“My watch is always five minutes fast”

Davis Baby graduated at h_da as a Master in Electrical Engineering. For this young man from India, Germany was the land of engineers, Darmstadt his first international station. At first, studying here came as a culture shock, but later it turned out to be a prime career stepping stone. His career start at SMS group GmbH presented a major challenge right away: a deployment as Project Leader in a big city in the Ural Mountains. Today, the alumnus is working at the headquarters of this international plant engineering and construction company located in Mönchengladbach. 

Precise, straightforward, punctual – these are typical characteristics that Davis Baby associates with his adopted country, Germany. Characteristics that he himself has made his own after more than a decade. “My watch is always five minutes fast, so that I arrive on time for my meetings and appointments,” he laughs. Even for this interview, Davis Baby arrives five minutes early. The fact that Germans have “a different understanding of time and punctuality” was one of the first differences the young man from India noticed upon his arrival in Darmstadt back in 2011. Baby enrolled for the Master’s course in Electrical Engineering and Information Technology at h_da. After graduating from Mahatma Gandhi University in Kerala as a Bachelor, he was looking for a global stance by continuing his studies abroad. 

The first few months were a battle

Baby, now 37, was born into a family of academics. His father worked for the government, his mother was a teacher, and his brother studied Mechanical Engineering. Many members of his family live and work abroad. Davis Baby chose Germany: “It’s the land of engineers, offering a good education at an affordable price.” He chose Hochschule Darmstadt with its international Master’s course with lectures held in English. Still, initially the change seemed enormous. “The first three months were a battle,” he remembers. “I was trying hard to behave and act right and to understand how everyday life and the university worked.” Germany proved to be a culture shock. “Everything was different: the weather, life on the whole, even driving a car. I saw snow for the first time in my life.”

The German language proved to be another obstacle. The course was international all right, but the curriculum included a mandatory language class. Baby worked his way up to level B1; half-mockingly, he calls it his “survival level”. Right from the very start, he was fascinated by the different approach to engineering he encountered in Darmstadt and Germany. “I came to know new perspectives and methods. Everything was very much geared towards practical application.” Another challenge was coding. “When I left India, I had no software skills,” he recounts. “But I even managed that, too.”

Thanks to the financial support from his parents, Baby could focus entirely on his studies during his first year. “I spent most of my time in the library or on campus.” The following semesters were defined by practical modules in industry. “This course of study provided lots of insights, and it prepared me very well for my professional life,” he says in retrospect. “It opened a lot of doors for me.”

First contacts with his employer at a trade fair

The young student was lucky enough to meet his later employer, the SMS group, while still studying. This international plant engineering and construction company specializes in structural engineering, metallurgy, and steel-mill technology and employs some 14,000 people worldwide. “I first came into contact with SMS at a trade fair, and I became first an intern and then a working student,” he says. Even the topic for his final thesis evolved in cooperation with this company. Incidentally, Davis Baby was awarded the absolute top grade for his Master's thesis: 1.0. One motto that a training supervisor at SMS group quoted to him has been his guiding maxim to this day: “Quality starts with the little things.” Focussing on the details has remained of the utmost importance for this h_da alumnus. 

He likes to remember his professors and mentors at h_da. In particular, Professor Thomas Betz who has remained his mentor, adviser, and friend to this day. “He gave me trust and confidence.” And it was him that he conferred with when his new employer offered him a job following his Master’s graduation: in Russia, in the city of Chelyabinsk, a city of some 2 million inhabitants close to the Ural Mountains. That was about as far away as it could get. “I was not sure, and had asked for some time to think it over.” Chelyabinsk – Baby had heard the name of that city watching a TV documentary back in February 2013 on German television that dealt with the largest meteorite impact of the past century. “One year later, I was there. I couldn’t have imagined that even in my wildest dreams.”

Suddenly in the Ural Mountains

Another new country, another new culture, another new language that this young man from India, then only 27, had to come to terms with. In winter, the thermometer dipped down to minus 37°C – even the climate was challenging, he says. He arrived there as a “German engineer” and Project Leader for a technical service division whose task was to establish a new software system (Enterprise Resource Planning System) for nine business units located there. “At the beginning, they all hated me,” he jokes. “In Germany, everything is defined and well-ordered. It took me some time to make the switch from German straightforwardness to the Russian mentality.” He took language classes and relied on intense teamwork and communication. “I was young, I didn’t see the obstacles so much, I just worked in an intuitive and open-minded manner.” According to the motto: “Let’s go!”

The one-year stay in Russia that had been agreed upon initially, finally extended to four years. A time he wouldn’t want to miss. “The people there were very open and helpful. I had no bad experiences.” What he learned there in particular, he says, is “how the business functions”, having been able to expand his knowledge of management, business processes, and work organization. A knowledge that has left its mark on his self-image and his way of working: “I’m a polite Indian, a well-trained German, and a tough Russian,” he laughs. 

All that was before the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine. In 2019, Baby returned to Germany. By now, he is married to his wife, who also comes from India, and they have started a family. “For my wife and my little daughters, a stable environment is better,” he says. This they have found in Mönchengladbach, where the SMS group is building their new headquarters and campus. Currently, this h_da alumnus is working as Project Manager in Service and Technical Outsourcing, leading large-scale integrated projects. SMS group today is one of the leading companies for the Green Steel Transition, i.e. the transformation of the steel industry towards more sustainable production with a smaller carbon footprint. Davis Baby works globally. His focus areas comprise providing consulting and services for partner companies via long-term contracts, called lifecycle partnerships. “Our clients focus on their core business, their central tasks, and we do all the rest,” he summarizes his role. This includes maintenance for plants, providing equipment, and handling sales projects. “We offer our knowledge.” 

And Davis Baby has remained loyal to his alma mater: “Professor Betz was the first person I visited after my return to Germany.”



Astrid Ludwig
April 2024