The career jump from ophthalmology to programming
Karolin has always been motivated by helping people as part of her job. As a requirements engineer at ZEISS Digital Innovation (ZDI), she can do precisely that – but not as she originally planned. “I must have made one of the biggest career jumps ever,” she laughs. “As a qualified optician, I would never have thought I would one day be helping to develop software.”
An essential interface
But Karolin’s career has not actually strayed that far from ophthalmology. At ZEISS Digital Innovation (ZDI), she and her team develop software that helps medical specialists in ophthalmology to plan and perform surgeries. A task with a lot of responsibility: “Our software needs to work intuitively and safely to ensure people can receive the best possible treatment.”
As a requirements engineer, Karolin is a communicative interface. She has a team of developers on one side and product management from ZEISS Medical Technology as well as ophthalmology experts from hospitals and practices on the other. She is the go-between for the two worlds, translating the requirements and ideas from the specialists and their customers into something tangible for the software developers at ZDI. She needs to be fluent in both languages. Her five years at ZEISS have taught her what programmers need. And she has been speaking the language of doctors ever since qualifying as an optician.
Somehow that was not enough. I had an inner urge to work more on solutions that improved people’s health – to make a bigger impact. I wanted more of a research role.
After finishing school, Karolin studied Optometry in Jena and left with a Master’s degree in Vision Science. She then spent a year working as an optician. “Somehow that was not enough. I had an inner urge to work more on solutions that improved people’s health – to make a bigger impact. I wanted more of a research role.”
And she got this opportunity: Karolin met employees of what is now ZDI at a charity event. They made her realize she could achieve her goals through software development. “I didn’t know this was an option as a trained optician,” she says. “And from that moment on, that made me want it even more.”
External knowledge: a valuable asset in software development
Karolin and her team are currently developing software that digitally organizes the eye measurements taken before refractive surgery – also known as laser eye surgery, which helps the patient to see better without glasses. To do this, Karolin first discusses which functions the new software is expected to perform with product management and the experts. From this meeting, she learns that the aim is to automate the transfer of data on the thickness and curvature of the cornea undergoing treatment from the measurement system to the software. Karolin then clarifies whether this is technically feasible with the development team and UX designers.
Once the plan for the software is in place, Karolin enters the specific requirements in the developers’ system and translates them into their language. “This is complex. I need to have an excellent understanding of how my colleagues think when doing the programming, which instructions they require, and what the software development process will entail. But I have learned all this here at ZDI.”
Going between two worlds
“For programmers, product managers, and medical experts, I am the first port of call for interdisciplinary issues. I translate, manage the process, and ensure there is clear communication between the departments.”
Her career jump has helped to make the ophthalmology of tomorrow safer and more efficient. “I am just one small interface in the entire system,” she says. “But an important one. And that makes me feel proud.”