Each September, some of the brightest young minds in engineering and mechatronics pitch up in Berlin. They come from towns and cities across Europe and beyond to begin a three-and-a-half year program that will kickstart their careers in two industries at the cutting edge.
The Europeans at Siemens program takes two pathways: Electrical/Electronic Engineering and Mechatronics, and is based in Berlin, Germany, with a mix of both hands-on and academic training, as well as a placement in the UK. The electronic/electronic engineering path prepares students for a career in power transmission and distribution, installation and maintenance of complex production lines or in infrastructure projects, while mechatronics is geared towards plant automation, installation, commissioning and maintenance.
The program is rigorous: many students begin with an intense crash-course in German language before moving on to hands-on training and theory. Getting stuck into designing, building and programming is something those on the course relish, and there is also the added benefit of learning while living in one of Europe’s most vibrant cities. New York might be ‘the city that never sleeps’, but Berlin arguably has greater claim to that title, with a 24/7 nightlife known for carefree tolerance, and parties that can stretch across a whole weekend. After graduating, most students return to their home countries and start working with Siemens – commissioning, learning under mentors, and often travelling widely.
So what’s the program really like? And how does the future look for its alumni? We spoke to students from the Classes of ‘16, ‘17 and ‘20 about culture shock, green energy and DJing at the weekends
Technical Service Engineer gives technical support to an organization’s customers. This often involves on-site visits to solve any technical problems with products, check if it needs repairing or replacing, and making sure services are running smoothly for customers.
Were you always interested in Electronics?
Yeah, I was a curious child, wanting to open things, see what’s inside and how it works. My uncles taught me to build a PC from scratch. My friends were paying for new computers but I was doing it myself, when I was 11 or 12 years old. My dad started to realize, “Oh, right, maybe this boy is interested in it.”
You recently graduated from the program; what are you up to now?
Right now I’m a technician in Milan. I’m really watching, listening and studying what my managers do; some of my colleagues have 40 years of experience. I’m not ready to do anything on my own just yet but I’d love to – and to do it as well as them.
Do you get to travel with your work?
I often travel to Rome, Frankfurt, and Greece, Spain and Cyprus – I love it. Sitting in one place all day long isn’t something I like to do. I like to always be moving and meeting new people.
What are your ambitions?
I’d like to get more technician experience and then in 10 years have some kind of management position. I would like a high position - a lot of important people here started from the bottom as a technician.
Did you enjoy living in Berlin as part of the program?
I loved it. It’s a city where the impossible happens – it’s like a magic place. Living in Berlin changed my way of thinking. I liked exploring the historical sites, music concerts and because I’m also a DJ I really loved experiencing the clubs. It’s the place for techno.
Did you make friends?
Yeah, I made some of my best friends. They all live in Madrid so I’m really missing them right now. I travelled with them, I went everywhere with them – across Germany and Europe. They taught me Spanish, too.
Which area of Tech excites you the most right now?
Automation: in the future we’ll be doing less and technology will be doing more. It’s amazing that we’ll be able to travel in cars without driving them. There are risks, but they’re risks we have to take. If everyone is too scared then automation will never reach its full potential.
Have you always wanted to be an engineer?
When I was a kid I wanted to be a pilot and travel all over the world. But I was always good at maths and physics, and solving problems quickly. I come from that background – my father’s a mechanical engineer and my mother is a maths teacher. I like understanding and explaining difficult subjects so I’d like to combine teaching with engineering. I want to be a great engineer – and someone who’s a leader.
What attracted you to the program?
Over 70% of the program is practical – that’s one of the things that attracted me. At university it was hard to put what we learned into practise as the machines in our laboratories were so old – some 40 or 50 years old.
Which area of engineering excites you the most?
Renewable energy: world leaders need to think seriously about changing energy sources from fuel to renewables like solar or wind. Germany’s the leading country in this field.
What are the other people on the program like?
It’s so international. There are people from Algeria, South Africa, Iceland, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Turkey... I’ve met so many people from different countries, so you learn about new cultures.
What do you like to do when you’re not studying?
I walk, go to the gym, swim, play squash, watch movies, and read about technology. I’ve also taken trips with people from the program. We’ve been climbing, explored parks in Berlin and went on a boat trip down the river.
Software Engineers design and build the foundations of any computer software, programming the nitty-gritty details that allow operating systems to run smoothly.
You graduated from the program last year, what have you been up to since?
At the moment I’m living in Graz. I’m a software engineer, so working on programming tasks, making parts and trying them out on the simulation. I’ve not been on-site yet but commissioning and maintaining projects will be a big part of what I do. One of my next projects is working on an airport cable line being built in Moscow.
Have you always been interested in engineering and mechatronics?
Yeah, I like getting my hands dirty and finding out how stuff works. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t be an engineer - I went to an all-girls school where we were encouraged to do whatever we wanted, so I never thought of this as an industry that’s more suited to one gender than the other.
Why did you apply to the Europeans at Siemens program?
It encompassed a lot of the things I was interested in – mechatronics, obviously, as well as being abroad and learning a new language.
What did it teach you?
We’d learn the theory, take workshops, and then put everything we’d learned into practise in the factory. We also worked on projects – our year designed, built and programmed this big hulk of a coffee machine. It was huge! It became a bit of a running joke, people would say: “Oh, these are the Europeans who made that coffee machine.”
Did it feel like there was much progression over the three-and-a-half years?
Yeah, each year we took another step until we were more independent. We started with the basics of metalwork and wiring, then moved on to designing the parts of a compressing machine, and then the whole thing; wiring and building it. We moved on to programming in the third year.
Did you make new friends while you were there?
Well, we all lived in flats in the same building in Berlin, so you can imagine the social life. I met my boyfriend there, which is why I ended up here in Austria. I’ve quite a few good friends I’m still in touch with.
What’s one of your ambitions right now?
I’d like to get myself to a higher level of programming. I’m used to the level we use for cables in mining, but the one I’m aiming towards is a lot more specific. It’s process control, so things have to be spot-on, otherwise, say, you can’t sell the car because the paint’s the wrong color. That kind of thing. Systems like that take a lot more effort to program, so I’m looking forward to learning it.
How are you finding the program so far?
I love it. I thought learning German would be difficult but everything’s falling into place.
The program includes an industry placement back at home; what’s the energy and engineering landscape like in South Africa?
The country needs more young people training to become engineers; at the moment there aren’t enough. There’s also a big problem with blackouts so power engineering, energy and systems will help provide reliable energy to create products and services for the country.
What do you hope to get from the program? And what do you hope to do afterwards?
I think it’ll teach me teamwork, how to treat everyone the same, how to apply things, mechanically, physically and emotionally. I’d like to work on a project in farming, water and energy fields but until then I’ll be learning and researching what other engineers are doing and achieving in these fields. I’m still deciding what I’d like to specialize in.
Do you think it’s important for companies to have people from all over the world working with them?
Yes, when we come together, we learn more – whether it’s a new language or about different cultures, it makes us stronger when we bring people together from different worlds.
What’s home like for you?
I grew up in a township notorious for bad things. And there’s a lot of teenage pregnancy in South Africa, so my parents kept me focused by helping me to set goals. At the time, I wanted to join the other teenagers, because it looked cool.
What do you like to do when you’re not studying?
Dodgeball, training at the gym, trampolining and skating. Back at home I worked on a campaign to set up libraries for schools. We fundraised and got organizations such as the Department of Education to donate money, so every school can have a library and a librarian.
Do you have advice for other people starting the program?
Just to be yourself, but listen to others. Take risks and listen to advice from different places. I think we talk too much, we need to listen more.