Germany, a country famous for its “Autobahn” (superhighways with no designated speed limits), is also famous for “class leading” automotive safety standards focused on occupant safety.
Kavin Chandrasekaran, our next pathbreaker, Automotive Safety Expert, works in one of the top Automotive companies in Germany with the aim of enhancing functional safety.
Kavin talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about taking the “road less travelled” to Germany for his masters in Vehicle Dynamics to work in the field of Automotive Safety.
For students, nothing beats the personal satisfaction of seeing a car you have helped create, out on the open road!
Kavin, tell us about Your background?
I am an automotive safety expert who was born and brought up in Chennai, India. My father works in the banking sector and mother a teacher. My hobbies are playing cricket and solving the Rubik’s cube.
What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?
I pursued Mechanical Engineering from Anna university.
During my bachelor’s, I got addicted to the essence of vehicle mechanisms and design which made me choose automotive engineering for my masters. And hence, I travelled to Germany for my Master of Engineering (M.Eng.) in Vehicle Dynamics at Hochschule Esslingen – University of Applied Sciences.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
It’s simple! My interest towards the subject made me choose this stream.
Mechanical engineering is one of the most prominent branches of engineering that includes the application of laws of physics for designing, analyzing and manufacturing of mechanical systems. Hence, to gain knowledge in those areas, I chose this stream for my bachelors.
Gaining some practical experience is always a good approach to mastering a subject. And after struggling a lot, I got an interview call from Hinduja Foundries. After two rounds of interviews, I got an opportunity from them in the design department, where I designed the steering wheel for Go-Kart vehicles for one of my projects.
The next opportunity that I got was from Royal Enfield in the same design department, where I did my other project on engine crank case analysis.
And by acquiring some experience in the automotive sector, I decided to do a masters in automobile engineering.
In fact, I always feel that mechanical engineering is the father branch of automobile engineering.
Tell us about your career path
I didn’t have any specific plans, but I had some goals. I’m not a guy who wants to study automobile engineering and work in the IT sector. My primary goal was to work in a field which is of my interest. It’s a competitive world and you might need to stand out for sure, which means you might need to develop a skill which is the most demanded one in the market.
I had a CGPA of 9 when I completed my bachelors.
After publishing three journals, I got a chance to present my paper at an international conference in Malaysia where I got the best paper award. My LinkedIn profile would give more details on this.
As I said, you might need to stand out from the crowd. Just take some time to think about what you really want to do and in which field you would like to grow. Never work in a domain that you don’t like, because we live only once.
I realised that pursuing a career in automotive engineering in Germany is incredibly rewarding. Hope you would accept that. You can have a very direct impact on people’s lives, because cars are everywhere and they’re a huge part of modern culture. It fills you with a great sense of pride and personal satisfaction when you see a car you have helped to create, out on the open road, or on a show stand.
I chose vehicle dynamics because of my interest in understanding the vehicle’s behavior in response to the driver inputs and as a result, its demand in the market.
I chose Esslingen University of Applied Sciences because it is one of Germany’s top universities in Applied Sciences (government) where students pay a very low tuition fee. The university was established in 1868. It has a special recognition in Germany and getting an admit here is a dream for many, including myself. One shall have at least 85% in their bachelors to secure an admit here. Having work experience in the relevant field is of course an added advantage.
One more thing is that the language plays a vital role in Germany. Fortunately, I studied until B1 in Goethe-Institut before flying and completed B2 in Germany.
During my masters at Germany, I was a “Werkstudent”, working while studying at the university. Literally a working student.
Internship, on the other hand, is something students do for full-time without attending classes at the university.
My ‘Werkstudent’ role at Bosch was quite amazing. In the beginning, I didn’t know anything about business ethics. I was like a baby in the automotive business world, but I learnt a lot by making several mistakes. I got a chance to work in the R&D department of Common rail diesel system development, where I was responsible for creating a conveyor design which transfers the goods from electric to hybrid vehicles in the manufacturing plant.
I did my master thesis at Daimler AG in their Autonomous Vehicles and Vehicle Dynamics dept.
My thesis on the problem of lateral velocity estimation has been the focus of many scientific investigations over the last decades. However, under certain situations, (for example, while driving straight) “observability” is lost resulting in a progressive degradation of estimates. So, my task was to estimate the lateral velocity on considering the observability issues using the extended Kalman filter and that was a real application on test drives.
How did you get your first break?
My first break was my admit letter to a German university. Even though, I got several admits from the USA, Singapore and Germany, I chose Germany as it is quite famous for automotive engineering.
Safety comes first when you take any vehicle, and the demand for vehicle safety engineers in the market is quite high, but there are a very few experts who have in-depth knowledge on functional safety. Hence, I decided to choose this field and of course, after attending several interviews and facing numerous rejections, I got a job as a junior safety engineer. Well, this is my second breakthrough. After promotions and appraisals, I’m now working as an automotive safety professional.
What were the challenges? How did you address them?
When I thought of doing a Masters in Germany, I was short by 5000 euros.
But with full hope, I appeared for some competitive exams.
My grades convinced my parents and they readily accepted my decision to go abroad and my dad agreed to invest his savings on my higher education.
Finally, after landing in Germany, I missed my family a lot, especially during festivals. My mom literally used to cry as it was the first time, that I stayed far away from home.
But now, we have got used to the separation, and the video calls bring a smile to our faces.
My parents have been my driving force without whose support this wouldn’t have been achievable. I’d consider my grandfather (who holds 8 degrees and several state awards for his services to the society) as my role model.
Remember: The first step is always difficult.
Where do you work now? What do you do?
I am working as an Automotive safety expert in one of the top Automotive companies in Germany.
As a safety expert, my tasks are the following:
Working with business acquisition and product development teams to identify risks at various stages of the product life cycle.
Defining a functional safety concept with safety goals and safety cases according to IEC 61508 or ISO 26262.
Planning and coordinating the functional safety activities with product managers, development team, suppliers and customers to ensure achievement of the safety goals on products.
Training and coaching the development team through every aspect of the safety plan through appropriate processes and methods.
Communicating with all required stakeholders to identify and define technical/ system requirements, safety requirements tied to the safety goals.
Finally assessing the completeness and correctness as well as quality of all documents and the other safety relevant work products.
Proper communication and detailed knowledge on the safety standards are the main necessities for this role.
How does your work benefit society?
As vehicles have improved due to technological advancements, higher speeds are being attained in no time. However, some random (annoying!) bump on the streets, for example, causes accidents. As safety experts, we are more concerned with improving car safety and preventing injuries & deaths.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
The only way one can learn is through teaching. I started a free math tuition for school kids in my city, when I was doing engineering in Chennai. Sharing knowledge is the most fundamental act of friendship. Because it is a way you can give something without losing something.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
- Never base your life decision on advice from people who won’t have to deal with the results.
- Choose your career based on your passion.
- Be practical and research the market for the skills in top demand and then decide.
- Always remember, family comes first NOT friends.
- Please read the above four points again.
Well, I’ve many long-term goals to be honest. I’d reveal those in my LinkedIn profile when the time comes. Stay tuned for updates.
Please take the content of this interview only as a guideline for your own career building. Some insights which I shared regarding the industry are not a comprehensive or complete one. Therefore, please do not take any such point as a basis for any decision in your career, because for such an action I would recommend you do further research. In short make sure there are no speculations before you make your career decision.
I’m open for mentoring!
Feel free to follow me on LinkedIn. Let’s spread love and humanity together.