University of Minnesota
Master of Science in Software Engineering
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Eric Lobner

Current Job:
Software Technical Lead
3M

Eric's Story:
Eric Lobner keeps people safe. Working with 3M’s extensive line of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)—which include everything from respirators to hearing protection to fall protection equipment—Lobner has helped introduce an innovation to this equipment that keeps millions around the world injury free. As Software Lead on 3M’s Active Safety platform, he has found a way to make protective equipment smart, connected, and personal. Digital technology has started a revolution in the PPE and safety industry that is providing new-to-the-world tools to enhance worker protection. This advancement is so key to the multinational conglomerate, Lobner was recently honored with 3M’s Corporate Technical Excellence and Innovation Award, which recognizes the accomplishments of scientists and engineers from all technical organizations within the company.

Before Lobner was changing the dynamics of safety in work places worldwide, he was a student pursuing his computer science degree. Shortly after completing his B.S. degree, he worked as a project engineer in 3M’s corporate research and development laboratory. It was during this time he had the opportunity to learn about the many ways he could apply software and computer science principles to solve real-world problems. With that in mind, and still working full time, he enrolled in and completed University of Minnesota’s Masters of Science in Software Engineering program (MSSE), a degree that helped lay the groundwork for the innovations he comes up with today at 3M.

“The knowledge and skills I learned during the MSSE program allowed me to successfully fulfill assignments within 3M of increasing complexity and importance,” said Lobner.

What drew you to software engineering as opposed to the other fields within computer science?

I chose software engineering because I enjoy translating knowledge, techniques, and tools from the software engineering discipline to fit within the real-world constraints that exist when developing real systems for real users. Software Engineering as a discipline recognizes the challenges of building systems for the real world and provides the tools and techniques to navigate these challenges to produce the best and most valuable output possible for a user.

What were your early experiences with computing that inspired you growing up and convinced you to pursue computer science as a career?

In junior high school I took a summer camp where we learned how to build HTML web pages. After that class I continued to become more and more interested in computing and programming. In high school I took every class related to computing; I also had a great teacher who mentored me and helped me understand how to move forward with this as my profession. Entering college, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to continue working with computers and building software applications.

What is one of your fondest memories from your time at the U of M?

One of the unique aspects of the MSSE program is that most students were current professionals in a software engineering role. In addition, many faculty have a strong professional background and have a very wide and varied set of real-world industrial experiences. The combination of both the students and the instructors led to an incredibly valuable learning experience. In-class discussions were always chalked full of valuable insights by the instructors as well as the students.

What are some of the challenges you currently face being a software tech lead at a company as large and diverse as 3M?

3M as a large and diverse organization traditionally has been a company that sells many physical “things”—anything from abrasives, healthcare products, construction materials to adhesives, as well as the well known line of office products. When you think of 3M, you don’t generally think about software or digital solutions; but in reality we also have many systems that have software and electronics as a critical component. The biggest opportunity I have as a software lead is to find the perfect balance that exists between 3M’s world renowned physical products and the countless opportunities that can be achieved when combining these traditional strengths with cutting-edge software and computer science technologies.

What is it about computer science that keeps you excited and motivated for the future?

The most exciting thing about the field of computer science is the countless ways that people are changing the world with knowledge from this field. Connected digital systems, massive scale computing, and data analytics put computer science right at the center of many of the most important inventions of recent history and certainly will provide the knowledge necessary to enable the next generation of world changing inventions. It is incredibly exciting to be a part of this new revolution that changes the world on a daily basis.