Valentin Ivaldi, a 2017 graduate of the ECAM Arts & Métiers engineering program, started his career in Sydney, Australia in the microgrid sector at Schneider Electric. Though the current health crisis has changed his plans somewhat, he already has some great ambitions in mind for his future work. Discover his journey!
Why did you choose ECAM Lyon?
I came to ECAM Lyon, in the 1st year of the engineering curriculum, following a University Technical Degree (DUT) in Physical Measurement. The school was recommended to me by people in my network. I chose ECAM Lyon compared to other engineering schools for its general engineering aspect and the international dimension the school offers.
How did you take advantage of the school’s international outreach?
While completing the ECAM Arts & Métiers program, I had the opportunity to go abroad twice. First in my 2nd year of the engineering program, when I attended Polytechnique Montreal for two semesters. Here, I discovered a different way of learning: I was able to “choose” my timetable by identifying the subjects I wanted to study. It is confusing at first, and sometimes difficult because we do not necessarily have the prerequisites in each area, but it is highly educational.
The second time, I went to the other side of the planet: to Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia. I did my 6-month internship there at TechnipFMC. I conducted analyses on the mechanical behavior of submarine cables during their installation and connection to well heads intended for oil extraction. When these pipes are installed several thousand meters deep, you must make sure that they are not damaged! I found this internship through the ECAM network: as I wanted to work abroad in the energy sector, I found an alumnus who had a similar mission and I contacted him.
How was your transition to working life?
I wanted to continue in the energy sector. My first internship was very interesting but I found it too theoretical. This is the advantage of doing internships: it allows us to know what we really like and what we like less!
Following my training at ECAM Lyon, I completed a dual degree at the IAE School of Management, building my knowledge namely in marketing and business strategy. To earn the degree, I had to do another internship. Through the ECAM student and alumni Facebook group, I got an internship in the field of microgrids at Schneider Electric in Grenoble, and joined the team for 6 months.
Simply put, a microgrid is a scaled down version of a conventional power grid. Energy is produced locally via photovoltaic panels and wind turbines, and most often combined with electricity storage solutions. A microgrid is therefore a subsystem connected to the general network at a single point. In the event of a breakdown, for example, it can temporarily operate autonomously, as a sort of “island”. As the mission went well, I was fortunate to be able to continue in the same company and the same field by doing a Volunteer for International Experience (VIE) contract in Sydney, Australia.
So my transition to working life was quick, but there is always a bit of luck: if I had not answered this internship offer, I probably could not have started my career abroad afterwards!
How can one work internationally as a young engineer?
I think the VIE is the perfect solution. In addition to facilitating administrative procedures such as obtaining a visa, it also makes it easier to find a job abroad when you have recently graduated from a French engineering school.
The reason is simple: the system of engineering schools is a very French concept, and outside France it is more common to do a Master’s degree in engineering at a university. While French companies are familiar with this system, foreign companies do not necessarily know how it works. It is therefore easier to find a position abroad at a French company. In any case, my VIE experience really made me want to work abroad!
How has the Covid-19 crisis impacted your career?
Following my VIE in Australia, I returned to France because I had been hired for a new job. Due to the health crisis, my plans have changed somewhat. The original job opportunity I came back for fell through. However, my background and my various professional experiences allowed me to quickly find a new position in the energy sector. I am starting new missions in the field of electric vehicle charging stations, which is still related to microgrids.
In your view, how will this world crisis change the engineering profession?
Many sectors have been impacted and will probably have to think of new ways of working. We can see that the production and supply of certain resources is becoming more and more difficult in France because they are manufactured outside of Europe. During a pandemic, this is particularly true for products such as masks or certain drugs. So I think the crisis will encourage some companies to rethink their production method in order to be better prepared in the event of a future crisis.
The microgrid sector plays an important role during this period. In a catastrophic scenario in which the national electricity network was partially or even completely cut off for several days, the microgrids could take over. For example, they could keep critical buildings, hospitals in particular, up and running. We take electricity for granted, but in the event of a power outage we realize that we can no longer live without it!
Any advice for our students?
You have to do what you love and know how to capitalize on any opportunities that arise! The alumni network is also very important! This is what happened to me with my experience in Australia : after having completed my first internship, I was then able to continue on a VIE and finally a permanent contract.
Above all, don’t be afraid to go abroad. It is an extremely rich experience, culturally, professionally and personally. Having an international profile will also make it easier to find a job back in France.