18 Sep 2015 19:38 IST

Why R&D as a career option is here to stay

With the Indian IT industry growing rapidly, R&D activity is today poised to go up the value chain

In the last decade-and-a-half, the Indian IT industry has witnessed a very rapid growth of product engineering, commonly referred to as the R&D ecosystem. Part of this development is the setting up of strong product design houses by both MNC and domestic companies, creating a new set of opportunities for engineering talent in the country.

The R&D ecosystem generates over 250,000 R&D jobs and over a million indirect jobs, according to Zinnov. That’s not all; with the availability of a large talent pool and increasing maturity of the IT industry, R&D activity is today poised to go up the value chain in terms of innovation and solutions which form part of the current industry trends.

Pre-requisites

The basic educational requirements for freshers seeking a career in research and development are a Bachelor’s and Masters degree in Engineering with a strong focus and interest in the chosen domain, which could be showcased through a thesis or project work in the related field. A Doctorate or Ph.D is a must for specific Research Fellow positions. It is a good idea for experienced engineers to showcase patents filed/granted, technical papers published in industry journals such as IEEE, and contributions to open standards/specifications.

It is common for post-graduate students in Indian universities to do the thesis work at their campus, under the guidance of a faculty member in an academic setting. It would be a good idea to do the thesis work in a corporate environment by solving industry-related problems. It would be ideal if a professional from the industry and academician can partner to guide the student for the thesis work.

What to expect

Once absorbed into the R&D field, the work environment will typically consist of excellent, state-of-the art lab infrastructure when compared to other forms of engineering. Engineers can expect a lot of excitement and learning as R&D deals with futuristic products and solutions by resolving problems or creating something new for the first time. The profession demands patience and endurance as every idea or concept does not necessarily get in to the product roadmap due to various business reasons. Hence, the initial ideation or conceptualisation with attention to details and clarity of customer pain point/problem apart from analysis of business potential, expertise and hold on technology are very critical.

Also, like any other profession, timing is important and has much more significance in R&D as it has a direct bearing on the success of the product. A unique differentiation in this field is that the product engineer is bound to get the exposure of the complete development cycle of a new product — right from ideation to productisation and then closing the loop with feedback from the field for future enhancements and improvements. It is equally important for the product engineer to participate in sun-setting the product by accepting that every product has a life cycle.

Three important factors need to be considered by an engineer in R&D. Building ‘subject matter expertise’ (SME) is very important for a successful and long-lasting career. It can start with a component or module, a product, portfolio of products, technology and technologies in particular domain(s). Building an SME takes time, requires patience, commitment and streamlined focus on long-term benefits.

Second, an engineer must be mentally prepared to focus on quality, reliability and precision as R&D has high impact on the business and is overall an expensive process. Finally, it is important for an engineer to nurture and build a professional network, which can assist in bouncing off ideas, learning from one another and exploring collaborations.

R&D – an attractive career option

R&D today has taken a giant leap in the right direction, providing career progression both in the technical and managerial ladder, something that was very rare 15 years ago. The industry offers a wide range of growth opportunities at various levels in the technology ladder such as technical consultant, principal engineer, systems architect, distinguished engineer and so on. This enables technology-focused engineers to go in-depth in to the domain, be in touch with latest technology, contribute to the industry standard specifications, and build subject matter expertise in a chosen domain.

On the other hand, for those looking for a good blend of technical and managerial skills as part of the ‘techno-managerial’ role, R&D is a suitable option. The management growth path consists of roles such as Engineering Managers, Technical Managers, Directors or Vice-President of Engineering.

Additionally, the profession provides ample opportunity to work with a wide range of cross functional teams involved in all aspects of the entire product or solution. This offers well-rounded exposure for engineers to learn the different work cultures and styles, collaborative engagement and diversified skills as these teams are located in diverse geographies.

Another point of great exposure is the technology solution fitment in the development eco system. Typically, though the technology is designed and owned by a team, it could well be implemented by many players in the development cycle or ecosystem such as vendors, ODMs/OEMs, and other partners, with components developed at multiple design centres or global distributed development.

The icing on the cake is that, unlike other fields, R&D provides a great sense of technology ownership of a product/solution for the engineer.

Future growth map

We are today on a growth curve as product engineering in India, which started as an outsourcing model, is well positioned to get into the ‘business ownership’ phase. This, combined with the growth rate of digital and mobile penetration, e-commerce in retail business, IT infrastructure and analysis of huge databanks in the domestic market, has and will continue to create whole new opportunities for R&D to meet local needs and cater to the global markets as well.

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