasingly involved in international projects; therefore, language skills such as proficiency in English are an absolute must.

6. Salary:

Potential earnings are high. According to the salary database, PersonalMarkt, newly qualified development engineers can expect to earn 48.000 Euros gross per year. The salary can rise to almost 67.000 Euros for development engineers with more than two years of experience. Generally speaking, the higher the career level, the higher the salary: an annual salary of up to 97.000 Euros is possible with personnel responsibilities and the according professional experience.

7. Career prospects:

Germany stands for innovation. Hence, development engineers are in demand - and this will remain the case in the future.

Development engineers in demand on the job market

Professional Spotlight: Development Engineer © private Thomas Hegger
Thomas Hegger, a personnel consultant from Berlin and member of the "Profession, Society & Technology" committee of the Association for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies (VDE), confirms this: "In Germany the pace of development is extremely high," he says. "Engineers must be able to keep up." Good development engineers are also creative, have an eye for detail, and go to the limits of what is technically possible. Moreover, they must be good communicators and able to work in a group. "The days of Gyro Gearloose, the inventor who tinkers away at machines in his garage, are over," Hegger stresses.

The personnel consultant rates the career prospects for development engineers as very good. They will find work in almost all sectors, and are particularly in demand in the automotive, mechanical and plant engineering, and electronics industries. The subject of study also barely plays a role. Mechanical and electrical engineering are the classic subjects. A closer look at the job advertisements will confirm that professional experience is rarely required though. "Development engineers gain the fundamental basis for the work in the respective field during their studies. They then acquire the specialist knowledge within the company itself," Hegger explains. Over the course of their careers, they can mostly then choose between a career as a specialist (e.g. a project manager or expert) or in management.

Common fields of application: automation, automotive and medical technology

Professional Spotlight: Development Engineer © private Sonja Hanselmann
Engineers are often called upon to develop products in the field of so-called white goods (i.e. domestic appliances), as well as in the fields of automation, automotive or - like Dr. Sonja Hanselmann - medical technology. The 37-year-old mechanical engineer completed her doctorate in the field of production technology and has been responsible for diagnostic X-ray systems at electronics giant, Philips, for two years now. She develops the systems themselves further and optimises these. Her work mostly begins with a concrete customer request for which she first conducts a feasibility study. "In medical technology, risk analysis is also extremely important," Hanselmann tells. "because patients come into direct contact with our products."

After concepts, detailed development, prototypes and an approval test, series production of some requests can then begin. However, some fail on safety requirements. "But this is also what makes it exciting: to see where the limits between conception and implementation lie," says Hanselmann. "It is exactly this that stimulates further thought." However, she is less keen on one aspect of the highly regulated environment in medical technology: "While I consider most of the restrictions sensible, as a developer, I find some too strict," says Hanselmann. "Sometimes I simply want to be able to implement things."

Annual salary of 60.000 Euros upwards realistic

Particularly the international work is a fascinating challenge: "The requirements are different in every country, and I must be able to overcome cultural and linguistic barriers." Sonja Hanselmann sees vast job potential for development engineers in medical technology: "The population is ageing and requires more medical care for ever-longer periods," Hanselmann emphasises, "hence there is a future in the development of such devices." Thomas Hegger from the VDE sees the prospects as positive in all fields of application: "We live from the creativity of our engineers," he explains. "Germany stands for high-tech products, and we need good development engineers to assert our leading position on the global market."

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academics :: September 2013