The automotive industry has changed a lot in last few decades but is changing at a much faster rate now with the introduction of new technologies and the advent of electric and autonomous vehicles. Naturally, the industry seems to offer very lucrative job opportunities. But how does one prepare for an entry into this field and what kind of opportunities are available? Read on to find out.
From vehicles with only an engine, wheels, and seats to becoming completely driverless, the automotive industry has come a long way. The industry has evolved and so have the skills required to build a career in this field.
As per Deloitte survey report and Mckinsey report (2020), about 30 percent of the world’s total automotive development jobs are in India. There may be various reasons behind that, but one thing we know for sure is that the demand for expertise in the automotive industry in India is enormous and rising.
There is a lot more that goes behind building a vehicle, which in turn provides a great opportunity to forge a career in an unconventional yet immensely exciting industry.
Evolution of the industry
There is a significant technology shift in the industry. The current electrical architecture of a vehicle follows a distributed architecture system, meaning that multiple electronic control units (ECUs) are connected through a harness (vehicle network) and different functions of the vehicle are controlled by these ECUs.
It now follows a zone based architecture wherein multiple functions and processes inside a vehicle can be merged to function in unison on a high power computer within the vehicle.
Let’s look at the BMW 7 series for instance. The luxury car model has been in India since 2015 and has roughly about 150 ECUs in it now. The ECUs support different vehicle functions but also make the vehicle a complex network system.
Although research in the field is ongoing, it is clear that the future of automotive development is going to be zone based architecture. It would support the path of automation in the vehicles as well as their electrification.
As we know, the V-model is the product development model that is widely used in the industry. It has become complex and needs adaptation with the introduction of new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). The development model and the development processes have therefore started incorporating agile methodologies to introduce the new technologies.
Since automation relies heavily on data, the classical V-model used in the automotive development process is slightly being adapted to have a parallel V-cycle, which is purely focusing on the data-driven software development and its testing.
Product development is not a single workflow now, it is rather becoming an iterative process with multiple parallel ongoing processes—a continuous process of development and improvement.
Where to build your career
The changing phase of how we perceive mobility and the demand of this extremely dynamic industry have resulted in a jarring shift with regards to the skills that are required for a professional to succeed in this area. It has changed from a typical software-hardware-mechanical domain to a more detailed and more complex one. With the age of automation upon us, the software has of course become a crucial part of a vehicle’s development process.
Building a career in the automotive sector is not just about building a vehicle. The complexity of ideating, developing, testing, and rolling out a product into the market has only seen an upsurge with the changing technology. There are now three broad streams comprising various job roles and skill requirements where aspiring professionals can look in to build their careers.
Development stream. Systems engineering in vehicle manufacturing is an umbrella term that incorporates the development of all key aspects like hardware, software, and mechanical. Software programming is a basic skill that you need to have, even if you are not directly associated with software development for the vehicle. It is a major skill so even fundamental knowledge in this area can go a long way.
Hardware and mechanical require different specialisations. Although they sound similar, they imply very different parts of vehicle development. The hardware deals with aspects of printed circuit board (PCB) design and development, plotting for the vehicle, standards to be followed, etc. The mechanical area deals with the mainstream design of the components and tools as well as their packaging in the vehicle. Mechanical engineering, with some background of electronics and software, plays a major role in the automation industry.
Verification and validation is another important stream to consider. It basically involves testing the vehicle and its components and making sure that it is a quality product fit to be deployed in the market. Hence there are lots of opportunities there as well.
Supporting stream. In supporting stream the focus is on the process, methods, tools, standards, and compliance aspects. Methods and processes like Agile and ASPICE, and standards like functional safety and cyber security are pretty common in this stream.
Another common and important aspect in this stream is homologation methods.
Homologation deals with the certification of a product that is to be rolled out in different geographical markets. It is an exciting field of work in with great hiring opportunities in recent times.
Tool qualification is another interesting area. Complex products that are safety-critical require a qualification process that needs to be met when testing them, and that is what tool qualification does. It is a huge market with a lot of opportunities in India, especially to provide support to different organisations outside the country.
Management stream. Finally, there is the all-important management stream. Even if becoming a manager is not your ultimate goal and you would rather handle the technical decision, technology management or the management of new product planning and introduction is a way to support your aspirations of being a technical person applying management skills.
A technical manager focuses on new product introduction brings new products and technologies into the market, along with managing the prototyping, pilot projects, and R&D. But your skills alone do not make you a project manager. You also need to gain experience and expand your knowledge of the industry. It is not something that is not very technical but executing it well is important.
What the trends say
India is the world’s fourth largest manufacturer in the automotive industry, with a large chunk of the global automotive development taking place here. A significant part of that takes place in the software area.
This is not to say that other areas like hardware and mechanical do not have opportunities to grow and build a career. In fact, domains like vehicle body, chassis, infotainment, electrification, vehicle powertrain, and the latest automated driving trend are just as lucrative and also in demand, especially with the evolution that is taking place in the industry.
Additionally, the scope for fields like mechatronics and automation is also growing steadily with the advent and rising popularity of autonomous or driverless mobility. Autonomous driving brings complex systems inside vehicles, and this is accompanied by the need for automation in their development, testing, and even in their manufacture. The scope is huge, and you are learning a mix of mechanical, electronics, and software too. Knowing the software will help you support these technologies.
How to acquire in-demand skills
The automotive sector is growing at a tremendous pace with new innovations, especially in the field of clean mobility. Being knowledgeable in aspects like cybersecurity, data management, data analytics, automation industry 4.0, cloud technologies, AI and ML has become indispensable, and the relevance and demand of these skills are only going to grow.
The Covid pandemic has taught us many lessons, a significant amongst them is that learning can happen anytime, anywhere. Gone are the days when you had to be enrolled in a class or a formal academic course to learn new skills. The Internet has been our greatest ally in sharing and acquiring knowledge, which has enabled us to not rely only on books.
Videos, online courses, blogs are some of the few popular ways that people now upskill or reskill themselves. YouTube videos, for one, are the most accessible and cheapest way to learn a new skill, all without spending a single penny.
Some of the trendiest skills like AI, cybersecurity, and ML are the easiest to find useful resources for. There are also many great options for system engineers and for functional safety and cybersecurity. Programming languages like C++, C, Python, R, Java are in huge demand in this industry, so their knowledge is always going to give you an edge, no matter where you want to specialise in. The reason for this is that most code development on the embedded side takes place on C. There are, of course, other subsets but the above-mentioned are more in demand.
Social media is another great resource for learning and showing your potential. You can always showcase a personal project you have worked on and ask for suggestions from your network (which must include veterans working in the field) to understand where your project idea can be applied. This way, you will also be putting your talents out there for everyone to see, which increases your chances of being noticed and provided with an opportunity by someone looking for a person for that specific skill set. (In fact, I hired a person two years ago after he posted his project on LinkedIn.) Even if the project is not a product or prototype, a well-executed idea can also help to set yourself apart from the normal crowd.
Development or testing?
A common question that many have when starting their career (including myself) is whether to choose development or testing. People tend to assume that testing is somewhat inferior to development. But let me bust the myth. If you have just graduated from college or university, or are new to the industry, entering development does not mean that it is more valuable than testing, or vice versa.
Testing is just as important as developing a new technology or product. When new and complex technologies like advanced driver-assistance systems or autonomous driving systems are being developed, we first test them for their use cases and then further develop them to meet those use cases. This is because we are testing them rather than creating more requirements in the beginning.
When we develop them, we create a prototype based on certain ideas, testing it for certain use-cases and then trying to fix it. This means that the complexity has gradually moved to the testing side in defining new concepts for testing, methods, and even tools while applying the test-driven development or function-driven development method, which is very common these days. Again, this does not mean that development is any less important.
Skills are equally important for both development and testing. You can choose the path you wish to venture into based on the market demands and trends, but also focus on where you can learn more, where you can apply your skills, and which work will satisfy you. Your skills would be optimal in use that way and will support innovation in an area where you are happy to work.
The automotive industry is changing, but so is the competition to make a breakthrough in it. What worked ten years ago may not have that much relevance today. In that case, your skills, knowledge, and experience are what will determine your fate.
Something I recommend to students a lot is the importance of understanding what you are taught. Learning through understanding is very important. Many students might want to study for an exam a night before just to pass the exam, but if you change your goal from merely passing the exam to actually understanding the core concepts, you will definitely reap the benefits of it later.
Moreover, aspire to learn beyond your syllabus. A lot of concepts are not taught in the conventional school or college coursework, but you should not restrict yourself to just those. Embrace the habit of reading. Read whatever you can that is related to technology and its application in different industries. Know what is trending in the industry and what is in demand.
Also maintain a powerful profile on professional networks like LinkedIn and decent exchanges in any social media platform because it can bring you opportunities.
The article is based on the talk ‘Career guidance: How to upskill and be ready for the automotive revolution’ by Plato Pathrose, Advisory Board Member, Vantix/Vinfast, which was presented at MOVES 2021, Tech World Congress 2021