Working as an Embedded Systems FAE in the automotive sector

Bernhard Kockoth has experience working in software engineering, field applications engineering, product management, and technical marketing. He has worked in Germany, North America, France, and Eastern Europe. He now works for ViGEM GmbH based in Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg, and leads advanced development projects as a Field Application Engineer in the automotive sector.

Bernhard Kockoth automotive embedded systems Field Applications Engineer from Germany

Bernhard Kockoth, Field Application Engineer automotive, with ViGEM CCA9010

Background

Could you give a brief description of your background and what led you to study electrical engineering and computer science?
I have a talent for imagination, abstract thinking, and reading*. Then I got interested in radio and audio technology in the 70s, and personal computers in the 80s.
*Reading may be a pastime of the “past”. Today’s young people learn in a different way, less intense, or so it seems. When it comes to do applied engineering in the field, nothing beats “hands-on” experience.
Were there any childhood interests which were a factor?
My interests started with Lego and Fischertechnik, and then moved on to electronics and computers.
(Fischertechnik also offer kits for training and industrial simulation for “grownups”).

Has there been a particular person who inspired you in your early career?
Comic characters.
Donald Duck and Scrooge Duck for their travel adventures around the world.
Gyro Gearloose for being the genius inventor.

Typical day as a Field Application Engineer

What exactly does your role include and what’s your typical day like?
I answer presale technical requests and help with evaluations of our products. Also, information gathering, what are the trends in the industry, new developments specific to the company I work for.
Which devices do you support?
High speed data recorders, at the end of the day they may have captured 100 Terabytes.
Which industries do you work with?
Automotive OEM and their Tier-1s.
How much travel do you do, and how do you maintain a work life balance?
Travel is only 20-30%.
We have strict working hours, so I get a day off for a Sunday on the road.
Since home office became “mandatory” three years ago, many of us have kept using home office days for a better work-life balance.
How much of your time is spent on site with customers?
Including trade shows and conferences, only 10%, roughly. It used to be more when I was younger, I do more strategic work now.
Which other people/departments give you support/do you work with?
Almost all of them, mostly sales and engineering. Also, logistics, quality, purchasing and last but not least accounting to get my travel expenses reimbursed.
How commercial do you need to be?
Often, I am the only face of the company, so I take a customer’s insights to the sales and engineering departments.

driverless car dashboard

Most challenging part of the job of a Field Application Engineer working on automotive products

What do you find most challenging when you are working?
When I run out of ideas and/or headquarters’ support is not available.
What do you do when a problem seems unsolvable? (What is your method for tackling it?)
Talk.
With anybody, knowledgeable or not, as explaining the problem helps in finding a solution.
Where do the main challenges come from – customers or technical issues?
Political stuff, behind the scenes arrangements and compromises, neglecting physical reality.

Driverless cars and the future of the automotive industry

What are your thoughts on driverless cars?
Nice to have for individual car users, and this will become useful for commercial drivers. The European way to develop the technology little-by-little turned out to be the right way.
How big an issue is car safety and what needs to be resolved still?
People in cars are pretty safe. It’s the pedestrians, cyclists and other road users who need more protection from 2-ton vehicles with distracted drivers.
Could field engineers one day be driven by their car to appointments and do other work on the way?
Other work … difficult, and some of us are on the phone all the time already. Instead, sleeping would be a good choice.
What are your predictions for the future of cars?
As long as humans continue to be concentrated in cities to live and work, we need to have far fewer individually owned cars for mobility. Car sharing with automated delivery will become a thing. People out in the countryside may need to and be able to keep their individual cars.

driverless cars on road

New Field Application or Technical Marketing Engineers

What makes a good FAE or Technical Marketing Engineer?
Four key things:
Hands on attitude
Lots of ideas
Excellent communication skills
Plenty of background knowledge.
What were your reasons for moving away from pure development?
Travel.
As said above, I wanted to live the adventures of the Ducks. This way, I get to see the world and be paid.
Why would you recommend moving into a customer facing role from a pure development role?
To understand why we are doing what we are told to do. Front line for that sort of information is the customer.
How important are communication skills?
You need to find your way in foreign places, with or without language. Today’s smartphones help a lot, but when your western phone becomes useless in places like China .. what do you do?

To summarise:
The capability to improvise, to get the information needed, to imagine solutions and be hands on in creating them, to sometimes leave your comfort zone … makes a happy field person.

Further reading

John DeFiore – a Field Applications Engineer for Texas Instruments in California

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