Tag Archives: jobs

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 58 — Miscellany

gaugesIn a completely off-the-cuff discussion, Adam, Brian, Carmen and Jeff wander through subjects including finite state machines, power circuit wiring, and the economic implications of technological advances.

  • Jeff is busy preparing to teach a Software Carpentry course, as well as revising the Mechatronics course he taught the past two years.
  • Although there are certain conceptual advantages to having students automate their devices using an FPGA (field-programmable gate array) rather than an Arduino board, one downside is the need to teach a hardware description language (HDL), such as Verilog or VHDL.
  • On a past episode of The Amp Hour, Dave Vandenbout of XESS Corporation talked about MyHDL, a software package for programming FPGA devices using the Python language.
  • One should apparently avoid schematic capture as a means for programming FPGA devices.
  • A finite state machine (FSM) can be a handy mathematical abstraction when programming physical devices that have distinct operating modes.
  • A quote about finite state machines that Jeff refers to, but never states:

    “The formal, mathematical definition of an FSM is such brain numbing, eye popping mumbo jumbo I feel certain that 9 out of 10 electronic engineering and IT students switch off in the first 5 minutes of the FSM lecture series, never to ever benefit from the power of FSMs in their work. This is not difficult stuff, it’s just made to look difficult by the academics!” — David Stonier-Gibson

  • Adam is working on a brewery control system, using Android and Bluetooth.
  • To bring water up to a boil, Adam uses a 2000 watt immersion heater running off a 120 VAC power outlet.
  • For his birthday, Carmen has asked for the Arduino starter kit from Adafruit.
  • Brian mentions an Arduino + LabVIEW bundle that is available from Sparkfun.
  • Carmen references an episode of The Amp Hour that describes how companies buy up old equipment to make out-of-production IC chips.
  • At one time, NASA was buying up out-of-stock Intel 8086 CPUs from eBay to maintain their supply of spare parts.
  • Entire CPUs can be programmed into FPGAs these days.
  • Adam describes the slow advancement in traffic signal controller technology over the past several decades.
  • Brian asks Jeff if autonomous vehicles are robots.
  • Without using the “singularity” term, Jeff hints at the coming intermingling of humans and machines.
  • Brian ponders future robots declaring that certain problems “do not compute.”
  • The group gets into an extended discussion about the economic effects of technology, especially with regard to the number of jobs being automated each year.
  • Marc Andreessen has famously declared that “software will eat the world.”
  • Jeff recounts the central plot to Fredrick Pohl’s short story from 1954, “The Midas Plague,” in which the rich consume less, while the poor are forced to consume the glut of goods and services produced by robots.
  • Rodney Brooks has started a company, Rethink Robotics, which is selling an adaptable robot for less than $25,000.
  • In a discussion about people resisting change, Jeff recalls the story of John Henry, a “steel-driving man” who raced a steam-powered hammer in tunneling through a mountain.
  • Jeff asks the group to consider the economic effect of Chris Gammell‘s hypothetical “chip printing machine.”
  • A relatively small firm in England, ARM Holdings, designs the instruction set architecture used in the popular ARM processors.
  • Carmen points out that small companies and advanced hobbyists can fabricate their own chip designs using the MOSIS foundry service, which is operated by the University of Southern California.
  • Brian notes the recent interest in solar-powered roadways, although not everybody thinks it is a good idea.

Thanks to Steve Snodgrass for the photograph titled “UH-1N Cockpit.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 5 — Recruitment

In a discussion with Jim Heilman of Discovery Personnel, a mechanical engineer who left industry after two decades to recruit technical talent in the plastics industry, we examine how engineers can best work with recruiters to further their own careers, as well as to find engineering talent for their businesses.

  • Following up from the prior episode about design thinking, Jeff notes that a movie titled Designing & Thinking is being shown in selected theaters around the country. Anybody have a review for us?
  • Recruiters serve as an intermediary between job seekers and employers.
  • Some of the big job databases online include Monster, CareerBuilder, and Indeed.
  • Talented individuals who don’t really want to be contacted about job opportunities are known as passive candidates. These are the people that recruiters work the hardest to reach.
  • Jim notes that networking is still the best way to find a new position. Salespeople are good contacts, as they are in frequent communication with other businesses in your industry.
  • A good reference on networking, and the job search process, is the book What Color is My Parachute?
  • Jim reflects that he’s been able to stay competitive in recruiting because, in the words of Rick Springfield, We All Need A Human Touch.
  • If you’re searching for a job, you need to tailor your resume to the company and job for which you’re applying.
  • When talking with potential employers, try to imagine what they are looking for in an employee, rather than focusing on your own desires for salary and vacation.
  • It is far more common for new hires to be let go because they don’t fit with a company’s culture, rather than for technical incompetence.
  • Jim is of the opinion that listing yourself as a candidate on Monster.com can “cheapen” how potential employers view your services. It is better to respond to a job that has already been posted. However, many recruiters rely on Monster and CareerBuilder to find candidates.
  • In recent weeks, Jim was looking for an engineer who was familiar with Swiss turning machines, which produce features of very high accuracy.
  • While a project portfolio is important, the resume remains the best starting point for gaining entry into most companies.
  • Jim estimates that there are 150,000 recruiters in the United States, and they all have trouble finding candidates that can meet the increasingly specific requirements demanded by employers. Jim likens the process to finding a purple squirrel.
  • The cost of using a recruiter is steep, often 30% of a candidate’s first year salary. Thus, a company working through a recruiter is experiencing a lot of pain, and is anxious to find a qualified employee. This cost is normally paid by the employer, which means that recruiters are generally looking out for the best interests of the hiring firm, not the candidate.
  • Networking is important when trying to hire engineering talent, as well as in conducting a job search.
  • As a hiring manager, be aware that recruited employees are only guaranteed to stay with your firm for a short term, often only 30 days. However, Jim estimates the early departure rate for his placements as being fairly low, around 1 in 100.
  • Jim Heilman can be reached at Discovery Personnel, and you can follow him on Twitter.

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Thanks to Victor 1558 for the photograph.