Dirk Ehm on his bike on the road

Pursuing a career doesn't always have to mean being responsible for personnel and budgets: Dirk Ehm is a member of the Expert Ladder at ZEISS SMT and is responsible for the technical management of staff and projects.

Passion and motivation

Swimming, cycling and running: these are the endurance sports that make up a triathlon. I completed my first one at the age of 19 – and have loved the sport ever since. For me, it's not about beating best times and records, but about my personal performance, about pushing my own limits a little further – and of course that great feeling at the finish.

From the triathlon to the ZEISS Expert Ladder

Researching, developing, solving problems: That describes my second passion – a fascination with technologies. After completing my doctorate on the electronic structure of gamma-like cerium compounds at Saarland University, I joined the Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology (SMT) segment at ZEISS in 2002 as a research assistant. While writing my thesis, I already knew I wanted to work in the field of applied research in an industrial company. My career at ZEISS began with the EUV technology project, which was still quite straightforward at the time. Our small team did not yet know how long it would take us to reach our goal of being "ready for series production", and if we would even achieve it at all. However, ZEISS, along with numerous other developers, showed perseverance and motivation, which were rewarded with the German Future Prize for EUV Technology in 2020.

Graphical presentation of the individual stages of the specialist career from Senior to Fellow

A career as an expert

But to go back to the start of my professional career: If you ask young professionals about their career plans, many of them say they will at some point have to be responsible for personnel, projects, and budgets. At ZEISS, however, in addition to excellent executives, project managers and management accountants, we also need scientists and engineers, process engineers, software developers, specialists in automation technology and electrical engineering, specialists in precision mechanics and production as well as in research and development. So, a whole lot of expertise. That is why we have the so-called Expert Ladder which focuses on technical management and exchange. A program rarely found in this form in companies. Managers can put forward suitable candidates based on a list of criteria. The participants reach different levels over the course of the program. I myself started my professional career as a "Senior Scientist" in 2008. I now support colleagues as a "Senior Principal". Thanks to the Expert Ladder, I was able to attain my dream career that focuses on research.

Andreas Pecher - President of ZEISS Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology presents Dirk Ehm with his professional career award

Attention to and love of detail

Even in my early days at ZEISS SMT, I experienced how much importance we place on absolute precision. For us, every nanometer, even picometer counts. We are passionate about our attention to and love of detail. The Expert Ladder is not an "off-the-shelf" support program either. To push the boundaries of what is technologically feasible a little further every day, we need specialist knowledge at the picometer level just as much as an overview of the big picture. That's why we support people as individuals in the Expert Ladder, we expand their specialist expertise and develop them personally through cooperative programs with research institutions, attendance at conferences and interdisciplinary exchanges at ZEISS.

Highs and lows

Because I do triathlons, I know what the "runner's high" feels like – running almost in a state of intoxication. But I also experience the "lows" when I would like to stop and sit down. At times like these, it's helpful to remind myself that I've been through similar situations before. In my professional environment, I have been supported by colleagues who may have already coped with comparable challenges. And last but not least, ZEISS as a company stands behind its employees and empathizes with the "lows", because they are part of being in it for the long game – both in triathlons and EUV lithography. Without this perseverance and our focus on the specialist expertise of our employees, we might never have been able to make EUV technology market-ready.

Dirk Ehm with his son

Lifetime learning

As a "Senior Principal", I am already one of the "old hands" and one of those who, with their experience, can offer advice and support, especially to younger colleagues. Offering words of both professional and personal encouragement. Discussing experiences is never a one-way street. Even if the sentence "You never stop learning!" may sound overused, it is definitely the case in our work. We always work at the limits of what is technically feasible with the aim of pushing these limits. If you do not retain your sense of curiosity, thirst for knowledge and the eagerness for progress, you will not cross the finish line.

Portrait of Dr. Dirk Ehm

Even if the sentence "You never stop learning!" may sound overused, it is definitely the case in our work.

Dr. Dirk Ehm

Senior Principal, ZEISS Expert Ladder

A learning organization

We currently have over 6,000 brilliant minds working for us; around one third of them in R&D alone. I am always fascinated by how much knowledge and expertise ZEISS SMT has. The fact that the members of the Expert Ladder are assigned to specific specialist areas is extremely helpful, as we can access this specialist expertise when putting together new and effective teams. By exchanging regularly, we maintain an overview of the knowledge in the heads of the many employees – and constantly learn ourselves.

About challenging and encouraging

If I look at my professional career as a marathon, I have now completed about two-thirds of the distance in my early 50s. Thanks to the Expert Ladder, I was always challenged and encouraged, given the opportunity to focus on my professional and personal development – at my own pace, with my own milestones. I still learn something new every day. I'm happy to pass on my knowledge, and I'm looking forward to the onward journey with and at ZEISS SMT.

Portrait of Dr. Dirk Ehm
Author Dr. Dirk Ehm Senior Principal, ZEISS Expert Ladder

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