Meet Christopher, Systems Engineer at Roche
Christopher Fischer joined Roche in 2014 and is employed as a technical project manager in the systems engineering sector.
What did you study and what role do you have in systems engineering?
I studied electrical engineering and IT. In systems engineering, which is part of insulin delivery systems, we take care of Diabetes Care solutions and in this case specifically insulin pumps. As a systems engineer I have to wear various hats; on the project I head the technical part of the project and in other fields I take on certain special roles, depending on the task.
Systems engineering and insulin pumps – how do they go together?
The Diabetes Care system consists of different components. One of these components is the insulin pump, which comprises what we call disposables. These are first of all disposable parts that can be thrown away after use and after they have come into contact with insulin, such as a needle or a reservoir. Then there are recyclable components, in which electronics are located. Other components are used to insert the needle into the body painlessly. There is also a remote control that allows you to measure blood glucose, a cloud solution, which can be used to read the data from the remote control.
Basically, there are lots of different components. These consist, for example, of mechanical parts, software and electronics. Technicians work on their individual specialized jobs. The challenge here is to coordinate all the specialized jobs and bring them together appropriately to create a complete system. This is exactly what we do in systems engineering. Actually, you could even describe us as the glue between the specialized units. We make sure the interfaces of the individual components, whether they are electronic or mechanical, match each other and are coordinated, so that overall patients have optimal use of them and the regulatory requirements have been met.
So is your work very varied?
Yes, we work in a whole number of different areas. We refer to the fact that we need a T-shaped profile. We need to have both a broad overview but also more in-depth technical knowledge in certain areas, so we can talk to the experts at the same level. Of course, we can’t know everything, which is why we also work in teams in order to complement each other’s knowledge.
What would be a good basic requirement, if someone wanted to work in your field? Is experience in the medical technology field necessary?
Whenever we’re looking for new staff in systems engineering, one aspect is always that the candidates have ideally already reached a certain level in one or two areas. Take myself as an example. I started with a medium-sized company and was very lucky that I was able to take on many different roles within a very short time. In my case it was embedded firmware development, then head of a software sub-project all the way to being a systems architect in major projects and a systems project manager with lots of different associated companies. So, the combination in a specific field, whether it’s electronics, mechanics or software development, is important. In this area you should at least have worked as a developer, so you know what it means to code software or to know how the workflows proceed. Then you can talk the same language when negotiating an interface specification with the experts. Certainly, it’s also helpful to have gathered initial experience in project management, as we always have an executive role, issue technical specifications and manage teams.
What attracts you to work as an engineer at Roche?
I’ve always been keen on medical technology, which is why I wanted to work in this environment. In the past, I worked especially in signal processing and data communications. What attracted me to Roche was the issue of insulin pumps in the Diabetes Care division. Simply because the focus here is on the patients. Solutions are being developed for them that make their lives easier. However, and this is what’s different from my previous employer, with a global footprint. I find multidisciplinary concepts and diversity fascinating. In my last team I worked alongside seven people from seven different countries. Which is of course an interesting aspect of working together, especially as I’m also sometimes based in those countries with my co-workers. I’m also inspired by the fact that we are constantly pushing the limits of physical feasibility in our work, especially with insulin pumps. In this field, we refer to minimum quantities to be delivered. That’s very challenging and exciting.
That brings us to the next point – what has been one of your most exciting projects?
I’m part of a systems project. It involves the development of a new pump platform, and our intention is to reduce its current shape and size to something significantly smaller. As such, everything will be much smaller and more compact. This is a very inspiring project, as we’re doing lots of things in parallel. As the project leader, my focus is on my responsibility to include client requests, to represent the product management’s perspective, all the way to translating them into the language of requirements and specifications, which the specialist units can then implement. Again, this is the glue effect I mentioned before.
In these different key areas, I work with various groups of people, whether product management, regulatory agencies, production, quality management and many other contact points. When it comes to system interfaces between the components, we go into the tiniest detail and provide the appropriate detailed specifications. So, the project is very broadly based, on the one hand due to the various issues as well as in its great variety of depth.
It certainly sounds as if your days at work are sometimes stressful and long. How is your work-life balance?
I enjoy my work a great deal and it’s why I turn up every day. I’m a bit forgetful of time but for me it’s important that my work is enjoyable and that’s definitely the case with me. As far as my work-life balance is concerned, this is certainly an issue that is always a challenge for any individual. I make sure that we split everything up among us within the team and achieve a balance within the group, so we can cushion the peaks. In addition, I have a family with two children. They certainly remind me that I have a life as well as a job.
Do you have options to use a home office and flexible working hours?
Home office depends a lot on the particular job. There are certain assignments you can’t do at home. So, in particular, if I need measuring equipment or something similar, I don’t have any option. In my team we manage things in such a way that we can arrange our day flexibly, if there are no appointments on site and we don’t need access to the equipment. In general terms, we’re broadly based and work a lot with new media. Because we also have co-workers in other countries. The one furthest located away in my team is based in Canada. A variety of options also allows us to access data when traveling or on business trips.
What surprised you the most when you joined Roche?
I think most people are familiar with the pharmaceutical industry. But very few are aware that we’re also involved in diagnostics. These are lab systems and these systems are for technical professionals. Essentially, most people have no contact with them at all. I was very surprised when I saw all the things that Roche does. From small desktop devices to large systems that fill rooms or floors and measure large numbers of samples fully automated every day. Roche’s range of products and services is simply huge spread across the Pharma, Diagnostics and Diabetes Care divisions. I hadn’t really been aware of that previously.
You used to work for a smaller company. Was it a big difference for you to join a large corporation?
If you work for a mid-sized company, the difference is not all that great initially. The Roche Group with more than 90,000 employees worldwide is made up of various divisions. In my section, we have 80 staff, for example. That’s not actually a big difference. My feeling is that all my co-workers are open-minded people. This is definitely and especially true of their networking, getting to know each other and talking about other things that are not only work-related.
Finally, if you had to describe Roche in just three words, what would they be?
If I had to select three words for such a company with so many possibilities, they would be multidisciplinary, diverse and global.