Career advice for engineers: Step out of the comfort zone
Looking wider, at engineering career development requires looking at other perspectives, understanding customers, finding a mentor, and having fun.
As a software engineer, I wasn’t always big on the big picture. But hearing diverse views in feature prioritization discussions and bug triages made me question my interpretation of why something was important. Later in my career, taking on a leadership role pivoted my view, introduced discomfort (the good kind), made me question my assumptions and helped with bigger and broader thinking.
Specific things to do at any point in an engineering career:
- Talk to group managers and participate in staff meetings or stand-ups of other groups. Understand their perspectives. Wear someone else’s shoes, as they say.
- Look for opportunities for direct customer interaction. Customers can be internal or external. Think from the customer’s perspective — not just the functional job, but the social and emotional aspects of it, as well. (Book recommendation is “The Innovator’s Method: Bringing the Lean Start-up into Your Organization” by Nathan Furr and Jeff Dyer, Harvard Business Review Press.)
Find a mentor
In 2014, I was looking for a new challenge and I communicated that to my engineering manager. That information got to the-then vice president of engineering. He gave me several challenges, including hiring me into the technology incubation group, where, in my current role as the group manager, I got to work with some of the brightest minds inside the company and with external innovation partners.
Finding good mentors gives a career a big boost. Mentors can remove roadblocks, big and small. For those who are growth oriented, mentors can help with career-path decisions and accelerate a career.
Decisions are not set in stone. If you change your mind after giving a new role a good try, work with your manager and leadership team to find another role that may work better for you.
Be proactive; have fun
According to some estimates, one-third of life is spent working and another third sleeping. Work experience should, on balance be enriching and enjoyable and engineers should be active in their pursuits. If you see an opportunity, go after it. A big part of this is performing the role you want to grow into is to demonstrate behaviors you need for that job even before you have the job. Being proactive also can be about how you execute your daily job.
Working on a recent handheld sensor was a blast. Towards the end of the technology incubation phase, it became clear the technology addressed a significant unmet need for customers. A few of us got together, strategized and developed internal excitement to produce the technology. The product has been very well received in the market.
Dileepa Prabhakar manages a technology incubation group at Fluke and a 2019 Engineering Leader Under 40 for Control Engineering and Plant Engineering; Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keywords: Career development
Engineering career development
Step out of your comfort zone.
Find a mentor to provide perspective and guidance.
Be proactive and have fun.
When did you last spend time working on your career, beyond just doing your job?