Around the World with the Screwdriver - Technical Product Manager and Support & Training Specialist at Roche

Blog post Ramona

Training colleagues in Mannheim today, dismantling medical devices tomorrow in Argentina, Brazil, Singapore or another country – by no means uncommon in the everyday working life of the Technical Product Manager Ramona Seel and her colleagues from Training & Support. During an interview, she explains what her job looks like in Global Customer Support at Roche, which project was her most exciting one and why you should have two valid passports in her job.

blogpost Ramona

Ramona Seel (33) is a technical product manager with Roche Diagnostics in Mannheim. Prior to that, she studied medical technology (graduate degree in engineering) at the Gießen University of Applied Sciences.

What does a technical product manager do at Roche?

I’m basically in charge of the maintenance of specific devices: on the one hand, I train colleagues in the proper handling of a medical device. If a new product is launched, I also manage installation training courses that last several weeks. On the other hand, our technicians call when they have problems with a certain device. I then try to help them on the phone, but sometimes it’s also necessary to provide support on site – and this all around the world.

Then traveling is part of your job, too?

Yes, sure. Traveling makes up around one third of my job. We’re the ″third level support″: when the customer is not able to help him- or herself, and when even no one in the office of the Roche branch in the relevant country knows what to do, that’s when we step in and take action. My area of expertise is the hardware. I travel around the world with the screwdriver so to speak. My deployment locations are customer laboratories or hospitals. That’s a real surprise every time: sometimes, the labs are clinically sterile, but sometimes I also arrive at a construction site. However, project meetings are part of my day-to-day working life as well.

What does a typical working day look like?

It’s hard to say because no two days are the same. At times, my whole daily planning gets mixed up because someone reports an important diagnostic device is not working. Naturally, solving the problem then has priority. That’s because when these machines don’t work, the impact on people can be severe; for example, when a blood sample cannot be analyzed while the patient is already lying on the operating table. Then we, from the customer-support, are under tremendous pressure.

Do you work on the telephone hotline as well?

Providing support on the phone is also one of my jobs. However, the end customers don’t call me, but rather our employees. Frequency and type of inquiries are very different: it’s often a question of solving problems via remote diagnosis. But sometimes, someone also just needs a product number so that they can order something. In addition, I’m always in discussions with manufacturers, colleagues from other departments and I write product documentations as well.

Speaking of colleagues: How is your department set up?

There are altogether twelve of us in my team, including technical product managers, but also experienced experts with additional jobs. A large number of them are support and training specialists. At our own request, we all share one office. Some colleagues are more specialized in hardware, like me. Other colleagues are mainly responsible for the software or applications. Basically, each of us can do a little of everything, but we’re still specialized in certain aspects. In such a complex field like this, it would not work in any other way.

Are there a lot of interfaces to other units?

Yes. For example, I work closely with the documentations department. Often, highly sophisticated devices have a 1000-page manual. No one reads through this to just eliminate an error. That’s why I develop meaningful, transparent product documents for the devices that I’m in charge of. So it is important to recognize what is essential, filter it out and summarize it in an easy-to-understand way for the customers and the support team in each relevant country.

We also stay in close contact with the colleagues from marketing to be able to respond to customers’ requests. For example, software updates with new functionality are also provided due to customer notices. And since the spare parts department cannot have all device components in stock at all times, we coordinate with the colleagues and agree on the parts which must absolutely be kept in stock and which ones don’t need to.

Have you gotten to know other Roche locations?

I’m at Roche locations abroad again and again, for example in Barcelona or in Rotkreuz (Switzerland). The nice part this is that I know a lot of the colleagues as I’ve already trained them in Mannheim. So I’m not just helping anybody, but rather colleagues, who I know as well. This makes the work all the more appealing.

What was your most interesting project until now?

Quite early on when I started my job at Roche, a new product was designed. This device automates numerous routine tasks in the diagnostic lab, for example, it prepares blood samples for analysis and processing.

Even then it was clear that we wanted to develop a new device in this field. But what exactly it should look like and what it should be able to do in detail, nobody knew at that point of time. When I was asked whether I wanted to participate in this project, I said yes right away. It was exciting to see how something grew from an idea into a ready-to-run automation system with altogether 15 components that is sold around the globe.

Which tasks did you have here?

The whole project took around seven years from the first idea through to product launch, so it was very complex. Together with my colleagues I initially determined which requirements the new device should fulfill. During development and in the testing phase, I was frequently in Japan at the manufacturer’s site, an electronics group of companies. I also wrote numerous reports.

What are the greatest challenges in your work?

The job is very versatile. You must always stay flexible in order to be able to spontaneously respond to inquiries. It can also always be the case that you have to drop everything to solve a problem on site. This means that since we work globally, we must have a lot of intercultural tact and sensitivity, too. The work in Asia is, for example, completely different from Europe or in South America. Working as a woman in the hardware sector is not always very easy either. Depending on where my assignment takes me, there are also sometimes prejudices that I can only eliminate with my professional expertise.

And what do you enjoy the most?

Exactly the same thing: Versatility is challenging, but also incredibly enriching.

Which professional competencies should be brought along for your job?

What’s important is hands-on experience, so anyone who likes to tinker around with devices is in just the right place with us. My colleagues have completed their studies in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, medical technology or the like. Other colleagues have finalized their training with continued education, for example, to become a communications technician or an IT technician. They’ve partly also completed a training program, and subsequently a course of studies. Additional qualifications like intercultural competencies are nice as you especially learn those on the job.

Which human qualities are necessary?

It’s important to stay calm, even during stressful phases. There are always situations where you have to do several things at the same time; so it’s good when you can set priorities and bring along discipline. Curiosity and openness are also important and a valid passport helps, too. Or even two, because anyone who was just in Pakistan should not necessarily then travel to the USA with the same passport so as to avoid a longer entry procedure.


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© Roche with, Dec. 2016

Tags: Career Blog, Germany