Tag Archives: advancement

Episode 94 — Relevance

usefulartsThis epiosde of The Engineering Commons finds Adam, Brian, and Jeff discussing what it means to be relevant, and how engineers can increase their relevance on the job.

  • Brian is not entirely sure what a thought leader is, but he’s pretty certain he doesn’t want to be one.
  • However, Brian invents the perfect term for someone who’s the opposite of a thought leader; they must be a thought-hole! (You heard it here first…)
  • Jeff opines that one’s relevance is largely dependent on others; seeing yourself as relevant is not nearly as important as having others perceive you as relevant.
  • Malcolm Gladwell has written a magazine article for The New Yorker about the difficulty of matching candidates with jobs, which he calls the “quarterback problem.”
  • Brian notes that engineers often get hired based on the skill set needed to complete a behind-schedule project, rather than their abilities in getting a fresh project off to a good start.
  • Lewin’s change management model (unfreeze, change, refreeze) is referenced by Jeff.
  • We talked with Kathryn Jablokow about creative diversity in Episode 76; it’s possible to be creative through both adaption and innovation.
  • Jeff makes the point that it’s possible to be relevant in many different ways, ranging from abstract observations to specific implementations.
  • Daniel Pink authored the 2012 book “To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others.”
  • Jeff inquires if Daniel Pink has a valid hypothesis; is it true that “we’re all in sales now?”
  • We envision a class in self-promotion. Or as Brian terms it, learning the proper amount of humble-bragging. (Apparently, the proper amount is little, as humble-bragging isn’t the best form of self-promotion.)
  • The ABC mantra of sales, according to author Pink, is no longer “always be closing,” but is now “attunement, buoyancy, and clarity.”
  • Brian references Occam’s razor in describing the difficulty one encounters in pursuing clarity of meaning and intent.
  • Robert Greene’s book “Mastery” has been on Brian’s reading list for a while.
  • A 2013 article by Jason Nazar, in Forbes magazine, discusses “The 21 Principles of Persuasion.”
  • Jeff makes the case that one can be relevant as a leader, follower, or rabble-rouser. His mental image? The “marching band” scene from the movie Animal House.
  • A 2014 book, “The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies,” is tangentially mentioned by Brian.
  • Brian doesn’t think our future is as distopian as predicted by the YouTube video, “Humans Need Not Apply.”
  • Jeff suggests building an emotional bond between humans and artificially created art is difficult (apparently forgetting about Japanese singing sensation Hatsune Miku).
  • Adam puts out a request for a few engineering robots, if any of our listeners can access advanced AI technology.

Thanks to Richard Adams for the photo titled “Useful arts?” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 83 — Career Planning

propellerWe talk with aeronautical engineer Patrick Riordan about the challenges of developing and navigating a career road map, Archimedes’ lever, and the Star Trek method for being perceived as a miracle worker.

  • Although he’s enjoyed his career, Jeff isn’t ready to claim that he’s changed the world in any meaningful manner.
  • Jeff points out that it is rare for business, personal, financial, self-esteem, and societal interests to simultaneously align.
  • The E-Myth, a book by Michael E. Gerber, highlights the difficulty of starting a business as a technical “doer,” as the process of “doing” conflicts with the overarching goal of growing a business.
  • Our guest for this episode is aeronautical engineer Patrick Riordan, a lead engineer for Liftoff Engineering Services, located in Melbourne, Florida.
  • About ninety-three percent of engineering degree graduates started in an engineering program, where as only fifty percent of social science degree holders started their academic career in that particular major.
  • Only about one in three engineering graduates works as an engineer (although many have moved on to managerial or non-engineering technical positions).
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 83,000 aeronautical engineers currently employed in the United States.
  • A Designated Engineering Representative (DER) is an engineer who may interpret and approve technical data in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
  • The FAA has implemented a newer Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) program to certify engineers who may approve repairs, alterations and airworthiness.
  • Patrick notes that modern aircraft design delegates limited, component-level responsibilities to a large number of engineers, each of whom is responsible for a small portion of the overall flight system.
  • Jeff notes that during the course of our employment with a given firm, we have to balance our expectations of personal growth, a healthy work/life balance, reliable benefits and increasing compensation against the employer’s expectation that we will aid them in becoming more profitable.
  • We discuss the Star Trek method for managing your boss’s expectations: under-promise and over-deliver.
  • Jeff admits his patience with engineers working for him was frequently tested when he became a departmental manager.
  • Employees increasingly expect that their career advancement will be self-directed.
  • It’s easy to get discouraged when comparing your professional work to the “highlight reel” of engineering accomplishments one finds on the internet, according to Jeff.
  • Patrick mentions a YouTube video showing quadcopters capable of tossing and catching an inverted pendulum.
  • Jeff suggests engineers be specific about the relative importance they attach to career factors such as money, power, prestige, confidence, authority, leadership, wisdom, insight, respect, experience, and technical ability.
  • Our guest notes that analysis skills are more valued in industries where prototyping is difficult or dangerous, while tinkering skills find greater favor in fields where prototypes are more easily produced.
  • Average lifespans of S&P 500 companies are rapidly decreasing, with experts predicting that more than three-quarters of the S&P 500 in 2020 will be companies we’ve not heard of yet.
  • Two-thirds of college students believe they’re going to “change the world.”
  • Young people in their twenties want to be promoted every year or two, with more than 40% of them expecting to be in a management position within two years.
  • Listeners can reach Patrick via email: patrick -=+ at +=- liftoffengineering dot com.

Thanks to Dave Nakayama for use of the image titled “rotate.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 78 — Grad School

equationsWe discuss the pros and cons of returning to school for an advanced engineering degree in this episode of The Engineering Commons podcast.

  • After knocking over a beer, Brian asks about the “industry exemption” for engineers.
  • As a point of reference, Jeff has a PhD, an MBA, and an MS in Mechanical Engineering. Adam has a Masters in Civil Engineering, and Carmen has an MS in Electrical Engineering. Although Brian attended grad school for a while, he does not (yet) hold a graduate degree.
  • Brian makes an inquiry about PhDs in industry.
  • Jeff explains why the subject area chosen by PhD students is normally very deep and not very broad.
  • Should we put this podcast on Stitcher Radio? Let us know in the comments, or via Twitter, or with the Contact link on our home page.
  • Our pros and cons for obtaining an advanced degree are distilled from the list put together by Petersen’s Guide for Potential Grad Students.
  • Pro 1: Earn more money. According to January 2015 Salary Survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the average starting salary for engineers in the US with a bachelor’s degree is $63K, while the mean starting pay for those with a Masters degree is nearly $70K. If you move on to a PhD, the starting salary increases to $88K.
  • Estimated lifetime earnings for engineers are tabulated in a US Census Bureau report.
  • Con 1: Grad school is a highly competitive environment. According to Sayre’s Law, “The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low.”
  • Pro 2: Advance your career. You may be able to distinguish yourself from other candidates for a plum job if you have the proper credentials.
  • The American Society for Civil Engineering (ASCE), the National Society for Professional Engineers (NSPE), and the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) are advocating that engineers obtain education beyond a bachelor’s degree, although this position has caused some debate within the engineering community.
  • Con 2: You might like student life too much. If you get really comfortable with the grad school life, you may discover that you’ve become a perpetual student.
  • Pro 3: A higher potential for future promotion. Your graduate degree may help you move up the corporate ladder.
  • Con 3: Grad school can be very stressful. This is discussed in an article titled “Dealing With PhD Stress The Right Way.”
  • Pro 4: Get recognized for your professional efforts. You can become well-known in your industry or field if you uncover a new physical phenomenon or process.
  • The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering recognizes engineers for ground-breaking innovation.
  • Con 4: Writing a thesis. It can become a chore to organize your research into a cohesive document. Many PhD students get stuck in a state of having completed All But Dissertation.
  • Brian references the movie Particle Fever as illustrating how years of research effort can be quickly derailed by new experimental results.
  • Pro 5: Join an elite population segment. Only about 5% of practicing engineers in the US have a doctorate.
  • Con 5: It can take many years to finish. If you’re doing novel research, it’s impossible to know in advance how long it will take to produce meaningful results.
  • The Michelson-Morley experiment is the rare case of a negative outcome (disproving the presence of Luminiferous aether) that was accepted by the research community as having great value.
  • Pro 6: Work on ground-breaking research. Grad students sometimes find themselves performing research that has the capability to change the world.
  • Con 6: Grad school is expensive. Not only do you have to pay for books, tuition, and housing, but there is a large opportunity cost to attending grad school.
  • Pro 7: An advanced degree can open up teaching opportunities. A PhD is usually required to teach engineering at the university level, especially since US News and World Report dings institutions for using instructors without doctoral degrees.
  • Con 7: No guarantee that an advanced degree will result in a higher salary. If you can’t find an employer who values your skills, you’re unlikely to be highly compensated for your abilities.
  • Pro 8: Work with state-of-the-art tools. Grad students sometimes design and build new devices that can revolutionize old industries, or create new ones.
  • Con 8: You may be perceived as “too qualified.” One has to judge whether an advanced degree will be a help, or possibly a hinderance, based on the type of work they wish to perform.
  • Pro 9: Because you want to. Grad school is a great opportunity to expand your professional horizons if you have a passion for research and study.
  • Con 9: Because you don’t want to. There’s no reason you can’t find a satisfying engineering career, even if you don’t have an advanced degree.

Thanks to Clay Shonkwiler for use of the image titled “Studying….” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.