Episode 63 — Engineering MBA


MBAMichael Lachman, who started his career as an aerospace engineer, leads us through the pros and cons of following up an engineering degree with an MBA.

  • Adam doesn’t have much interest in business, so he doesn’t think he’s a likely candidate to pursue an MBA (Master of Business Administration) degree.
  • Our guest for this episode is Michael Lachman, Founder and President of EyeQ Research, a consulting firm that provides ophthalmic medical device manufacturers with market research, industry insights, and business guidance.
  • As he was growing up, Michael was inspired by the efforts of the United States’ space program to land a man on the moon.
  • Michael started his career with Lockheed Corporation, working on feedback control systems.
  • Much of our guest’s work for Lockheed involved simulating spacecraft dynamics in software code, which he dutifully did by writing programs with the FORTRAN programming language.
  • Michael pursued a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, figuring that an MSME degree would provide him with a more diverse set of career opportunities.
  • Jeff and Michael worked together at Baxter Travenol (now Baxter International) for a short period of time, both having had their graduate design projects at Stanford funded by the company.
  • Despite wearing three-piece suits to work, Jeff and Michael found their work atmosphere in the mid-1980’s to be a far cry from the 1960’s era portrayed in the Mad Men television series.
  • Students are typically required to take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) as a condition of applying to a business school.
  • Our guest reports that going to business school on a part-time basis, while working a full-time job, is a difficult task.
  • Already possessing strong quantitative skills from his engineering coursework, Michael elected to attend Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, so that he could benefit from the school’s emphasis on marketing and case studies.
  • Certain employers place a great emphasis on where one obtains their business degree, so it’s a good idea to investigate corporate hiring practices before committing to any particular university’s MBA program.
  • MBA programs are often compared based on the rankings they receive from the magazine US News and World Report.
  • Universities conferred 74 percent more business degrees in the 2012-2013 school year than they did just eleven years prior. Brian wonders if this means that the MBA degree has been significantly devalued.
  • Receiving appropriate financial compensation for one’s enhanced skill set (in this case, through the acquisition of an MBA) often requires finding a new employer.
  • A typical MBA program has courses that fall into one of three broad categories: analytical, functional, and ethical.
  • Several years after receiving his MBA, Michael was hired by an investment banking firm.
  • The efficient market theory claims that, at any given time, all information about a firm and it’s financial prospects are immediately factored into the company’s stock price.
  • Michael covered the ophthalmic medical device as a research analyst. Ophthalmology deals with the anatomy, physiology and diseases of the eye.
  • In 2005, our guest started his own consulting firm; this allowed him to continue performing the market research he enjoyed, but without having to make stock recommendations.
  • The cost of MBA programs has skyrocketed in recent years, much as with other educational programs.
  • Opportunity costs reflect the value of foregone possibilities; that is, what benefits you could have enjoyed by pursuing the “next best” alternative.
  • Our guest suggests that engineers take a rational look at their career objectives, and the possible economic outcomes, before embarking on an MBA program.
  • Michael can be reached through the e-mail address found on his website.

Thanks to the Tulane Public Relations for the photo titled “Business Class.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 62 — Role Model


rolemodelElectrical engineer Meagan Pollock explains how engineers can be more effective role models. We also learn about promoting equity in the workplace, discover how digital movie projection technology is used to improve medical care, and consider whether or not software engineers deal with entropy.

  • Jeff doesn’t recall any technical role models growing up, but benefited early in his career from the guidance of more senior engineers.
  • Carmen references a Star Wars quote about lightsabers in joking with Jeff.
  • Our podcast feed has changed from including the complete show notes to providing just a summary of each show’s contents. Please leave a comment on our website if you would prefer the full show notes to be restored (at the cost of dropping early episodes off the feed).
  • Our guest for this episode is electrical engineer Meagan Pollock, who started her career with Texas Instruments, and is now the Director of Professional Development for the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity.
  • Like many engineering students, Meagan wasn’t fully aware of what engineers do until she was well into her academic career.
  • Since she has degrees in both computer science and engineer, we ask our guest to take a position on whether software engineers are “real” engineers; it turns out she’s far too smart to take the bait!
  • Meagan shares the benefits of doing a few stints as a co-op student. A paper (pdf) about her experiences is available online.
  • Our guest worked with the Digital Light Processing (DLP) division of Texas Instruments.
  • A medical application for DLP technology is the VeinViewer device.
  • Jeff references our interview with Cherish Bauer-Reich in Episode 49 of this podcast.
  • Our guest feels that industrial experience should parallel the material taught in the engineering classroom.
  • Meagan earned her Ph.D. through the Engineering Education program at Purdue University.
  • Pedagogy is the art of educating students, while androgogy is the art of teaching adults.
  • Many educators are experimenting with ways in which active learning methods can be used to supplement, or even replace, passive learning activities, such as lectures.
  • Meagan recalls a quote from Dave Goldberg, whom we interviewed previously on this podcast.
  • Our guest learned a few lessons about drawing up contracts when she worked as a consultant.
  • Having a web presence is important for establishing thought leadership, according to Meagan.
  • Meagan references a blog post she wrote about having a million dollars.
  • The Engineering Commons podcast began with a tweet from Chris Gammell:

  • Jeff references recent accounts about the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley.
  • There are three actions that are characteristic of an effective engineering role model:
    1. Challenge and dispel stereotypes about what it takes to be an engineer.
    2. Promote proper STEM messaging:
      1. “Engineers are creative problem solvers.”
      2. “Engineers make a world of difference and help shape the future.”
      3. “Engineering is essential to our health, happiness, and safety.”
      4. “Engineers help shape the future.”
    3. Appeal to student work values:
      1. Intrinsic — autonomy
      2. Extrinsic — money, benefits
      3. Social — helping others
      4. Prestige — respect from others
  • The Engineering Grand Challenges may also inspire youngsters to consider an engineering career.
  • Meagan recommends that engineers read the executive summary for the report “Changing the Conversation,” issued by the National Academy of Engineering.
  • K-12 students relate better to younger adults, so there’s a need for younger engineers to speak at local schools about the benefits and challenges of an engineering career.
  • Meagan can be reached at her website, MeaganPollock.com. On Twitter, she is @MeaganPollock.

Thanks to the Ol.v!er [H2vPk] for the photo titled “bonjour du quai branly.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 61 — Renaissance Engineer


LassondeCloudOur conversation with Dr. Janusz Kozinski, Founding Dean of the Lassonde School of Engineering, covers the trials and tribulations of starting a new engineering school, as well as the the attributes and mindset of a “renaissance engineer.” Additionally, we learn a little bit about the skill sets that will be expected of tomorrow’s engineering professional.

  • Carmen tries to stay well-informed about topics outside of his field of engineering.
  • Many engineering schools are placing an increased emphasis on “soft skills,” also known as “21st century skills.”
  • Our guest for this episode is Janusz Kozinski, Founding Dean of the Lassonde School of Engineering at York University in Toronto, Canada.
  • Carmen has bestowed on Jeff the title of “Grand Vizier.”
  • Janusz had an early interest in biomedical engineering, leading him to study the effect of environmental pollutants on human health.
  • Our guest describes the “accidental” nature of many important discoveries, mentioning a book that describes how DNA structure was revealed by James Watson and Francis Crick.
  • Janusz like to see a “messy” lab, as he believes it reflects the chaotic nature of serious research. On the other hand, Carmen finds that he is more effective when he keeps his lab bench neat and tidy.
  • Smoke from a bad cigar (pdf) led to the discovery of electron spin by Stern and Gerlach, as Carmen notes.
  • A “renaissance engineer” should have an “open mind and open heart,” according to our guest, and should be imbued with both “passion and perspective.”
  • The engineering program at the Lassonde School of Engineering attempts to integrate curriculum from the business and law schools with traditional engineering subjects.
  • While the Lassonde School is relatively new, it is located on the campus of York University, the 3rd largest university in Canada.
  • Initiated in 2012, and named for philanthropist Pierre Lassonde, the Lassonde School is the first new engineering school to be established in Canada over the past 40 years.
  • A “flipped classroom” allows course content to be delivered via videos or screencasts outside the classroom, while class periods are used for solving problems and completing homework assignments under the guidance of an instructor.
  • Recognizing the importance of industrial experience, the Lassonde School is in the process of implementing a co-op program.
  • Jeff references a prior episode of this podcast, titled Empathy, in which it was noted that engineering students tend to be less empathetic than students in other programs of study.
  • Janusz explains the importance of matching an organization’s tasks and duties with its human talent.
  • A biological engineering initiative at Lassonde was put on the shelf because the school didn’t feel that it had the proper faculty to implement the program.
  • Learning more about oneself is the starting point for becoming a “renaissance engineer,” according to our guest.
  • Dean Kozinski notes that some of his school’s wealthiest alumni were C+ students who did not achieve top grades (although this is not a point he makes with his current students).
  • Lassonde is funding a movie about the “Renaissance of Engineering,” to be released in mid-October of 2014.
  • Our guest can be reached via the Lassonde School of Engineering website.

Thanks to the Lassonde School of Engineering for the image of their new engineering building. Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Practical insights for the engineering crowd