How would you describe yourself, and what you bring to the table, to:

a prospective employer,
a prospective customer,
a colleague at a professional association,
someone outside the engineering field, and/or
an academician?

We know that not all engineers are the same. Everyone brings a little something different to the table. So even in companies full of engineers, those engineers aren’t all cut from the same mold. The corporate toolkit is full of engineers who won’t see the light of day unless there are special circumstances. Some engineers are the day-in-and-day-out individual who brings consistancy, but perhaps not creativity or increase in revenue, to the table. How do you utilize this toolkit? How do you evaluate your own toolkit? How do you let others (professors, employers) understand your skillset and how to strategically, as well as tactically, best utilize what you bring to the table?

How would you describe the type of work that you prefer to do? Do you:

prefer to sit in a cubicle and solve abstract problems? Without any consequences to your deliverables? Do you pay for yourself?

prefer to sit in a cubicle and implement design solutions? Without any consequences to your deliverables? Do you pay for yourself?

prefer to leave the cubicle to interact with peers in engineering meetings? Taking the risk of engaging in discussion of your proposed solutions? Perhaps leading toward innovation that might pay for itself based on cost of development?

prefer to participate in multidisciplinary business development discussions with peers outside the engineering discipline? Incorporating differing perspectives into your personal toolkit? Perhaps leading to entrepreneurship that might pay for itself over time?

prefer to teach engineering to undergraduates and graduate students? Within a traditional academic setting. Which may impact the quality and output of engineering education?

prefer to teach engineering to post-grad or returning/retraining engineers? Within an evening college or community college setting? Which may impact the quality and output of manufacturing engineering?

The rules for evaluating  what we bring to the table change once we leave academia. So be honest with yourself about the type of work you prefer to do. Once we enter the workforce, the practical meets the conceptual – and needs to be articulated to business owners. The business owner isn’t going to pass or fail us, or give us First Honors or Second Honors. They are simply going to choose whether or not to continue doing business with the company we either own or work for.  And believe me, profit and loss considerations are far more profound than the difference between academic grades or Pass vs. Fail.  One can’t sit for an exam again, later on, hoping to get a better mark. Especially after clients fire you because of cost overruns or failure to understand, from project inception, the scope of work involved.

Doing one’s specific job isn’t going to be enough for you to keep your job or retain your client base, not in this expanding global economy. While academia can prepare us all to do a competent job in the workforce, the CONTEXT for our work is provided by the setting in which we elect to contribute our talents. And while we may / may not have complete control over where we lend our skillset (let’s face it, we are all grateful to be employed/educated), we do have control over how we can augment what we bring to the table.

So let’s be honest with our collective selves.  How do we utilize the contexts of our work environments to develop our skillsets , our personal toolkits?  If we are business owners, would we hire ourselves? If we are cubicle-sitters, how realistic is it for us to expect folks to feed and maintain us if we are uncomfortable explaining to business owners– in simple terms – the return on investment of our design solutions? What are our minimums and maximums? What are our tolerances?

How do we utilize the context of our current professional environment to improve our own processes, output and throughput? Are we continuing our education? Are we expanding our perspective? Or are we stagnating and expecting our own status quo to maintain us through a career… of how long?

Does graduating with an engineering degree define a set piece that is immutable over time? Keeping up with technology and translating it into how we think, making decisions and implementing our toolkit throughout our careers doesn’t end with graduation and job placement. It’s only the start.

What kind of engineer are you? Would you have hired yourself in the first place? And would you continue to employ yourself?

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