I currently am an Application Engineer in Oracle.
OK, first the sub-questions:
What exactly will an Oracle Apps engineer learn to do in the first year or two?
You will be involved in building web applications using J2EE. In this process, if you are hard working and proactive, you can spruce up your java and Sql knowledge, and you can get a good understanding of the architecture of web applications, how the business logic of the web applications are coded, and a lot of UI design for the web applications.
What specific work you are going to do is going to depend on which team and product you get assigned to.
Regarding the team, the above work description is more accurate if you get assigned to an application development team. If you are in a QA team, you will be working more on Selenium and less of the above. You could also end up in a code patching team. I do not know much of the QA and patching teams, so cannot speak much about it.
Coming to the product, some of the products you get assigned to are PDIT, EBusiness Suite, Fusion Applications etc.. Fusion Applications has most of the product development work happening, for the simple reason that it is a new product. I have heard that an Apps Engineer in other teams will usually be more involved in maintenance of already built apps. So in such a case you will be more involved in bug fixing and less of product development.. but I cannot say this for sure. This is just hearsay.
How easy/difficult is it to transition to a product development or R&D role- to start doing the sort of work that gets you patents.?
If you are not assigned to a product development team, I think you will have to wait for a year to get transitioned to one of them. If you have a good rating in your first year and are on good terms with your manager, then I would presume it is pretty much possible.
With regards to R&D I am not sure what you are expecting. Your work will not concern the architecture of the product( you might get to do this after a while when you get promoted to senior engineer, architect etc.. but not sure about it). As an apps engineer your main focus will be on the UI of the product, so you will be dealing with a lot of xml, jsff and jspx. You will also be involved in the DB schema design and business logic of the application.
With regards to patents, if you are in the dev team you can start filing patents right away as an apps engineer. In fact, you will encouraged to file more patents. They regularly conduct Patent Workshops etc.. patents get filed pretty often. So you don't have to wait for anything, you will start with the kind of work that can fetch you patents, if you have good ideas. Your patents will be more about UI design patterns and not about any tweaks or cutting edge algorithm to streamline the architecture of the product etc… At apps layer the technology is more or less frozen and you work with the framework that is provided to you. There is little scope to alter the framework.
What other companies could utilize the same skillset in case Oracle turns out to be a dead-end?
Again I can only speak for the people in dev team. As part of product development you will be working extensively on one of Oracle's internal framework called Application Development Framework( ADF). If you become a pro in understanding and using this framework, you can quit your job and move to US or Europe and become an independent ADF consultant, on similar lines of a SAP consultant. You get paid bucket loads for this job. But you will have to be the god of ADF for that. One guy from my organization just did this recently.
Other than that if you if you want to switch jobs you will have to keep yourself up to date with your data structures and algorithms knowledge, which will require some extra effort outside office hours, and apply for other companies. But I am not sure if the kind of work you do in other companies like say Amazon or Microsoft will be very different( though the pay hikes and bonuses are higher in these places).
Besides all this I would like to add a few points:
- The work culture is pretty chilled out, the work is not very hectic and the working hours are very flexible. And there are a good number of team outings, lunches and parties etc.. So if you like what you are doing here, it can be an enjoyable place to work in.