What I do for a living

I consider myself very lucky to be able to say this: I am very happy with my chosen profession, I would not change it for anything. Not even for art 😉 So what do I do?

I’m a process engineer. Which in itself will probably not tell you anything (hence this post ;)) so let me elaborate.

Studies

I studied process engineering in Karlsruhe at the university. The way the German education system works (or at least wored at the time I was studying) is that you finish school at 19 with the Abitur (there are other forms of graduation, too, but you cannot to go to a university with these) and then choose a subject to study.

You start with the basics for your chosen subject, in my case:

  • physics, chemistry, mathematics, thermodynamics
  • machine design, incl technical drawing
  • apparatus engineering, electrical engineering
  • material science
  • internship process engineering

After two years you get your Vordiplom before you move on to more basics:

  • heat and mass transfer
  • fluid mechanics, engineering mechanics
  • thermal separation technologies
  • process and plant design
  • measurement and control technology
  • Studienarbeit (meaning a kind of smaller thesis work)

Only after all that you get to choose your two main subjects. I chose mechanical process engineering (this is not mechanical engineering) and food process engineering. But the fact that you have all of those mandatory things at the top ensures that you can work basically in whichever industry you choose after you graduate with your Diplom (equivalent to an M Sc.).

Job

If you think that all engineers sit in their office all day and while away the hours pondering and solving problems without ever seeing another soul, I have to disappoint you 😉 While what a process engineer ends up doing can greatly vary, the secluded type is definitely not an option. At least not in this day and age.

Today, a lot of my job is based on communication: I need to talk to collegues from different departments when we collaborate on a proposal (or a project, but in my case it’s mostly proposals) and agree on how the finished product is supposed to look. It is not enough to come up with a technical solution and fill in some technical information and leave the rest to someone else. Depending on the size of the proposal, I will also take the responsibility to talk to our lawyers for the commercial part, give input to the cost estimating department, define the scope of work (based on a client request or together with the client if no such document has been sent), meet with the client to better fit their needs and so on.

I started as a regular process engineer at Air Liquide E&C and the plant shown in the video above was one of “mine” so to speak. Unfortunately, the video is in German, but it does give some nice impressions rom the Dormagen III HyCO Plant for which I was the Lead Process Engineer for the CO2 Removal Unit (that’s the thing with the columns ;)).

The core of what I do today is Solution Development, which in our company means doing proposals based on the individual client’s needs. As a technology provider, we always try to find the optimum solution in terms of cost for installation (CAPEX, the cost of building the plant) and cost for operation (OPEX, the cost of running the plant). For developing such an optimized solution, the whole plant needs to be simulated in different setups so they can be compared and the best one chosen. To take into account not just the OPEX, which can easily be gauged by looking at all the things the plant will need to run in the simulation (for example feed gas, steam import/export, cooling water and the like), but also the CAPEX, a lot of interdisciplinary work can be required (depending on the acuracy required).

That is where the aforementioned communication comes in. For example, if we get a special feed stock that we should use, there may be questions attached as to how the compressor needed for that stream needs to be designed so that in the end there are no ugly surprises. To solve these, our rotating department will need process input (in the form of a process data sheet) in order to start talking to the vendors and thus get a better handle on the issue.

So my job never gets boring, because there are always these additional tasks that prevent routine from taking over. I am also involved in some innovation discussions – but I cannot say anything about that kind of thing, of course, as I am bound by an NDA. And that is also the reason that this blog entry cannot go into more detail.

Being a Woman in Engineering

But what I can do is to say this: I’m a woman in engineering and I have never found myself discrimated against – that might be due to me studying & working in Germany (and for a French company), or it might be due to some extent to me not being prone to thinking “oh that was because I am a woman”, I will rather think “that’s because they think I know nothing, I have to show them differently”.

I know that systematic discrimination cannot be combatted by a positive personality, and I know that discrimination does happen – even though it hasn’t happened to me personally. I do not want to belittle any of that.

But to be quite honest, I sometimes have the feeling when listening to my fellow female engineers (who work in the same environment) that a little bit of positive thinking, or maybe some ability to *not* put oneself on a pedastal (that prevents you from seeing that it might be you who needs to prove something) might do some people a hell of a lot of good 😉 It just seems too easy to put the blame on some undefined outside source than to look at yourself and make some changes – or even find out what it is you really want, instead of waiting for things to be presented on a silver platter…

Need some more Info?

If you would like to have some more information on the job, maybe because you are thinking of doing your own engineering degree, I’ll be happy to talk about it with you. Just leave a comment, shoot me an email via the contact page or contact me on social media.

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