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Engineering Advice

April 20, 2010

Last week my friend invited me to the University of Toledo to listen to a panel of engineers give career advice for some of the UT Engineering students.

I have never had an interest in engineering, but I do love helping others with career advice, so I thought why not check out what current engineering leaders will say to the future engineering talent of America?

The panel consisted of four professionals, each one of them represented a different field of engineering chemical, electrical, civil and mechanical.

Overall the panelists gave great advice. Ya know the typical stuff students hear and disregard…

Don’t focus on the money, Learn good spending habits, Do what you love, and Be prepared to work your way up the ladder.”

I am really glad these four individuals took time out of their lives to come and give back to the students, but after listening to the advice I began to realize how much all of the speakers seemed to represent and push students to maintain the status quo. (In case you didn’t know, I hate the status quo.)

Here are 3 takeaways from the panel.

#1. Whatever you do… listen to your boss.

“If you disagree with your boss, you can share your perspective, but in the end if you want to move up in a company, the boss is always right.

What if your boss is a sociopath? What if your boss actually knows less than you? What if delaying tough conversations around the reality of the current state of the business is good for group harmony, but bad for long-term business sustainability?

I agree, when you first start a job you probably know very little and should listen to your elders. In fact let me give a piece of advice. For the first month or so, don’t say much. BUT after a while if you realize you have bigger dreams, ideas, and talents than the company you are working for. Push for change or get out.

Listen to your boss, but for the sake of Enron, think for yourself.

#2 Company this, government that, work your way up… what if I want to start a company?

Another part of the panel I found very disturbing was there wasn’t a single word mentioned about entrepreneurship. They talked about infrastructure improvement and job creation, but it certainly wasn’t around new companies and innovative ideas. Everything was about how to work your way up a company. That was the model of success.

Teaching our generation to listen to the boss’s of large established bureaucracies is not going to push our nation forward in the direction that it needs to go. Let’s inspire the next generation to do more and believe more.

Sitting in with the top engineering talent at UT  I was hoping for more of an inspiring call to action to improve the planet than to listen to your boss and find a good company. (note this is not only a problem in engineering schools, but also my experience with most undergraduate business schools)

#3 Give Back

This was one of my favorite parts of the panel. One of the panelists began speaking straight from the heart about how he spent the first half of his life trying to make as much money as possible and then he had a realization that he had spent most of his life taking from the world, instead of giving.

When he started I began thinking YES tell it brother, but then it quickly turned into ” hey this giving back stuff might be good for me, but it may not be for you.” repeatedly apologizing for his moral 180.

How about we cut the BS and make a stand that living IS tied to giving?

Just because our culture has done a good job at removing ourselves from our moral roots, doesn’t mean we have to apologize when we try to turn back towards giving, community and human decency. Countless studies show how much happier people are when they do altruistic acts and NOT when they make more money.

There’s already enough influence from our culture that says $ = :) , let’s not complicate things with this whole “giving changed my life, but you’re probably a heartless bastard”. Don’t take my word for it, check out Daniel Gilbert’s incredible TED Talk: Why are we happy?

But what do I know, I’m just another Gen. Y idealist.

C’mon engineers, we need you. Let’s change the world.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Don Warner permalink
    April 20, 2010 11:49 pm


    I was the “give back” panelist at the UT COE event. It still amazes me how the message sometimes doesn’t get through the way it was intended. The point of my remarks was that looking at yourself in a rearview mirror from the end of your career or life can be a powerful method for clarifying personal values and focusing career and life goal-setting. It was not my objective to make a half-assed, or full-assed for that matter, pitch for giving back, even though I have done that on other occasions.

    If it sounded like I was being apologetic for my personal commitment to giving back, well that wasn’t the intention. I was trying to sell the questions, not my anwers to them, as a helpful way to learn about yourself and what you really value.

    I admire your passion for the value of giving, but wonder how effective your zealousness on the subject will be in motivating others to engage more in it.

    Regarding your other comments, I am very happy to see you make note of the importance of entrepreneurial adventures. Great points you make.

    In fairness to our panel, we were asked to share our advice, from our personal career experiences, which, from what I could tell, does not include much in the way of entrepreneurial experience on any of our parts. Perhaps your comments will cause the COE to organize another event that features more entrepreneurial types than our panel included this time.

    I ask you to consider that most of the people in that room will end up working for other people, at least for some part of their careers, and will be trying to advance to some level of professional accomplishment. Dealing effectively with people, including subordinates and even bosses, is usually not accomplished by confrontation and disengagement. The advice I was giving on this subject is the same advice that I delivered to bosses who I managed – only I gave it more as a directive to them. as they should be setting the example for good communications and thought-sharing.

    I think you are right on with encouraging people to think for themselves. The last thing we need is institionalized group-think.

    Is there a reason you didn” ask some of these questions at the session? I think if you had, it would have resulted in some expanded discussion in these area. Perhaps these thoughts did not occur to you until you had fully digested the evenings remarks.

    Final comment – please keep on with your passion for beneficial change and status quo avoidance, but pay attention to when your message isn’t working because of the way you present it.


    • April 21, 2010 12:50 am

      Thanks so much for the comment, I didn’t think the thoughts I had that day would reach anywhere but a few random blog visitors. I appreciate you taking the time to read and post a thoughtful response.

      One of my favorite part of the panel was around your comments of giving back and “beginning with the end in mind”. I have to admit I went a bit one sided on my analysis ( still working on being thought provoking/entertaining) but I hope my analysis didn’t come off as disrespectful or poor taste.

      After some more thought I think my responses to the session was more accurately a response to the collective past experiences I have around career advice sessions while in business school. The dialogue brought fourth some of my frustrations I have always had around a lack of entrepreneurial and social awareness perspective from career advice sessions.

      Thanks again for all the advice from the panel and post-panel discussion!

      • Don Warner permalink
        April 21, 2010 1:22 pm


        No disrespect taken. In my opinion, no port taste, either. I always enjoy a good robust discussion, which would have been a good topic for a session like this all by itself.

        In fact, the young lady who asked the question about if and how to bring up ideas for change in a co-op/intern situation was really on to something that I would have enjoyed talking about in greater depth.

        Anyhow, your observations and comments are appreciated. Much better than the typical sugar-sweet or sycophantic stuff that we tend to hear.

        Keep up the good work!


  2. April 21, 2010 4:25 pm

    So after thinking a while more about the session I think I had it all wrong on the blog post.

    When I got to thinking of the tasks of an engineer, say bridge or road construction. I thought there is probably not as much innovation in the execution of the project. I’m not sure if that sounds right, what I mean is the fundamentals of engineering don’t change everyday. However, with the internet and startup companies things change rapidly.

    I will try to use gravity as an example.

    Gravity (or our current understanding of the force that we call gravity) doesn’t change everyday. But the internet, people, and culture do. Perhaps my experience knowing more than my boss comes from being a digital native working in an established (old) web company. They were behind current trends (or at least my analysis of the current trends)

    Now, if I was building my first bridge I think I’d sure as heck listen to the guys that have done it before. Experience might matter a bit more in certain areas.

    I think if anything the career session proved that I chose the right career path. I wonder if there are other young entrepreneurial thinking engineers? I guess I should have asked at the session.

  3. April 21, 2010 6:13 pm

    Brandon, How do you think your Myers-Briggs service could help engineer students discover if they are possible entrepreneurs?

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