My Heart Belongs to Technology – Expert Career in the area of Software Development

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Continental is continuously developing the expert career. I was recently appointed a Level 4 expert in the field of “Powertrain software architecture for embedded systems” by our division head José A. Avila. I really feel honored. As for my appointment to the position, it serves as an affirmation of what I have been working on within the scope of software architecture in recent years.

My day-to-day work

My day-to-day work environment has not changed substantially.  As an L4 expert, I am responsible for the entire software architecture for all engine control unit projects. At Powertrain, the issue revolves around embedded software. The end user doesn’t notice much about this part – except for the fact that it has to work. One of the things we talk about here is real-time operations in very tight time frames. Just think about the injection impulses, some of which take place in just nanoseconds. That requires robust processing power, which we have unlocked since 2010 by using multi-core computers. My subject area aims to further expand and develop this architecture. And we definitely receive positive feedback from our customers in the process.

Software development is becoming increasingly important

Software plays a huge and ever-growing role for our company. Countless driving functions can only be realized through software solutions. You don’t need to install a piezo injector if the hardware and control software don’t fit with it. The vision of autonomous driving, of course, is also unthinkable without innovative software solutions.

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Me receiving the L4 status

I am currently working on different software projects. To give you an example: We have put the multi-core architecture on a solid foundation. But the development process is far from being complete. The restructuring of the software architecture for engine management systems goes hand in hand with that. AUTOSAR is another important subject in this context. To cope with the growing complexity found in the software segment, our goal is to make the standard co-developed by Continental for software architecture usable on an even broader basis. External dialogue and sharing also plays an important role in all of this. Together with the Bavarian Research Foundation, for example, we are working on the challenges posed by multi-core and many-core systems in the automotive and avionics sectors as part of the FORMUS³IC research association.

How to become a L4 expert?

Participants of the Engine Systems Expert Day 2015

Participants of the Engine Systems Expert Day 2015

The expert career, management career, and development opportunities for project managers fundamentally offer equivalent career opportunities. There are clear requirements to meet in order to reach a certain expert level. The first level requires at least five years of experience in the relevant field. Within the Engine Systems BU, this field of expertise is then presented in front of a management committee – like defending a dissertation. Up until 2006, I was a group leader for engine control projects. At that time, we started a project for a new generation of engine controls. I was faced with a choice between the management and expert careers. Both were very appealing to me. But then I realized that my heart ultimately belongs to technology. In principle, there is a certain amount of permeability between the individual career paths. That was very helpful for me, too. For example, I was able to start out as an L3 expert right away in 2009. Because the embedded software segment is strategically important to Continental and Powertrain, there is also a corresponding field at L4, and after five years as an L3 expert, I had expanded my expertise to the point that I could be considered for the L4 field.

The critical factor is the breadth of the field of expertise, basically. An L4 software expert covers the entire embedded architecture across the divisions. The experts at the level below that are responsible for matters on a cross-BU basis – for a certain software field. L2 experts, in turn, work on a cross-segment basis, and they are responsible for a smaller section of the embedded field. L1, finally, is intended as a kind of preparatory stage for development of L2 experts. Organizationally and in hierarchical terms, this takes the form of a pyramid. In practice, though, there is extensive dialogue. Teamwork is very important, most especially because our subjects are highly complex. Working in the expert organisation is working in a community rather than in a hirarchy.

Sharing of knowledge during Expert Day

An event called the Expert Day is held every year within the ES BU. During this event, which was held on June 17, 2015, another nine employees were also added to the ranks of experts. This year’s Expert Day focused on Design for Six Sigma, a quality management method. In addition, a training session on presentation skills was offered, and there was also a lot of room for networking and informal dialogue. We will be able to tie in with this shortly, when a cross-division Expert Day is held.

I would really encourage all colleagues to take the expert career path. The possibility of a lateral entry, for example, was extremely beneficial to me, and it offers great opportunities. You do have to have some patience, of course. It may take a bit longer compared with the management career at times. That’s because measurable technical results don’t become evident until several years later in some cases, after all. And naturally, you also need some patience to get your name out there. But one of the best ways to become known is by doing good things.

Ralph Mader

Ralph Mader

After having studied Electrical Engineering at the University of Applied Sciences in Regensburg I started working for Continental AG (former SIEMENS-VDO). In the software development for Powertrain I worked in different roles (developer, project manager, line management) and projects for various German and international OEMs. From 2006 on I was repsonible for the design and selection of micro controllers for the Powertrain area and the efficient use of micro controller resources. Since 2010 in addition I am leading development of the Multi Core software architecture for engine management systems. In July 2015 I was appointed as Principal Technical Expert for “Powertrain Software Architecture Embedded Systems

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