Tag Archives: Ethics

What would you advise young engineers about to enter the workforce?

Last Sunday, we had annual alumni dinner of Bangalore chapter of my alma mater, JK Institute of Applied Physics and Technology. During this event, we also hosted final-year engineering students who were in town on an education tour. I was asked to make a presentation to them on a topic of my choice. Here is what I did – I put together ten things that I felt are the most important non-technical things that anyone graduating from campus to corporate should know – that no one will ever teach them! I am sharing them here. It’s possible your Top Ten list might be different than mine, but feel free to share other things that might be helpful to the young engineers entering workforce in 2010:

1. Ethics

  • Most of us relate to ethics only when it comes to money. However, ethics is a critical issue in every walk of work and life. My favorite definition of ethics is – ethics is doing the right thing even when you know that if you were to do the wrong thing, no one would come to know. Ethics applies to each one of us in every possible small and big thing.
  • Invest in long-term gains, not short-term benefits

2. Respect

  • Two-way street: give respect to get respect
  • Disagreement is not disrespect. This is especially relevant in a hierarchical society like ours that values compliance, especially with what elders / seniors tell us. However, at workplace, we deal with a much more democratic environment, and hence we must learn to distinguish between the two.
  • Respect for all – including self-respect
  • Doesn’t mean Sir / Ma’am anyone – respect is much beyond pleasantries, but also learn to respect with informality

3. Initiative

  • Five-level model of initiative
  • Take sensible Risks, make mistakes – learn from them and move on

4. Teamwork

  • Perhaps the most important change for new engineers – from an individual performance system in academics, the shift happens to a team-based performance where project success depends on team performance, and individual performance is often measured relative to other’s performance
  • Best way to improve teamwork is to help without being asked or expected
  • Leave ego at home – problems are solved by democratic methods

5. Hard Work and perseverance

  • To make a century, you have to stay at the crease for many hours. Similarly, overnight success comes after 15 years of hard work. Malcolm Gladwell talks of 10,000 hours to success – no short cuts
  • Work comes first, company’s brand and money comes much later – choose your employer for the kind of work you get and not the money.
  • Best job security: give more than what you are paid

6. Communication Skills

  • Learn to Listen
  • Learn to speak and make presentations – with / without Powerpoint
  • Watch your language – develop a language that helps you win friends and allows your ideas to be shared effortlessly
  • Learn email etiquettes

7. Learn to learn

  • Make sure you are always learning new things – the rate at which technology advances, whatever you have learnt will be history in just a few years!
  • Read, Read, Read
  • Develop curiosity – Five Whys: better be branded a stupid than live in ignorance
  • Volunteer for anything that you can learn from

8. Network, Network, Network

  • LinkedIn, Twitter, Blog
  • Industry seminars, workshops, IEEE, ACM, etc.
  • Develop personal and professional relations with like-minded people

9. Self-management / Professionalism

  • Time management
  • Commitment management
  • Invest in improving yourself always – you are only as good as your last work!
  • Set your goals – and follow them relentlessly

10. Work-life Balance

  • Develop hobbies as source of motivation, ideas from other walks of life, friends & refresh
  • Take vacations!

What would you advise young engineers about to enter the workforce?

How are Ethics and Excellence related ?

A friend sent a nice story:

A gentleman was once visiting a temple under construction. In the temple premises, he saw a sculptor making an idol of God. Suddenly he saw, just a few meters away, another identical idol was lying. Surprised, he asked the sculptor, “Do you need two statutes of the same idol?”. “No”, said the sculptor, “We need only one, but the first one got damaged at the last stage”.

The gentleman examined the sculpture. No apparent damage was visible. “Where is the damage?” asked the gentleman. “There is a scratch on the nose of the idol” replied the sculptor. “Where are you going to keep the idol?” asked the Gentleman. The sculptor replied that it will be installed on a pillar 20 feet high. “When the idol will be 20 feet away from the eyes of the beholder, who is going to know that there is scratch on the nose?”, the gentleman asked.

The sculptor looked at the gentleman, smiled and said “The God knows it and I know it !!! ”

The desire to excel should be exclusive of the fact whether someone appreciates it or not.

Most people would not set such high standards of self-approval when it comes to excellence, especially when it is very evident that their omissions and commissions won’t have any significant impact on the output and is unlikely to be ‘discovered’, and many will surely take the wrong route. However, there are many blessed souls among us who not only constantly strive for such excellence, but will also pursue it relentlessly, come what may – may their tribe prosper. So, excellence is not just an extremely advanced state of knowledge, skill and abilities – it is much more. It is about having the right attitude, a clear vision of what is required and, of course, a great sense of ethics. And that also reminds me of a great definition of ethics. This is not my definition, but if someone knows the source, please let me know so that I could credit the source with gratitude. It goes something like this:

Ethics is all about doing the right thing when you know that even if you were to do the wrong thing, no one would come to know.

How profound, and yet how simple. When I read the story that I mentioned earlier, I felt there was so much in common between Excellence and Ethics that they seem to be two sides of the same coin. Of course, excellence seems to have much wider meaning, and one could argue that ethics could be construed as one of the components of that. I believe someone who is truly passionate about excellence can’t be unethical, and vice versa. However, it appears to me that one can’t build a culture of excellence without having the strong and unshakable foundation of ethics. Excellence is the goal, but can’t be always guaranteed despite having best intentions and selfless efforts to achieve it. Failures do happen, and under pressure from stakeholders, there is always a temptation to cut corners. However, with a strong foundation of ethics, one can hope to build it all over again. Perhaps ethics is the self-regulator, speed-governor, the character-radar built in our conscience that doesn’t add anything to the knowledge, skills or abilities, par se, but acts as the mirror on the wall, the guardian angel, the lighthouse brightly shining its beacon in dark and choppy waters.

My interpretation is that ethics is the input that leads to excellence in output. It is the manure that leads to a healthy sapling which ultimately goes on to become a strong, tall tree. And unless you invest in this manure, how are you ever going to get such strong trees ?

Do you demand excellence at workplace without investing in building ethics first ?