A Day in the Life of a Product Development Engineer Working on the Device Side of the Health Care Industry

Here for your education and entertainment is a peek at the type of day a Product Development Engineer might have about three out of five days of the week.


8:00 AM Entering the R&D building lugging her lap top and rolling her brief case behind her Marion Smith makes sure to greet everyone with a positive quip.  She marvels how no one ever appears to be outwardly harried or overworked or worried about loosing their jobs.  Depending on corporate culture her actions may be returned or ignored.   Everyone walks around with a spring in their step and positive attitude.  She resolves once again to fit in and give as good as she gets when it comes to being a positive corporate citizen.

8:05 AM Lifting her briefcase onto her desk with the help of her knee, she turns on the desk lamp, slides the portable into its dock, pushes the power button,  and goes to get a cup of coffee.  The sounds of the awakening office begin to punctuate the silence as she grabs a small piece of fresh coffee cake,  donut or whatever treat is sitting next to the coffee pot and brings it back to the cubicle.

8:10 AM  Settling into her ergonomically designed chair she takes a hurried bite of her morning carbs, a swig of caffeine and gets to work.  Launching E-mail, Calendar, Project Management, CAD,  and FEA or CFD or MatLab programs she washes down the final mouthful of carbs.  Using her time wisely ( corporation policy is to use your time wisely ) she checks her goals for the year ( about once month ) and  reflects on her plans for the day while they load.

8:12 AM  Methodically scanning the e-mail, calendar, and six or seven projects listed in her project management program she looks for any new request for her time or priority items that need to be addressed.  She looks at the number of projects again and shrugs at the irony.  Project management rules of thumb and studies show that overall individual performance drops off significantly if a person is assigned more than 3 projects.  Multitasking has been debunked but office politics doesn’t make her feel comfortable saying no to new projects.  Nobody goes to home before 6:30 pm or until the boss leaves.

9:20 AM Finished with the items she can dispatch with 8 minutes of effort she begins digging into the more weighty items of the day.  This may include creating her portion of the weekly report, creating a flowchart for the manager,  researching materials vendors,  checking on the status of a test in the engineering lab, etc.   She doesn’t start anything really substantive because there is always an interruption at this time of day as managers, team members and fellow engineers drop by or call to update or get updates or just chat about office politics ( she rationalizes office politics is using her time wisely ).

10:00 AM First meeting of the day.  Meetings range from department level customer service training, department or division or policy meetings, department weekly meeting, a scheduled teleconference with a customer, prospective or current vendor, scientist, internal or external subject matter expert, marketing and sales, reorganization, new productivity tool, etc.

11:00 AM She gets another cup of coffee and a smaller piece of stale carbs.  Back at her desk she gets a chance to do some engineering and compare some preliminary Instron data with the FEA results or fluid flow and pressure data with CFD results or analyze focus group responses to a new product concept or check on the cell growth curves in that new bioreactor #4 or analyze the impact of the most recent data points from the shelf life tests or writes some code for the validation data collection software, etc.

12:00 pm Lunch – Typically a working lunch in that shop talk usually predominates.  She tries to find out what is happening with different projects or what management decree seems to be coming next.  She notes who or which project seems to be in favor and who or which project is out of favor.  This is all essential information to survive the next reorganization.  A new Director just got hired so a reorganization is coming.  That typically means that the new executive will likely want to make an impression by slashing costs.  The corporation makes it clear that its employees are its most valued assents but the only largest cost in an R&D department is its personnel.  The highly paid senior engineers over 40 always get concerned when a new Director or VP gets appointed. This usually occurs once every 3 to 4 years in large corporations as they rotate executives on the fast track through the position.  Alternatively she  may eat lunch at her desk and use the time to do some more engineering tasks.

1:00 pm Marion gets another cup of coffee and a cookie and gets back to or continues working on her engineering tasks wondering which of the projects are going to have a hick up that will need to be tended.  She also makes a note to get going with that exercise regimen.

2:00 pm Time for another meeting.  These meetings typically spawn unexpectedly as a result of morning meetings the she did or did not attend.  She may even have called it herself if she finds it necessary.  She would rather bury herself in her technical work but knows that communications is a key ingredient in keeping things moving forward.  Goals need to be met or the performance review will be ugly.  She tries to remember the last time her performance review met her manager’s expectations and can’t.  There always seems to be goals that just didn’t meet the expectations.   Raises are supposedly based on her ability to hit her goals but funds always “limited” and doled out stingily.  She suspects the reality is that politics and who happens to be in favor at evaluation time also impacts salary increases.

3:00 pm Back to work.  Marion resumes 1:00 pm activities with less interruptions.  She makes some modifications to the mathematical, or FEA or CFD model to see if it will align better with the actual results, etc.  She might tweek the Labview based data collection software, work on a new circuit in Orcad or visit the lab.

4:00 pm An emergency or urgent request is likely to pop up.  This seems to occur pretty regularly on Fridays.  Typically it will be an issue she needs to resolve because she is the only one who is in the office, the only one with the background or the only one that happens not to be in a meeting.  The request always needs to be answered before the end of the extended day or by the next morning.

5:00 pm Another meeting added because there wasn’t enough time during the day to address a hot project for the V.P. or G.M. of a product line or for the Director of R&D or the 4:00pm emergency.

6:40 pm Marion packs up any unfinished business into the lap top, thumb drive or briefcase and turns off the desk lamp.  As she trudges out she says a cheerful good night to Jim Oglethorpe the hardest working engineer she’s ever met.  She figures she will spend another hour and half at home cleaning administrative and project work up for the next morning.  Three hours of applying engineering theory out of ten and a half hours ( not counting lunch ).  Not bad.

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