Do you want to do an internship, but you still don’t have any idea where to start or where to go? We’re here to help! In this second part of a continuing series about internships we interview design specialists at companies you might want to be doing your internship at. We ask these design specialists about the ins and outs of interning at their companies and how you can prepare yourself.
For this edition of the series, we spoke with Daniel Fischer. Daniel is a Creative Technologist at BMW. He works in a team together with designers, engineers, and creative artists to create BMW’s new concepts- and show cars that embody the company’s vision of the future. As a Creative Technologist, he is working somewhere in the middle of the design process. Daniel comes in right after the early concept phase, to bring the concepts from sketches to early working prototypes. To make things a little more interesting, Daniel’s team currently has an ID alumnus as an intern. If you want to be their next intern, Daniel might have some tips for you.
How are interns hired by you?
The Internship vacancies are public and can be found on our jobs page (BMWgroup.jobs). We also have good collaborations with universities around the world with whom we share our vacancies.
The application process is pretty easy, we have this HR portal where you can set up a profile. For this profile, you have to upload your CV, your portfolio, your letter of intent, and that kind of stuff. After setting this up one time, you can apply to multiple vacancies. During the last application process our Center of Competence, which manages these processes, had selected 60 applicants that could be a match for our team. After I reviewed the application we interviewed about 10 applicants with three people from our team, not with all the 60 applicants of course. During the interview we always explain what our team is doing, sometimes the applicants are not aware of what we are doing as a team and we want to see whether their interest matches our goals. It’s important that both parties know what they are up to.
So, from the total of 60 people, we did an interview with about 10, and 3 of those had a, I would say, major classification. For one of these applicants, we did not have a suitable topic within our team. Normally, we don’t have many vacancies where we arrange things under the table, so to say. Like: hey I know somebody, take him for this internship. But in this case, where we have a very good applicant that does not fit our current team, we propose this application to another team in our design department. This is a way around a public internship. This particular student is now accepted in the other team as an intern. Our current intern is from TU/e’s ID department, this is a good match for us. For the next vacancy in our team, I will definitely consider sending over our vacancies to the TU/e.
What are you looking for in students who want to do an internship with you?
In my case, I’m looking for students from a wide range of expertises. We are always looking for Industrial Designers, but IT students or Electrical Engineers are welcome as well. We are keen on having international interns, but for us it is important to have an English speaking person, English is the common language. Besides the skills of a student it also has to fit personally. For the designers that are applying I value their portfolio. I want to see what they did so far, I want to see their drawing skills, or that they show their skills in 3D modeling like rhino, stuff like that.
The skills you describe could be considered traditional design skills. As you know from experience, students from our department are not always traditional designers. Could you tell us some more about how Industrial Design students from the TU/e fit in your team?
Yes sure, our current intern from your department was interesting because he was the first intern who applied as a creative technologist. This is how I would describe myself. As a creative technologist you need to have a broad knowledge, not only about 3D models or packaging but also electronics, programming microcontrollers; you have to know how to tinker, how to make small mockups. Because the intent of my work is not to make the final prototype or the final model the mock-ups do not necessarily have to look nice, they need to show that a prototype could work later on. To be a creative technologist, I think it is good to have an understanding of design, but you need a broader understanding that is, I would say, not typical for an industrial designer.
In the portfolio, the student from your department showed exactly what we needed. The portfolio showed a prototype with some electronics and a small UI. This is what I have been doing for the last 5 years, more or less. To make something practical, that looks nice, but not as a final product. It is not stable, but it works, it does what it was intended to do. This is why the student from your department stood out.
These requirements are still quite focused on the technical aspects. Could students who focus more on interaction design from an aesthetic point of view also fit at BMW?
Yes, this would be at a different department within BMW design. We have the interaction team. This department has a team on series-interaction design that has about 30 UI/UX designers. They have a small group that does the pre-series UI/UX design as well. This group also works on the UI of concept cars. This department is completely technology agnostic, they just care about the aesthetics. As I said, I can also redirect interns to them. Normally, when they have an open vacancy position, they share it with our team, and we share this with our network.
What is important to take with you on your first internship day?
Ehm…, An open mind. Everything the student needs, in terms of a desk, a computer, etc. will be supplied by us. For us it is very important to also get the ideas of these young people in the company. It is enriching us in our daily work to learn new workflows, learn new technologies, this is very important for us.
What does an internship at BMW look like (atmosphere, hierarchy, tasks)? I would say our department really is a nice place. Students that come here should not focus too much on the fact that we are a big concern and the potential hierarchies. In our department, we all call each other by our first name, even our highest boss, the design leader of BMW, Adrian van Hooydonk (Editor’s note: using first names is not that common in the German work environment). Of course, there are some hierarchies, as there have to be, from my point of view. But problems are always discussed very openly. Also, Interns shouldn’t be afraid of making a design mistake, this is an open space, we have a great failure culture within BMW, especially in the design department. In a creative field like mine, you have a great opportunity to work with the latest technology and bring in your own ideas. This is something I have to underline, we always ask interns about their own ideas on how to solve something,
Can you also explain a bit more about the day to day work of interns, what kind of tasks are interns doing.
Normally, interns do one- or two-week long projects. So, every week, more or less, we have a new sprint. The projects are usually projects for which the team has a lot of ideas but not the time to work on. These projects really differ per internship, but I can give a few examples.
Our latest intern worked on a new lamp for a show car that we are going to present at a big international show. The topic is all about circularity. So, we’ve tried to upcycle parts from current series BMWs. I provided the intern with a Swarovski crystal from a scrapyard BMW car that needed to be upcycled into this lamp. The intern modelled the lamp in Rhino and worked together with some of our electrical engineers to update the existing circuits to create a new mock-up. After this was shown to our design team and even our head of design, it was approved for the show car.
The intern transferred his work, the 3D model, the data of the circuit and even the source code to the team that works on the later show car. In this way the intern learned about upcycling, 3D Modelling, embedded programming & electronic sensors. I would say this was two weeks of his work.
Another example is of a former intern we had two years ago, who worked with an eye-tracking system. The intern did a user test on how to navigate within a car-HMI with this technology. For the user test he made a Unity 3D HMI simulation and hid the eye-tracking device in the HMI so nobody would even consider that the system worked supported by eye-tracking. This person was interested to see how fast the system would react to the needs of the user. This internship was part of a master thesis. The project took the full internship and was a bit longer than normal.
What can interns learn from you?
I think they can learn how many stakeholders are involved in the development of a really complex product like a car; how much has to be taken into consideration. For example, one of our interns had some ideas on how to enrich our UI, I had to explain that you need to be able to stop the interaction at any given time because the main task in a car is driving the car, the second task is selecting a radio station. I think this really changed the mindset of the intern; this product is not something you can play around with for half an hour. Within the automotive industry you really need to make products and interactions that are effortless in their use. To create a desirable interaction is our highest goal, but you always need to keep the rule of all rules in mind, it should be safe while driving.
Another thing they can learn is how a company is structured around product development; how a design department is structured. Interns can get a holistic view of which departments or which job descriptions are out there, they can have a sneak peek into those jobs, to see what fits their interest. Specifically in our case, as a show car team, we have all these different people. We have two people working only on the color of trim, we have a guy working in the rapid prototyping center to have all the printings done. We work with the latest machine park, we have a laser-cut station, we have waterjet cutting, we have a lot of 3D printing machinery. But also when it comes to handwork, like grinding and welding we are doing this as well. And on a larger scale, in the design department, for example, there we have all these different jobs, we have a team of engineers. We have people modeling; we have like 50 guys just doing 3D modeling. We have the UI/UX guys that do a lot of photoshop and aftereffects work. Interns can learn how all these different departments work together to make a car in the most beneficial way.
Who would become the internship supervisor?
Within my team, there are 3 people working on UI/UX-related stuff. The 3 of us are usually sharing 1 intern. In the interest of the intern, we are interchanging the people who are supervising. I told the last intern for example: if you want to learn more about android programming, I will direct you to my colleague who is a genius in programming. This colleague would be open to supervising the intern for a couple of weeks or for the rest of the internship depending on the focus of the intern. If the chemistry between the supervisor and the intern isn’t perfect or the project doesn’t match the interest of the intern, we always give the possibility to change projects within the team. Our team always has several projects going on. We are really open to getting the best for the intern, which is also the best for the company.
How do you ensure that an internship runs smoothly?
In the morning we always have a virtual coffee talk which is open for everybody, including the interns. Everyone can drop in and share problems or needs, also private stuff. We introduced this since COVID. Before, we just met each other in the office to talk about these things. Besides this, I always have 2 to 3 hours a week where I am blocked for the intern. Either to identify obstacles which cannot be solved by the intern alone or to evaluate whether a project is finished. I also try to be in the office at least 2 or 3 days to meet the intern in person. Besides that, I’m always open for video calls, I have calls twice or three times a day with the intern. Next to this we are using chat a lot on the side, so we can do the tinkering and ideation together. For me, this works pretty well.
I’ve placed the current intern in a team with model builders and electrical engineers who are building real concept cars. I’ve placed him in this team, so he has everyday colleagues which he can talk to and ask practical questions. If the intern needs help directly, and I’m not at the office, I can direct the intern towards one of my colleagues which I call to brief before the intern arrives. I help the intern by providing advice and new projects, these are coming from me.
What do you think a successful internship looks like?
I wouldn’t say that the outcome of the work is the measure of success. I would say success is when the intern learns a lot in the direction of it’s interest. If the intern at the end of the 6 month period says: Yes, I got money but I didn’t do it for the money, I really have extended my world of creative thinking and of tinkering.
It is great if interns talk a lot with colleagues, find out about other projects and maybe even connect those projects with ours. Networking and open communication are important for the success of an internship. This is a major thing. If I would give an intern a task and he would go in the cellar for two weeks and come back with the perfect solution, this would be a failure. Even if he did a perfect job, we couldn’t consider hiring him because there is no personal fit.
Do any interns stick around for a job with you?
Yes, we invest in the education of the intern, if they match the company we always want to be working with them later on. 3 out of our last 5 interns came back to do their thesis at BMW. If you want to get hired after an internship it’s best to get in contact about this during the internship. We will really look if there is a match between the company and the team. You need to be proactive about this.
What can I do to prepare for an internship at BMW?
I would say invest in a good portfolio when you are looking for a design internship. Don’t do 50 pages, but 5 good pages. I like to also see early phase stuff, it’s always good to see some drawing skills. And don’t underestimate the questions you will get about your self indicated software skills. Never put 5 out of 5 at photoshop if it is not true. We have people that are really 5 out of 5 in photoshop, you probably won’t match their skills. Basically, never lie about your abilities or skills. Also, be open to sharing your hobbies, our latest intern indicated he was into board sports, so am I. I have been surfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding a lot. This was a connection that helped to get him the internship. So, be open to also talk about personal stuff, other than only your work at the university. In terms of preparing for an interview, it is always good to know who you are talking to. So, it is good to check out someone’s LinkedIn to better prepare for the interview. This will help because you know your interviewer. Don’t be afraid to send out 5 applications at once to us. Sometimes our center of competence misses some of the applicants that actually would be a good fit.
How far in advance do you recommend looking for an internship?
Six to three months ahead, you need to take into account that there is quite some administrative stuff going on, like contracts. Also, you have to move here which takes some time.
Is there something else you would like to share with our students looking for an internship?
Yes, I think they shouldn’t be afraid of big companies. Big companies are often viewed as large container ships that don’t change direction easily. Within these big companies, there are always ‘speedboats’. These are super interesting because as a part of a big company you don’t have any problems with a budget; you will have large budgets. At our team, we can do stuff you would never imagine. Just to give an example, in the last 6 months we did the first design for a matrix backlight of an LCD, we’ve spent over €120.000.- on it. Well, this display didn’t make the show car. In this case, we just made it to have the proof of concept. It might be nice to do an internship at a start-up, it’s also good to be in a larger company that has a wide range of jobs. For me this was great, I hopped a lot of jobs within BMW to find my final work field. Therefore, it could be better to be in a wider or bigger company. Finally, a large company checks that your work-life balance is good, of course, you can put yourself into really stressful situations but the management will never give you too much work.
Interested in doing an internship at BMW? check out their jobs page and apply!
text Simon Bavinck
visuals Christiaan Bloo