This year of practical work gave me great insight into the mechanics of how a company operates and how professional engineers work.
After my first and second year at the University I used my time in the summer to do some placements at the Volkswagen headquarters, located in Wolfsburg, which is my hometown in Germany.
Part way through my second placement, in the electronics team of the special vehicle department in Volkswagen's research and development unit, I got a contact in the Volkswagen Electronics Research Laboratory (ERL), which is located in Belmont, California.
With a good reference from my supervisor in Germany and a couple of phone interviews with the office in Belmont, I managed to get a position for a year-long internship. During my time at ERL I was part of the Infotainment Platforms Team, one of five teams at ERL.
My role in the Infotainment Platforms Team team mainly involved hardware design and programming. The expertise of our team was to design, fabricate and programme hardware platforms for new concepts, including interfaces, multimedia, driver comfort and communication.
My concrete involvement in the projects included printed circuit board design in Altium Designer, embedded programming in C in various integrated development environments, mechanical design in Solidworks and Flash Programming with Adobe's Flash Builder. Apart from using the software tools, I actually assembled and tested printed circuit boards in the E-lab, which means the use of a multimeter, wire cutters, tweezers, soldering iron and a microscope to solder components.
I was also able to prototype some of my mechanical designs with a 3D printer, laser cutter, milling machine and other power tools in our mechanical workshop. Designing a part system from scratch and fabricating it myself was one of the most rewarding technical experiences during my internship. It was also very rewarding that in the second half of my internship, at which point I had proven myself, my colleagues treated me equally, as a full engineer.
The responsibilities given to me grew bigger and I had direct contact with manufacturers and suppliers. All in all, the work experience at ERL was very unique and profitable for my future career. The atmosphere was very relaxed, with a lot of young innovative people, everyone knew each other and as an intern I was fully integrated into the daily work of the company.
This year of practical work gave me great insight into the mechanics of how a company operates and how professional engineers work. I have gained a lot of technical skills, but also got a bigger picture of the organisation of a project, which is very valuable for my forth year team project at Manchester, but more importantly for my future professional career.