The working students Luzie and Vera develop front-end car apps alongside experienced developers. We asked them what working students can expect in their daily work life – and how to build trust in a world dominated by men.
Female software developers are a rare breed, in particular in the automotive industry. Is this changing?
Luzie: We hope so, but our experience doesn’t really give us reason for optimism. At the beginning of our studies there were a lot of women but at the end there were only three of us left. In my master’s program I’m often the only woman in the lecture.
What made you stick with it?
Luzie: With me it’s probably my family background; my father also works in the business. And we had these cool gadgets at home and that grabbed my interest even as a kid. At school, I opted for computer science as my honors class and that got the ball rolling. After graduating from high school, I sent applications for several majors, Business Administration among them, but in the end I landed on Business IT. And in my first semester I realized how much fun it was. And I also have to confess that I’m interested in nice cars and technology (laughter).
Vera: In my family they’re all business majors and so at the beginning I was leaning towards majoring in business as well. My decision in favor of Business IT came from the fact that I didn’t want to just study Business Administration, but was looking for a combination with something else. Initially, I thought about mathematics but after talking with friends I considered Business IT. I like the combo because IT was booming and still is.
What is it exactly you do?
Vera: OK, Put simply: We develop car apps for Audi. Easy to understand examples would be the weather report, news service or point-of-interest searches that, for instance, can recommend suitable hotels with high ratings in Yelp.
Luzie: We work on the front-end. That’s everything the user can finally see in their car. We have an armada of targets that simulate the HMIs – meaning the respective “human machine interfaces” in the car. In so-called smoke-tests we then look at the individual applications and check if they function the way they are supposed to.
And if it they don’t work?
Luzie: Fault analysis is only mildly entertaining, to say the least, especially if something is wrong in the backend. Then a meeting scheduled for one hour can easily eat up an entire evening. But that’s par for the course if you want to assume responsibility.
You work on this completely independently?
Vera: Actually, that happened really quickly. Right from the start we were processing job tickets just like any other developer. Before our first demo, we were given direct responsibility for an end-to-end test. And then we were supposed to present the framework we used to Audi. And there we were: facing seven people from one of the world’s biggest car manufacturers and we had the opportunity to present our work product after only a few weeks as working students. Apparently we did a good job, because ever since, we have been presenting our tickets at every demo. If a customer calls in regard to one of the applications I’m in charge of, it is forwarded immediately to me and that – I have to admit – feels pretty cool!
Luzie: For example, I helped develop the Alexa integration in the e-tron. For a rookie that is extremely motivating, to be part of such a process right off the bat and assume responsibility. We were also invited to the labs at Audi where they test the latest car models and technologies to try out our applications. That was really impressive to see.
Considering the extreme time pressure and quality standards in the business: Is the picture really that rosy?
Vera: Of course, it’s stressful sometimes, but that happens everywhere, I guess. Maybe we just got lucky with our team. At first we were too shy to ask questions because we didn’t want to interrupt. But our colleagues walked up to us as soon as they had the time and supported us wherever possible. Even with our bachelor thesis, which Luzie, the team and I collaborated on.
What was the thesis about?
Vera: It was a practical bachelor thesis: We had developed a car app that allowed you to share your location. Simple scenario: Luzie is in her car driving off and, depending on traffic, her ETA may change significantly. If Luzie now wants to, she can send me a message from her car directly to my smartphone and I can track her position. That’s it. We’re talking about three applications. Luzie and I programmed the backend application together, Luzie then developed the car application, and I coded the mobile app.
Luzie: Our team was fantastic in supporting us in that; a joint scrum process was established and the roles of Scrum Master and Product Owner were assigned to team members. There was always somebody with a sympathetic ear, which is still the case today. That was slightly different at our university. There we had a lot of group projects where we noticed that we were not taken seriously as blondes (laughter). In some work groups we were completely ignored, and some rather ugly situations came to pass. I personally didn’t make too much of it.
Vera: We generally don’t take it that seriously. If people start pulling your leg if you got something wrong or just don’t get it, happens to all of us at some point. We just blame our hair color (laughing) So you see, we also joke about blondes.
Bearing in mind the short innovation cycles in software development: How well does a university prepare you for the real word out there?
Vera: They teach you the nuts and bolts, the basics. But not how things work in the real world – that is true for tools but also for methodology.
Luzie: We dealt with Scrum at college so many times and memorized the roles of Scrum Master and Product Owner. Just to realize later that if push comes to shove, things unfold completely differently.
What are your fellow students doing these days?
Luzie: Some work in start-ups or as freelancers, but many also at big companies with fancy names. At those big companies, their students are usually not on a long leash. One of my fellow students works at a Bavarian OEM. All he does all day long is test software – too monotonous for my blood.
What is waiting for you after your studies?
Vera: First, finishing my masters. Should Valtech make me an offer after that, I would definitely be interested (laughter).