This summer our interns and co-op students dove into the action at Bresslergroup! They worked on everything from wearables to robots; from everyday products to VR tools for user research.
This group came from near and far — University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, and University of Michigan — and included two international students, Leroy Sibanda from Zimbabwe and Jannie Chu-Yu Cheng from Taiwan.
Per tradition, we invited the interns to a roundtable to dish on their experiences and key takeaways. Here’s what they had to say:
How They Ended Up Here
Emma Lindauer (top right), Electrical Engineering: I’m here on my Drexel University co-op. I found Bresslergroup through my university’s co-op database, and I picked it over other companies in the area. A lot of co-ops for my major are more software focused, so I was excited to be exposed to the hardware side.
Jannie Chu-Yu Cheng (bottom right), User Research: I’m here from the University of Michigan. I came to Bresslergroup hoping to learn more about the interaction between software and hardware. What I’ve learned in school has mostly been about the software side, the interface design, and I wanted to learn about how to combine the interface and the physical product.
I liked it so much that when they invited me back it was a no-brainer.”
Evan Weinstein (bottom middle), Mechanical Engineering: I first heard of Bresslergroup from Nick McGill, when he did my alumni interview for Penn. Then my little brother did an internship here this past January and loved it, so I decided to apply.
Leroy Sibanda (bottom left), Mechanical Engineering: I graduated from and worked in a lab at Penn, but I was looking to get into electronic systems design and analysis within industry, so I reached out to a few Bresslergroup employees I had met over the years, including Nick McGill, a Penn alum; Pat Brandon, who I worked with at a high school robotics summer program; and Peter Bressler, who I had taken classes from and toured Bresslergroup with.
Sean Zarzycki (top left), Electrical Engineering: This is my third Drexel University co-op and my second co-op at Bresslergroup. I was here for my first co-op last year, and I liked it so much that when they invited me back it was a no-brainer.
What Surprised Them About Bresslergroup?
Emma: The fast pace of everything. Within my first day, first hour, Kevin Murphy came up to my desk and gave me an assignment. I dove right into the action.
Jannie: The usability laboratory. I had read about usability labs in my textbooks, but I’ve never seen a company have one as comprehensive as Bresslergroup’s.
Leroy: The access. On my first day here, I was in a client meeting discussing ideas. You don’t get that kind of access in very many places, and if you do, it doesn’t happen that quickly.
On my first day here, I was in a client meeting discussing ideas.”
Evan: How many simultaneous projects people work on. I was working on five projects within a week of starting, and I saw some Bresslergroup staff managing up to 13 projects at once.
Sean: The beer taps. When I walked off the elevator on my first day and saw the three beer taps, I knew this was going to be a fun place to work. … Yes, I have had a chance to try them.
The Work (“I Dove Right Into the Action.”)
Emma: I was in charge of printed circuit board (PCB) design for a wearable product. I built the boards, tested them, and helped assembled the final prototype. I had a lot of help and could ask questions, but the boards were really in my hands, which was both stressful and a great experience.
Jannie: I helped create client presentations using virtual reality and worked internally on projects to optimize Bresslergroup’s user research capabilities using VR. It was a valuable experience to see how this emerging technology can be applied to the research field.
Leroy: I mostly worked on the same wearable as Emma, doing a bit of mechanical design for early concepts for wrist and ankle modules. I talked with vendors and thought through injection molding and what that process would involve. I worked a bit at the intersection of mechanical and electrical engineering — helping with testing and assembling the final prototype.
I was in charge of printed circuit board (PCB) design for a wearable product.”
Evan: I worked on a ton of different projects at various stages in their lifecycles. I helped develop some early-stage concepts for one product, mocked those up physically and in CAD, and presented them to the client. I also worked on products toward the ends of their project lifecycle — I did a ton of testing for another project.
Sean: During my previous co-op at Bresslergroup, I wrote the firmware and did the assembly for prototypes of a medical device and a piece of connected sports equipment. This year I’m working on the firmware for a different medical device. The stuff I’m doing isn’t what people see when they hold the product in their hands, but it’s nice to know I’m able to get the system up and running, make it robust, and keep it working behind the scenes.
Intern Raves! (What They Liked the Most)
Emma: The amount of trust everyone puts in us. The project I was working on was intense, but when we got back the first revisions of the board and everything worked, a couple engineers came up to me and told me I’d done a good job. That was when I learned that there’s typically at least one error at that stage, and in mine there was none. That was a really good feeling.
Jannie: As an international student, it was learning more about how American companies work and learning American culture. For example, I didn’t know that people here eat lunch at their desks. In Taiwan we will take a break, go outside, eat, and take a nap. Then we stay later in the evening.
The best part has been learning things I don’t get to learn in school.”
Leroy: Being an international student, it was the culture. As a company, we interact a lot inside and outside of work, so we’ll be talking about a project and then ten minutes later we’re talking about going to play flag football. There are a lot of extracurricular events, and you definitely become a team.
Evan: The best part has been learning things I don’t get to learn in school, like injection molding. Penn doesn’t have a class on injection molding, and it’s been interesting to see the difference between how I might make a prototype and how Bresslergroup is making something that will be mass produced.
Sean: The best part has been the amount of work I’ve been able to do. There’s not much down time, and while that can get stressful at times, there are always extracurriculars to offload that stress.
Any Favorite Moments?
Sean: Assembling and shipping a prototype, knowing it would function when the client received it.
Evan: I was testing a prototype in the lab and at least five people came up to me to ask how it was going while I was running the test. That was very cool, to see how many people were interested and invested in its success.
Leroy: Seeing the wearable product we’d been toiling over turned on and fully functional. That’s a project we had worked on across different disciplines. This product isn’t something that already exists, so it was fun to see this new thing, this creation, working and to know we all contributed to different parts of it.
Seeing the wearable product we’d been toiling over turned on and fully functional. …”
Emma: Same as Leroy — it was when we were putting together the prototype for the wearable. As soon as we got the boards we were going full speed, non-stop, making sure they all worked, debugging when they didn’t, and assembling the product. We were in the lab dancing around each other, reading each other’s body language so we could tell when someone looked confused or needed another part. The collaboration was really fun.
Jannie: To receive a lot of responses from people at Bresslergroup on the internal projects and usability testing I’ve done. It’s a supportive and exciting environment here. Being assigned more and more tasks as your colleagues gain confidence and trust in you is also great, and getting involved in different stages of various projects is fascinating!
The Most Challenging Moments
Evan: Weighing different design requirements, finding how to get around them, and communicating that to the client was challenging.
Emma: When I first started and got thrown right in, I realized I’m doing this, I’m not helping someone else do this. It was a moment of panic, of thinking, “I have so many questions! I don’t even know what I don’t know.” But I started small and got to a place where I was more comfortable.
Sean: Working late to get another prototype to work so it could ship the next day.
When I first started and got thrown right in, I realized I’m doing this, I’m not helping someone else do this. It was a moment of panic. …”
Leroy: For me it was the final element analysis (FEA) for a carbon fiber part of a product. We needed to know the properties of the material used, but a fun fact about carbon fiber is that no manufacturer tells you the material specifications. Carbon fiber is a composite of fabric coated in epoxy, but the fabric and epoxy have their own strength characteristics. When you put them together, the strength of the composite is not as straightforward as the sum of two parts. I spent a lot of time researching, calling manufacturers, testing samples, and doing my own engineering estimations.
Jannie: Trying to catch all of the details in a client meeting. This is my second year in the U.S., so it’s hard to pick up all of the details and record them because of the language, pace, and how they describe things in a more informal way, not like the formal writing of a textbook.
New Skills Acquired (Either Work or Flag Football-Related)
Evan: I learned the importance of going through the proper design and testing channels. A lot of times in school, I just need to make one model that works for a ten-minute demo. Obviously, here with a real product, you need to make it work for years and allow enough tolerances so that the first product and the ten-thousandth product will work exactly the same.
Sean: I picked up many new electrical engineering skills — designing the boards, testing the boards, debugging the boards, writing code for the chips on the boards. All of those are very practical skills, as opposed to school lessons which tend to be more theoretical.
I learned the importance of going through the proper design and testing channels.”
Leroy: Communication. I’ve worked on projects prior to being here where I was the sole designer, which meant a lot of things didn’t need to be communicated or steps didn’t have to happen. In a system like this, where you have three to ten people working on the same project, the way you communicate and document your work is very important.
Jannie: Process and communication. At school we learn mostly theoretical things, so seeing the process is important. You have to create a serious workflow and design and take everything into consideration before you present it to the client or conduct research.
Emma: All of the electrical engineering skills — soldering, crimping wires, designing a board, basic stuff. One of the good soft skills I practiced was when to ask questions. If I really didn’t know something, I could ask questions in order to move forward, but I always tried to piece my way forward first with whatever data and info I could find. That way I wasn’t constantly leaning on other people.
Advice For Future Bresslergroup Interns?
Emma: Be ready to go on day one. Be open to challenging projects. Know the boundaries between asserting yourself and taking advice from older, more experienced employees. Approach everything with a friendly attitude.
Sean: Ask questions, and if you don’t enjoy an aspect of what you’re working on, feel free to tell your manager. You’re here to work but also here to learn what you want to do for your career. Also, get the spicy chicken.
Jannie: Approach people proactively, and you’ll get a lot of chances to learn about different products, projects, and stages. Reach out to people, not just on your team but on others, and you’ll learn more than you expected.
Get the spicy chicken.”
Leroy: Dive into it all. That’s what results in you being able to speak to someone who has 30 years of experience or two master’s degrees — and then go sailing later that day with both of them. It allows you to have those conversations or experiences. That’s something Bresslergroup seems to acknowledge — that learning will always happen, inside of work or out.
Evan: Ask a lot of questions and take a lot of notes. I asked a lot of questions, even when they were unrelated to a project, because there are a lot of people here with lots of experience, and I’m genuinely interested in what they have to say. At the same time, people don’t like to repeat conversations they’ve already had, so take notes that you can look at again.
Finish This Sentence: Bresslergroup is …
Emma: … exciting. As soon as you walk off the elevator, it’s a cool looking office with a shuffleboard table, beer on tap. Everyone cares about what they do and are excited about it.
Jannie: … where interesting and exciting stories happen. You can meet a lot of people from different backgrounds, and you can get involved in different products and projects.
Leroy: … engrossing. It pulls you in and allows you to become part of the way things happen here.
Evan: … collaborative. I’ve worked with six or seven different mechanical engineers on different projects, and everyone is willing to help out no matter what project they’re a part of.
Sean: … interesting. It’s impossible to get stuck in a work rut because when one project is finished, you get a whole new project with a bunch of different challenges. It never gets boring.
How This Internship Will Influence Their Next Steps
Sean: This internship made me realize you don’t have to go to the West Coast to get a cool tech job.
Leroy: I’m the kind of person who likes to solve problems, and this company has shown me new ways to do that. I think I’ll look for this in future employers — do they encourage this culture of problem-solving, of collaborating toward solutions, or are they stuck in old ways of doing things?
Evan: I’m hoping to launch my own hardware startup, and I’ve gotten a lot of really good tools here that will definitely help me bring a product to market.
This internship made me realize you don’t have to go to the West Coast to get a cool tech job.”
Jannie: The biggest influence is learning how different it is to conduct research in industry as opposed to in school, and seeing the difference between working in an agency, versus working at an in-house company like most of my classmates end up doing.
Emma: After this co-op, I have a strong sense that I want to go into product design. I hadn’t considered that before. The electrical engineers here can work on hardware, software, and anything in between. That’s exciting. It’s great to know places like this are out there.