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I took a job at a small company (as a design engineer) after working for large multinational companies, and something a little more "start-up" (although it had been bought by a large company, not completely integrated).

I've always been a design engineer (electrical / embedded), I've always supported a lot of the process (design, verification/QA, manufacturing, sustaining).

However now I spend 40-60% of my week on the phone with field service, and manufacturing (they're in the same building), as does the rest of the engineering team (3 others).

Is this normal? How do you get anything done with all the interruptions? The context switching makes me so inefficient.

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    this is company specific, some have dedicated field teams, others don't – Kilisi Jan 29 '20 at 3:01
  • (Probably not good material for an answer but...) As an electrical hardware engineer myself, I would say that field support is normal but not extremely frequent. I've had people on my team go to China or Mexico to basically ensure efficient manufacturing for the ODM. It sounds like your responsibilities align with someone who does program management. Was this much travel something that the job posting listed before and/or was this mentioned when you were interviewing with the company? – user82352 Jan 29 '20 at 3:35
  • If you've got 4 engineers spending 40-60% of their time dealing with field service and manufacturing, maybe your company might want to reassign one of you to deal with it full time, or hire someone full time to do so? – nick012000 Jan 29 '20 at 4:06
  • Whether you should put up with it is something only you can really answer. A more interesting question would be what a small company can do to maintain engineer productivity. – Robin Bennett Jan 29 '20 at 9:43
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Whether any work assignment is normal or not, heavily depends on the sector / domain, the industry and finally, the organization policies. While a practice may be common in some cases, it might not be the norm in some organization, and vice-versa.

The real question is: are you willing to put your efforts into the work you don't really want to do or enjoy doing? Whether it's normal or not, comes secondary to that.

In my experience, some (again, subjective) amount of field / production/ customer support is expected of the engineering team, but they come as a last resort or in case of high-to-critical priority tasks. For normal work items for field / customer cases, it's expected that a separate team will be allocated with professionals having enough knowledge and expertise to handle majority of the work items / tickets and only the cases requiring specific expertise will be reaching to the engineering team via an escalation method.

If field / manufacturing / customer support becomes a regular thing, and either the engineering activity is delayed / interrupted with those work requests, there are two things that needs to be done:

  • Talk to your manager about the volume of request you (and the team) is receiving and ask for their opinion (on how to handle those requests, setting priorities etc.)
  • Ask to have an escalation matrix prepared, where before a case reaches the engineering team for help, a proper tracking is available where the previous efforts are logged and the problem statement is clear, so the engineering have to spends minimal effort in reproducing the issue and can focus on getting the solution out quickly.

Finally, if actually the support load is higher than the existing manufacturing / field support team can handle, there might be a need to increase the team strength / capacity - but that can only happen when the amount of work is formalized and tracked through the escalation.

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Yes, it is entirely normal and expected in a small company that you'll be engaged in a variety of tasks outside your formal job description (or, alternatively, to have a very broad remit in one's job description). This one of the key differences between small and large organisations.

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