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6Th April 2021

The Trainee Programme Gave Me a Start in Life

I met Martin on a Friday afternoon in February. As is typical for these coronavirus times, we met online. Right at the beginning, he suggested that we go on a first-names basis, which established a friendly tone for our interview. Even though he had allocated only half an hour for us, in the end, he got talking and we spent nearly sixty minutes with him. He told us of how he became one of the managers of electronics development at Škoda, but he also recalled the Trainee Programme in which he participated twenty years ago.

 
Your field, like so many others, also had to switch to working from home to some extent, last year. How do developers find having to work remotely?

It is definitely not the best form of work for us. Of course, we had had teleconferences and Skype before, so this situation did not take us totally by surprise. But now, we cannot just pick up and go to the shop, sit in the car, meet with another two to three people around a testing set, try things out, have a chat, discuss ideas, analyses, and solutions, and so on. That is a great restriction for us. But I do think that we have managed to cope well with these obstacles. At least as far as work is concerned.

And as far as other things are concerned?

The human aspect is more difficult. My colleagues work primarily from home today and, when I need to talk to them operatively, I have to call them and hope that they are not in a Skype meeting – they usually are. Communication with me is far less personal. In the better-case scenario, we turn the cameras on, but often not even that.

So, you miss personal contact.

Yes. And also cooperation between departments. The fact that people know each other and that they talk. That they don’t just write emails to each other saying things like: “Good morning, Would you be so kind as to send me that file?”, but that they just pop over to the next office and say: “Jack, I need this and that.” Because while they do that, they also discuss and resolve some other matter. And these possibilities are extremely supressed at this time. I am looking forward to this era coming to an end.

You joined the Trainee Programme more than 20 years ago. Why at Škoda, in particular?

That was a stroke of luck to some extent. I had worked on my honour’s paper at the dynamic test lab at Česana and I also had personal links to Mladá Boleslav. That is why my first steps after graduating were to an interview at Škoda. Looking back, I can see that it was a key decision in my life.

Is that to say that the Trainee Programme changed your life?

Not changed, per se, but got me off the ground.

How come?

I finished university and started looking for a job. I found it here, in a totally different field than I had expected, studied, and looked for.

Right, you studied materials at the nuclear physics faculty and now you develop car electronics. That is quite the change in specialisation.

Thanks to the Trainee Programme, I went through two or three departments having to do with the technical development of electronics. And it took such a hold on me that I actually never got back to the Quality Department, which had been my target position. It was a lateral step from what I had studied and, all of a sudden, there was no going back. I really got into electronics development and it worked. After a couple years, I got an offer to become a coordinator. Later, there were the connectivity and online services projects, and with them another step ahead in my career. And today, I am where I am. If I got the opportunity to look into the future 20 years ago, and see where I would be, I would not have believed that it would be possible.

Martin Sodomka

Martin Sodomka

Head of Development of Control and Imaging Electronics

He studied at the Department of Materials at the Nuclear Physics Faculty of the Czech Technical University and joined ŠKODA AUTO as a trainee in 1999. Thanks to rotations in the Trainee Programme, he got into the development of car electronics, where he stayed. He considers his greatest accomplishment the development of a department concerned with ŠKODA Connect online services. In his spare time, he actively pursues photography and sports, in particular running, bicycling, and skiing.
Back to the Trainee Programme? What do you remember most fondly?

It’s hard to choose one thing. I have fond memories of the Group Trainee Meeting in Ingolstadt. I was at Audi and exchanged business cards with colleagues from Bentley… At that time, it was quite something for me!

Now things like that must be commonplace for you as a manager.

When I started twenty years ago and first went on a business trip to Wolfsburg, it was quite an experience for me that a colleague there devoted half an hour of his “precious” time to me. That makes one feel important. I was thinking: “Thank God, they know me here already, and they respect me a bit.” Many things have changed since then. There are many more Group projects and cooperation, and they are far more intensive, so nobody finds such things exceptional anymore.

What do you consider the greatest benefit of the Trainee Programme?

Definitely the contacts. I see the trainees as a large team within the company, even though we don’t all know each other. The motto “Once a trainee, always a trainee” says it best.

Do you still see any trainees from your year?

I have kept in touch with a few people who have stayed here. We do not meet on purpose, in terms of going out for a beer, but when I am dealing with a controlling or logistics issues and I have no idea whom to call, I at least know that I have this certainty: the trainee from our gang that started out together. The Trainee Programme opens doors, and it is up to everyone what they make of it. Anywhere you go as a trainee, you are able to make such a great entry that they will be happy to keep you. That is what happened to me.

So, then you do not regret participating in the Trainee Programme.

Certainly not at all. Because the topics that I work on have got me involved in situations and events which I definitely would not have experienced as a materials engineer.

You held several positions before you became a manager. Which of them did you find the most fulfilling?

Definitely the last one. I was a member of a project called Project House Connected Car that kept meeting for a year and tried to find ways to present and explain connectivity to the Management Board. The goal was for the Management Board to say, on the basis of that presentation: yes, so we will do this connectivity thing, and we will do it exactly as you say here. We kept reworking the presentation, but, in the end, we succeeded and got connectivity under way at Skoda.

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What is a Connected Car?

This term denotes technologies using online car connectivity. We offer it as a package of ŠKODA Connect services. The package includes a portfolio of several intelligent functions. They take advantage of the fact that the car is constantly connected to the Internet with a built-in eSIM. That way, the car can be constantly connected to a mobile telephone, even when the driver is not in the car. Via remote access, one can check the condition of the car, control charging and independent heating, or lock the car remotely if the owner forgot to do that when he parked. Another function is online infotainment, such as maps that are regularly updated and feature real-time traffic data. ŠKODA Connect also includes

That means that you are one of the fathers of connectivity at Skoda.

In terms of development, I was one of the first three people to be hired at the new Connected Car Department. When I am in an immodest mood and want to say something good about myself, I say that that department is my baby and that I like to think back to those times. Furthermore, the topic of connectivity has always been a bit of a highlight. We took every model that came online to various events for journalists, cover drives, new launches. We always had a stand there and talked with journalists, presented our cars. I definitely would not have had a chance to experience something like that as a materials engineer.

Weren’t you sorry to leave a department that you built from the ground up?

When I tidy up my laptop from time to time, deleting old files, I also go to the Pictures folder – there, I have a picture with my old colleagues. It was a farewell picture. I do get overcome with nostalgia when I see that crowd of people around me.

Out of the entire Škoda portfolio, in the end only Citigo does not feature connectivity.

When I was actively involved in the development of connectivity, Citigo was propelled by an internal ignition engine and there was no reason for introducing online services. Furthermore, the simple architecture of its wiring did not allow for too many functions. But in the iV version, there is a real customer need to have online connectivity – so in that version, Citigo is also online today.

The reduction of manual controls is rather controversial. Do you think that, thanks to the development of predictive systems in driving, we will no longer need to press mechanical controls?

That is a thing of the future. Predictive functions do have a role to play. But nobody wants prediction to be bothersome, with the user having to actively get around the function.

A certain level of automation has its supporters.

I myself am the type of user who does not use these functions too much. My life is not so easily mapped that a car could learn it and always offer me the functions that I need. I still tend to control my car myself.

What is the solution then?

We do work on predictive functions, but I am the one who gives my colleagues critical questions during development. I ask them what they think of the functions, whether it is indeed what our customers will use and will find useful. I believe that there will be a certain sobering after this fad of touch-controls for everything – a reasonable number of mechanical controls will return that can be used without distracting the driver while driving. On the other hand, a nice example of a useful automation technology is voice control. Try to sit in an ENYAQ and say, “OK Laura, I am cold”.

Is it not dangerous for assistance systems to intervene in the driver’s driving in non-standard situations?

These systems must manifest a good level of reliability, they must respond under prescribed conditions. Unfortunately, this includes the fact that the system will, from time to time, respond more sensitively in more situations than we would wish. I, too, have experienced moments while driving when I think to myself: “Darn it, I don’t need the car to pull on the steering wheel right now.” We are at a stage when these systems can do a lot, but not with absolute perfection.

So, you must adhere to strict safety criteria.

Basically yes. The behaviour of a car is based on the fact that we try to fulfil homologation conditions and the requirements of Euro NCAP, which are based on a safety strategy. When we say at the beginning of a project that we want a car with five NCAP stars, we must pack it with systems and functions that will enable it to get the required number of points in an independent evaluation.

And my last question. When will we have a fully autonomous car at Škoda?

You are being funny now – just a second, let me get my crystal ball... :) It won’t be any time soon, I believe. Perhaps autonomous delivery services or public transit will start to operate in cities in the foreseeable future. In well-defined areas under well-defined conditions. But we are still miles away from the time when we will be able to build and sell a car without a steering wheel, where the driver will be able sleep or watch a movie during the drive. Perhaps not because of the technology itself. But this involves sufficiently good transport infrastructure and, above all, a legislative environment. But progress is being made and the difference between the abilities of, for example, the Superb and the ENYAQ is fascinating.

The interviewers:

Míša Mizerová – trainee, present rotation: CS Sales Network Development Department

Robert Cavos – trainee, present rotation: Chassis and Power Generator Planning Department

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