Early Career Advice for Engineers
New engineers coming to GE often ask me, “What does it take to forge a successful engineering career?” I wish I had a mathematical model for success. But I don’t. I can, however, share some insights, which my colleagues, including chief technologists and senior engineers at the three major aero-engineering companies, GE, Rolls Royce and Pratt and Whitney, have validated. The consensus: It all comes down to 12 basic principles:
- Be business oriented: Understand how the total costs to produce your company or organization’s product affect decisions
- Expect tough, multi-disciplinary problems: On the job, you’ll often confront design issues outside your technical discipline. Therefore, learn the basics of relevant specialties, but keep in mind there over- design, analysis, and research can drive unnecessary cost.
- Be one with the team: In academe, the pursuit of knowledge can be a solitary effort. In industry, however, you work in teams and must often resolve the conflicting needs and solutions that arise when engineers from varying disciplines collaborate to bring a product to market.
- Know the difference between academe and industry: Businesses prosper by finding new ways to apply science, physics, and math to construct engines, airplanes, bridges, and buildings. Hence, industry strictly controls design procedures and research findings, which are vital to a company’s competitiveness
- Make the most of what you’ve got: What are your strengths and weaknesses? Enhance the former and fix the latter. Ask yourself, “Do I have what it takes to be outstanding?” Management confers that quality on high-energy employees who are enthusiastic about their work, can rally others around common goals, and consistently deliver measurable results.
- Know where you work: Learn and live by your employer’s values and code of conduct
- Be open to new ideas: A positive attitude is key to success. Aside from downright incompetence, nothing hinders you more than a bad attitude
- Make your manager a success: You may feel intimidated by your manager given that he or she recommends people for promotion, determines salary, conducts appraisals, assigns work projects, hires even fires.
- Give back when you can: You owe a great deal to your university. Support your alma mater, visit occasionally to give seminars, keep in touch with the faculty, and share with students wisdom you have gained
- Take charge: Don’t expect your manager to chart your path. It’s your job to figure out what you want and how to get it. Seek diverse assignments, broaden your experience, and make the most of company-paid education benefits, training programs, and professional society technical conferences.
- Have fun: If you aren’t, move on. You should love what you do. Since engineering offers plenty of exciting and challenging opportunities, that shouldn’t be difficult.