Flat Hierarchy and Flexible Working Hours in a Social Environment: An interview with Jan Dittli, Professional Mechanical Engineer at konplan
By Saloni Mittal
poly-E-fair Company Relations
October 6, 2023
Jan Dittli, a Professional Mechanical Engineer at konplan, shares insights into his career journey and highlights the importance of adaptability and strong support network in the workplace.
Jan Dittli has been working as a Professional Mechanical Engineer at konplan for seven months. Before joining konplan, Jan held various roles, including a Research Assistant and a Teaching Assistant. He earned his Doctor of Science in Rehabilitation Engineering from ETH Zürich in 2023 and his Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering from ETH Zürich in 2018.
Jan, you recently just finished your doctorate at ETH in Rehabilitation
Engineering. What led you to pursue a doctor’s title?
To be honest, initially, I never planned to pursue a doctorate. I had intended to enter the industry directly after completing my master’s degree. However, while I was writing my master’s thesis in Rehabilitation Engineering my professor offered me a position to continue the project as part of a doctoral program. Since I really liked the project, the host lab and the greater flexibility offered by doctorate, I decided to seize the opportunity. What I especially liked was the possibility of leading my own project directly, supervising students and exploring my own ideas and paths.
You might be wondering why I decided to pursue a career in the industry sector after completing my doctoral studies. Well, I liked the engineering aspect and realized that the more you follow the academic path, the less executive work you get to do. The part that I most enjoyed was the practical and executive part, whereas the doctorate required a significant amount of time dedicated to writing papers and grant applications. However, I acquired many valuable tools and skills during my doctoral studies, particularly related to the scientific method, project structuring and decision-making process, all of which are also applicable in the industry. So, the tools I acquired during my doctoral studies are proving to be very useful now in my new position at konplan.
What drivers led you to decide to start your career path at konplan?
As I mentioned earlier, I genuinely wanted to go to the industry after concluding my doctorate and gain practical engineering experience. In research work, the focus is often on building something that functions as a proof of concept. However, I wanted to discover the proper product development. Therefore, I explored different positions and ultimately decided to approach konplan. Although konplan is an engineering service provider and does not develop its own products, it provided an excellent platform for me to discover the different stages of the product development cycle and an overview of many versatile projects.
What would you say to students who are thinking about starting a
doctorate and worrying about their chances regarding their access to
the job market?
Worrying is a valid point. After having dedicated so much time to the academic work, the beginning might look challenging. Finding the right fit within the industry sector is indeed a valid concern, especially when considering your strengths and interests. However, graduating from ETH or similar institutions is often seen as an indication of your ability to quickly acquire new skills and delve into new matters without significant difficulties. And the industry knows that. I would assume that if I already worked in the industry for four years, I would maybe be in a higher position than I am now. But at the same time, the experience and expertise that I acquired during my doctorate will help me rise faster within my field, so, in the end, it will make up for the gap. Or at least I hope so!
What is it like to be part of konplan?
For me, it’s a great place to get started in the industry, since you are positioned in a very rich environment where you will learn a lot from your peers and supervisors. The enormous number of different projects and versatile applications are crucial to broadening your perspectives and your abilities. Further, konplan also offers great possibilities for continued education and moving up the career ladder internally.
From a structural point of view, we have a flat hierarchy. Everyone tries to interact with different co-workers and teams. Sharing knowledge comes naturally in this structure. Every two weeks we can participate in input lectures, where we can learn about a specific new topic that is presented by someone who is working on it or who has gathered this additional information through other educational means. This helps to foster the understanding between the different business units, and it improves the collaboration between the different teams and projects. Additionally, the working teams are integrated by employees from different business units who come together per the specific skills and resources that are needed.
“From a structural point of view, we have a flat hierarchy. Everyone tries to interact with
different co-workers and teams. Sharing knowledge comes naturally in this structure.”
Could you describe a day in your work life? What routine do you have?
In general, we are very free in planning our schedule. The resources are planned, and we have a fixed number of hours that we can invest in a project. Besides the project meetings, we plan our day quite autonomously. Since the structures are quite loose, we have flexible working hours, and you can spontaneously take a day of work off. Personally, I prefer to follow a regular schedule. So, I’ll be in the office at 7 and be at home at 4.30, with enough time to spend on other free time activities.
What makes konplan different from its competitors?
For me, the difference lies in the level of attention and care that the company and the managers have for their employees. They strive to bring out the best in everyone and care about their interests. Currently, I’m still in the process of figuring out with my boss where I fit in the best and can contribute most effectively. In other words, we are working together to determine where I can provide the greatest value to the company while also benefiting personally.
From an educational point of view, konplan is constantly willing to support us in pursuing further skills. It’s a beneficial situation for both: we can strengthen our abilities and broaden our knowledge and herby support konplan goals more productively and efficiently. I also really appreciate the social environment that konplan constantly fosters. We have numerous social events, such as breakfast, after-work get-togethers, and team trips, all of which contribute to raising our team spirit and motivation, allowing us to get to know each other in a more relaxed atmosphere. Lastly, we only have 40 hours of working time per week, which might not be a lot less than average but makes a big difference in the long run.
“konplan is constantly willing to support us in pursuing further skills. It’s a beneficial
situation for both: we can strengthen our abilities and broaden our knowledge and herby
support konplan goals more productively and efficiently.”
You specialized in Medical Engineering. How does konplan make an
impact in this field?
We do not develop products ourselves but support other companies in developing their products from the very early phase until the product is released to the market. konplan can be described as a technology accelerator of products. We have a great amount of expertise in many different areas, and everyone can support the projects in their own fields. konplan’s impact and main aim in the medical industry is to improve people’s life quality by supporting the development of medical products.
konplan stands for sustainable solutions and innovation. How are you
dealing with all the new and fast developments in technology in your
In this rapidly evolving field, it is crucial to stay informed and have reliable sources of information. At konplan, we prioritize staying up to date through regular internal meetings and continuous training and education of our teams. We understand the importance of keeping track of new developments in our industry and encourage participation in workshops and other activities to ensure we provide the best service to our customers. Given the numerous regulations and norms in our field, it is essential for us to stay updated and share this knowledge with our customers. This service is particularly valuable for customers like startups or small companies who might have limited resources to keep pace with the constant and rapid changes.
Does konplan support you in terms of training and further
development of your skills?
Yes. Currently, I’m figuring out with my supervisor what education plans I could follow. As employees, we have the possibility to not only participate in internal education instances but also in workshops organized by external providers. It is always possible to approach your supervisor to pursue additional certificates, who might also actively propose a specific continuing education.
Is there a specific project that you have particularly enjoyed working
on and how have the skills that you acquired during your education
helped you in your tasks?
Since I have started at konplan only recently, it is very important for me to first get familiar with the process and guidelines. I’m currently working on two projects on test equipment, where I have felt very comfortable. konplan has given me enough time and assistance to adapt to the new environment and dig into the different topics that I need to manage for the projects. During my studies, I gained quite a broad baseline knowledge and technical understanding. Additionally, I learned to explore new subjects and to effectively select what is useful and relevant for a specific project. Essentially, my education has equipped me with the ability to adapt quickly.
If you could travel back in time, would you have done something
different during your time at university? What skills, personal
qualities, and knowledge areas would you focus more on?
Overall, I would have followed the same pathway. Maybe I could have dedicated more time to applied science at ETH. Generally, the lectures tend to be quite theoretical, and I always felt that the projects and practical exercises were much more helpful in discovering my interests. As advice to students, I strongly recommend getting involved in practical aspects alongside the theoretical lectures.