Tag Archives: career

Episode 128 — Industrial Academic

Dr. Dave Vandenbout offers up his insights on choosing between academic and industrial careers in this episode of The Engineering Commons.

  • Carmen wastes no time in revealing his secret method for stress-testing CMOS chips.
  • X-ray systems can be useful in locating bad solder joints hidden underneath a ball grid array (BGA) integrated circuit.
  • Our guest is Dave Vandenbout, an electrical engineer who founded XESS Corporation twenty-three years ago. Dave also has experience as an engineering professor and industrial researcher.
  • In Episode 103, Ones and Zeros, Dave explained the various types of programmable logic devices available to electronic designers.
  • Our guest notes that, in his experience, industrial organizations tend to be hierarchical and well-funded, while academic organizations tend to be relatively flat and less well-funded.
  • In academic circles, an overhead rate is the percentage of research funding that goes directly to the university to pay for supporting services that are not directly related to the research effort.
  • Jeff notes similarities in the experiences encountered by entrepreneurs and newly-employed professors.
  • Carmen notes a blog and podcast by Jon Ellis (a.k.a. Prof. Gears) that discusses the ups and downs of life as a tenure-track academic.
  • Two of the larger funding agencies in the United States are the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Defense Advanced Project Research Agency (DARPA).
  • On average, Dave found a student’s grade point average (GPA) to be a poor predictor of research performance.
  • Although once rare in the engineering field, more and more engineering PhDs are taking jobs as postdoctoral researchers (post-docs) in preparation for academic careers.
  • In the United States, most tenure-track academics start their careers as Assistant Professors.
  • Tenure is a contractual right, granted by an academic organization, that provides legal protection against dismissal without just cause.
  • After six years, assistant professors not granted tenure are asked to leave the university (normally after a one year appointment). Those receiving tenure are often promoted to the position of Associate Professor.
  • Full Professor (or just Professor) is the top academic rank at most universities.
  • An h-index is a numerical ranking that attempts to measure an academic’s influence and contribution within a research field.
  • Dave comments that every graduate student wants to be a professor, and every professor wants to be a graduate student.
  • A recent Science Magazine article notes that only two of five influential cancer studies could be replicated.
  • Donald Knuth is a professor emeritus at Stanford University, and the author of a multi-volume text on algorithms, The Art of Computer Programming. He also developed the TeX language for typesetting mathematics.
  • Dave is excited by clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) techniques that allow for precise genome editing.
  • Our guest can be reached on Twitter as @dvbeisme.

Thanks to U.S. Army RDECOM for use of the photo titled “Army scientist bolsters nanomaterials research with Singapore.” Opening music by John Trimble, and concluding theme by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 100 — Interdisciplinary Skills

train100Founding co-host Chris Gammell returns to The Engineering Commons to talk about the importance of interdisciplinary skills with Adam, Carmen and Jeff.

  • Knowledge of heat transfer is useful in circuit design, acknowledges Carmen.
  • As part of a required engineering class, sixteen Harvard students designed a smoker for cooking the “perfect” beef brisket.
  • Chris’ educational site, Contextual Electronics, is preparing to start its third year of operation.
  • To avoid software versioning problems, the Contextual Electronics team uses Vagrant, a software program that automates the creation and configuration of virtual development environments.
  • Chris continues his work with SupplyFrame to develop parts.io, an online electronics search engine.
  • Networking through meetups (like the group Chris founded in Cleveland) is important for maintaining industry contacts and staying abreast of technical trends.
  • As the proud owner of a new Wilson II 3D printer, Chris is developing some new technical skills. He hopes to use the printer for enclosure design and fixturing.
  • Jeff theorizes that ongoing reductions in engineering staff, along with automation of specialized tasks, is forcing many engineers into develop a greater range of interdisciplinary skills.
  • The rate of business formation has been declining in the US over the past decade; Chris notes he has nonetheless seen an increasing number of small engineering firms.
  • Foreseeing economic downturns in his first job, Chris actively developed new skills to improve his employability in other technical fields.
  • Being a worry wart, Jeff wonders if advances in artificial intelligence will relegate engineers to providing technical guidance, rather than implementing technology directly.
  • Adam notes a nearly mandatory requirement for professional engineering (PE) licenses has led to an “apprenticeship” arrangement in civil engineering.
  • Carmen recalls Jeff Keyzer’s description of “T-shaped” employees during a past episode of The Amp Hour, which is also described in the Valve new employee handbook (pdf).
  • Having a support group can be a great advantage in trying to learn new skills, notes Chris.
  • Chris comments on the importance of sharing engineering stories, as is done on The Amp Hour, Spark Gap, and Embedded podcasts, as well as The Engineering Commons.
  • Our guest can be found on Twitter as @Chris_Gammell.

Thanks to vxla for use of the photo titled “IC 100 at Chicago Union Station.” Opening music by John Trimble, and concluding 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.