How did you first hear about Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences?
Through the internet. I come from Egypt and when I first decided that I want to study in Germany, I did some research and I noticed Rhine-Waal University, which was the only one back then that had full engineering courses in English, which was easier for me. I could speak a little German back then but not enough to study engineering. So that’s how it got my attention. And I checked on the internet how it was developed – I started studying in 2014, so it was only founded since 5 years, but in those 5 years it was remarkable in its development and it was already on the same scale as other universities in Germany and worldwide actually. That is how I got to know it.
How was it to come from Egypt to Kleve, a small town in Germany?
I come from Cairo, which is one of the biggest cities in the world. So to be honest, at first when I came here it was a shock. Shops close at six and when I was walking in the streets, I could walk for a while without meeting anyone - for me that was a new experience. In Cairo, you can sometimes not walk in a straight line because there are so many people on the street and you are rushing all the time. So it was a shock but it was nice. Now I got used to it so much because this calmness is beautiful. And if I need to have some busy days I can get that from the university. There were 3,000 students back then so it was easy to have really calm days but it was also easy to have some really loud days. I had the choice.
Why have you decided to study Industrial Engineering?
Because it is broad. When you study Industrial Engineering, you can afterwards choose whatever direction, with a little bit of effort. So for me, I wanted to do something technical. That is also why I went to BMW to do my internship and thesis, which was really technical and now I can work in a technical field. Some other colleagues had the choice to work in management or sales positions in an engineering or a technology producing company and they could as well. So after finishing the programme, I guess it is really easy to do some self-development and choose your own direction: purely business, mixture of business and technology or only technology. Those three options are available in a single graduate programme, Industrial Engineering.
You will soon leave Kleve to move to Munich to start working at BMW via Intech as a test automation engineer. How did you get into this position?
I got into BMW via the engineering service provider Intech. Intech operates in three different sectors: the industrial sector to develop technology for industry 4.0 or Internet of Things. The second sector is transportation. They have a couple of projects with the German and Austrian governments to develop environmentally friendly busses and trains. Third sector is the automotive sector and here they are a service provider, which means that they take over projects from all the big automotive companies in Germany: Volkswagen, Audi, Mercedes and finally BMW. They take a project, they support BMW with engineers – employees like myself who then work in the BMW buildings. Everything is BMW except the official documents. Those papers are managed by Intech.
So I did my interview with Intech for my position as an engineering trainee in BMW, I didn’t have to do another interview because I was internally recruited. I was with them one year already – six months of internship, six months for my thesis – and all of it was based on the first interview. During the thesis, I asked them to give me a contract if they had any available positions and they took me up on it with pleasure because for such huge companies it is always easier to recruit people who already have experience and know the company from the inside. Normally, the contract goes from temporary to permanent after a six month probation period, but because I was already there for the internship and the thesis I didn’t need those six months anymore; they just gave me a fixed position directly in my project.
Can you tell me more about your job tasks?
Let me explain. Nowadays in the worldwide automotive industry, 90% of development goes towards the implementation of smart systems in the car. This includes, for example, electronic control units, smart activators and computers of different types and sizes, all implemented together to increase not only performance efficiency, but also passenger safety and comfort. If you are driving a car from 2012 onwards, you are not really driving a car anymore; you are driving a very smart computer. Sure, it rolls on wheels still, but it is not a car anymore, it is a self-sustained system.
My department is specialized in the development of driving dynamics systems which affect the dynamics of the car, for example its stability on the road. We have this huge suspension test bench, on which a big portion of the car’s electronic system is installed. It is relatively huge – 2m high 2m wide I would say. The whole car is installed as electronic devices and a couple of active features like the steering wheel and so on. What we do is test those systems combined together (SI System Integration). This is the main theme of my department: we combine all of those parts together, test them and then analyse the results. Our testing targets the communication between these electronic systems: How well do they interact? For example, how does the sensor that monitors the rotation of the car’s wheels signal the main computer that the car is moving slower than the rotation of the tires so that the ABS is triggered?
In our department, we have around 30 employees, 25 of whom are test engineers who test, analyse and develop the communication systems of the car, and 5 of whom, including myself, are test automation engineers. What we do is build the test algorithms and scripts which should be used automatically, the test system in other words. So for example, if I want to test the ABS I would program a test algorithm using my own programming knowledge and some software developed by different companies (including BMW itself) to test this specific case. If I want to test ABS in the real world, I would have to drive the car, take it on the road, try again and again to slide it and it would take all day, and it will not be safe. Instead, I design a virtual test case and test it on the test bench, which takes five minutes instead of a whole day. That’s what we do. It increases development efficiency.
Which advice do you have for our engineering students?
One of the things which is really important for me to tell my fellow students: my study progress during the first one and a half years was not the best, but that was because I was learning how to live alone in Germany. I never lived in a WG in Kleve; I lived alone for the first time in my life. I had to take care of myself. When should I go to the doctor? When should I go to buy groceries? I had to learn how to manage my finance, either for the university or the insurance company, to learn how to look for decent jobs, report on my studies etc. These things took like one and a half years until I mastered them. Afterwards, these efforts were much easier, I got used to them so that I could study and have decent grades. So I guess my advice is when you fall behind with one or two semesters and do not pass a lot of courses, you should not doubt yourself because that is really normal. Studying a bachelor degree generally is 100% hard, but it’s the biggest step you can take towards the future. So don’t doubt yourselves. Regardless of whatever happens or however hard it is, you will finish your degree. I had some really hard days and semesters and I was still able to graduate with a decent overall grade and now I am going to be working for a huge company like BMW in Germany.
A second thing, which is very important besides the studying is the internship. It is just as important as all the courses you are going to take. If you get yourself an internship in a decent company, you can usually ask them for a thesis project too. While finishing the thesis, you will be able to ask them for an engineering position afterwards. So, it is really useful to invest some time and some efforts to search for your internship because it can really help your career. And you might have to widen your search range – do not just look near Kleve or only in NRW because it is convenient – look everywhere in Germany.
Moreover, what you learn in your internship semester is equivalent to what you learn in all your two and a half years (or 5 semesters) of final exams. And maybe a little bit more because everything you learned will be used as tools in your internship – actually used – so you are going to use your maths skills, you are going to sometimes use your physics skills, programming skills, management skills– everything you learned at university. The internship is the best time to learn how to apply those tools. Finally, you will probably learn a lot about working in general during the internship. You have to go to work every day for 8 hours, do meetings, and maybe present your own work sometimes. So you are not going to be shocked when you first start working after university. You learn all of this gradually without any pressure during your internship and thesis, making it easy to break into the engineering world or the general working environment afterwards.
What is your favourite memory of your student life at Rhine-Waal?
To be honest I have lots of them, I don’t have a favourite specific one. I would say that my colloquium day was very special to me because it was then that I finished my degree and this is one of my biggest achievements so far. Finishing my engineering degree in Germany with a decent grade. I also had two very successful semesters with lots of courses and made a lot of study progress and I really enjoyed that feeling. When I got my internship finally that was nice as well.
Going back even further, I was among the student group who started the international Rhine-Waal football tournament. We – the Egyptian team – played a match against Cameroon. Then the HSRW football representative said okay, that was very nice let’s do this each year and then all teams can take part. So we were the first team and we just happened to found something with it. I remember that it was a really nice day, it was sunny, and lots of people were there just to watch. So all the teams from the different nations passionately challenged each other and it was really competitive and heated but after the tournament, we had some beer together and everything was fine. The fight was over but during the tournament it was there, and after the tournament it was something else – you could see how they were all different. Different colours, different languages, but they all competed with the same ambition together and against each other and then they all became friends again after the last whistle. Maybe even a little bit more than they already were by having fun and reminiscing about the tournament for months afterwards – it was a really exciting experience.
And maybe the most remarkable point was my first day at the university. I joined the Freshers’ Week and got to know a lot of people during that first week. At first, I was a little bit anxious, but the Freshers’ week helped me a lot to integrate. Plus, everyone who comes to this university wants to integrate too. I want to integrate, they want to integrate, so it’s really easy to find common ground. We both want to break through whatever barrier there is. Language, colour, culture, and background, whatever – we all wanted to break through it.
Finally, racism still exists in our world and this university is one of the examples of how racism can die. I saw it in many situations with many different colleagues from many different backgrounds, and I would say that 90% or more of the students are 100% against racism. The point is, in our university, even if you are deep down a racist you cannot remain that way. You are going to be really screwed up. If you are racist, you have two options: you have to get rid of your views or you leave Rhine-Waal. You don’t have a third option. Because if you showed it towards someone from Eastern Europe for example, the guys from Africa, from the Middle East, from America and from Latin America will be there to support them, so you really going to have some tough days. Here, you really get a good lesson in manners and how to deal with different people. So better just move past it and learn to like your fellow students or leave. And this is nice. Rhine-Waal is literally an international university. By now, I have colleagues and friends from many different nationalities and that is amazing, learning about their cultures through them. Not through the internet but through their own experiences in the streets of those countries. You learn the languages from the native speakers. All this is remarkable to be honest. Crazy remarkable. I love this aspect of our university. And I am sad that I am leaving. It’s a new chapter, I know, but my time here was amazing.