A young man wearing a suit and glasses smiling at the camera.
Balamurali Sreekala. Image: Johnson & Johnson

‘I had no previous experience in the medical devices industry’

27 Sep 2021

Balamurali Sreekala discusses the hands-on experience he gained in the Johnson & Johnson graduate programme, including working with 3D-printing technology.

When he was young, Balamurali Sreekala always had a love for vehicles, which sparked his interest in STEM at school. This led him to his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Kerala in India.

“During this course, I realised that mechanical engineering is not just about automobiles but covers a plethora of areas. I also realised that the modern world is business-oriented, and it was important to gain some business experience,” he told Siliconrepublic.com.

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“This led me to pursue my master’s in mechanical engineering with business from University College Dublin, which helped me increase my core technical knowledge and gain skills in business and technology management.”

Now, Sreekala works at DePuy Synthes Ireland, the orthopaedic company of Johnson & Johnson, having joined as part of the company’s graduate programme.

‘It is a fantastic experience to transfer the knowledge and skills you learn in the classroom into real-life applications’

With this programme, are you now working in your desired industry?

Yes, it was a dream come true because after completing my master’s degree, I got selected for the Johnson & Johnson graduate programme to work in their largest orthopaedic manufacturing plant globally.

It is a fantastic experience to transfer the knowledge and skills you learn in the classroom into real-life applications and know about the huge impact we make on people’s lives.

What drew you to Johnson & Johnson when you were seeking work as a graduate?

As a part of my course in UCD, I did my co-op placement with DePuy Ireland for six months in product launch management. This gave me an eagle-eye view of the whole business, from early R&D to the final product delivery to hospitals.

Johnson & Johnson performs every activity based on their credo, which emphasises the importance of the wellbeing of customers and employees. Even as a co-op student, I was given excellent opportunities and whenever I faced any hurdle, I could reach out to people who would be more than ready to help.

The company’s efforts to keep people moving using their advancements in orthopaedic implants made me feel that I was playing a part, even if it was a small one, in helping patients, which gave me personal satisfaction.

In addition, the company places tremendous importance in diversity and inclusion. All these ignited the desire to return to Johnson & Johnson after college. I applied to the Johnson & Johnson graduate programme and fortunately I was selected.

What expectations did you have before you began the programme?

Johnson & Johnson hired me as a graduate new product introduction engineer. I was thrilled because that is where you manufacture a new product from scratch and prepare it for launch in different markets, which helps you have hands-on experience with state-of-the-art technologies.

I knew that the Johnson & Johnson graduate programme provided an opportunity to learn about different areas in the same business and in Johnson & Johnson’s other sectors such as pharmaceuticals and consumer products due to their vast footprint in the healthcare business industry.

Moreover, from my experience from the co-op placement, I knew about the wide range of CSR activities and the other sports and social activities I could participate in.

What duties and responsibilities were you given initially?

Initially, I was given the responsibility of the process owner for cleaning and passivation of a new product. This involved assessing the risks involved and validating the process to ensure that the best-in-class and the safest product is manufactured for the customers.

Did the scope of your work change as the programme progressed?

Within my first rotation in the new production introduction department, I got an opportunity to switch to a 3D-printed knee component project, which gave me an enthralling opportunity to work with 3D-printing technology, a growing field in the medical device industry with immense potential. It was great to understand the challenges faced by the engineers working on 3D printing and how they tackled the situation and found solutions.

And after completing one year, recently I moved to supply chain product management for a US-based role in shoulder reconstruction, which I am looking forward to for a great experience and exposure.

Can you describe a typical day in your role?

I would divide my typical day into two streams, project-related and non-project related activities. Daily meetings, solving engineering challenges, executing and documenting validation activities and stakeholder management would be project related.

The non-project related activities include co-leading the site communications team, working on the recruitment of co-op students and ensuring that they get the best out of their co-op placement, working on different employee resource groups – J&J has many of those – and networking with your co-workers from your own team as well as other departments, which helps me to understand more about the business.

How do your responsibilities compare to more experienced employees’?

Everyone is given an equal opportunity to grow. If you are new to the business, the company knows that you will find it hard to deal with it alone. The culture built within the company is that everyone from a graduate-level to senior management level is approachable if you have hurdles in dealing with your responsibilities. They will be ready to guide you in every aspect and help you learn and prosper personally and professionally.

Do you feel more prepared for working life after completing this programme?

I was a bit doubtful about myself when I started because I had no previous experience in the medical devices industry and it was my first experience working in a foreign country.

But after a year in the programme, I can proudly say that Johnson & Johnson has trained and prepared me to feel confident about my skills and talents and am ready to face any challenges as I advance.

Moreover, it helped me gain a wide variety of transferrable skills, which I can utilise anywhere I go.

Why should someone apply to the graduate programme at Johnson & Johnson?

Based on my experience, I would recommend the Johnson & Johnson graduate programme to anyone. Working in such a huge multinational company helps you gain immense expertise with state-of-the-art technologies and give you the exposure like nowhere else.

The three different rotations within the programme help you understand the various departments, enabling you to take long-term career decisions. Even if you feel that one kind of industry is not your fit, you can move to other sectors within the Johnson & Johnson umbrella.

This helps you to widen the wings to fly high rather than constraining yourself to something you are not passionate about. You will also get positivity from your work because each product you manufacture will have a tremendously positive impact on someone’s life, a stranger or someone in your own family. You can also participate in different employee resource groups, CSR activities, sports and social activities and tons of employee benefits.

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