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?

13 thoughts on “What would you advise young engineers about to enter the workforce?

  1. Srinivas

    All I can say about this post is, “A Complete skill set for young Engineers like me, who are ready to enter in to the professional field from their student life”. The above points are more sufficient to live their profession life comfortably and healthily for long period. It’s also very helpful to know how we can keep ourselves cool to execute our task and to give best result at the end of the day. Gaining and sharing the knowledge in every possible movement is most important than earning the money.

    1. TV Post author

      @Srinivas: Thanks for sharing your feedback. I fully agree with you that gaining and sharing knowledge is far more important than earning money. Of course, it is very tempting to make money (who doesn’t want to make more money ?), but then, the point is that a luxury penthouse can only only be built on a rock-solid foundation :). So, the effort must be to build a strong technical foundation that will support you for the next ~40 years of professional career (including 3-4 recessions thrown in-between).

  2. Anuj

    Thanks for putting up this post. I agree with the points you mentioned and especially the focus on Ethics and Handwork. I follow a similar definition of Ethics- “Doing the right thing even when no one’s watching you”. I was in conversation with one of the Engineering college going folks and he seemed to be making light fun of a subject like “Professional Ethics” in a Technical course like Engineering. As you rightly pointed out, the reality in professional organizations is quite different and Ethics is indeed #1 in my list too.
    I recently read a book called “The Professional” by Subroto Bagchi and would highly recommend to Young Engineers and seasoned professionals as well. It does provide meaningful insights into mindset and soft skills that constitutes a “True Professional”.
    I recently read a book called “The Professional” by Subroto Bagchi and would highly recommend to Young Engineers and seaconed professionals as well. It does provide maningful insights into mindset and soft skills that consistutes a “True Professional”.

    1. TV Post author

      @Anuj: Thanks for your insights! Your personal experience only demonstrates how little people are informed about the value of ethics in business. Last year, I taught “Business Ethics” at St. Joseph’s College of Business Administration for their Executive MBA program, and it opened my eyes like never before, and my students never expected to learn so much from such a ‘dry’ subject. There is so much to ethics in business that it must be taught in every professional course.

  3. Vaibhav Srivastav

    Completely agree with both the honorable seniors. Adding to above:
    What I learned from my exp. is Attitude decides the Altitude and off course there is no shortcut and alternatives for hard work
    I believe soft skills are equally or sometimes more important than the technical stuffs.
    It’s always better to have a career plan in the beginning of the career and then stick to it for some 5-10 years…rest all is your success…
    During recruitment, be all set with the stuff which you feel you can deal in your best way and try to give your 500% before interviews: They just want to see your attitude towards problem solving and your way of learning things.
    All the best to you all buddies and off course many thanks to my honorable seniors for sharing their valuable experience.

    Vaibhav

    1. TV Post author

      @Vaibhav: You are spot on! Everything else being equal, attitude is THE most important thing that differentiates winners from ordinary players.

  4. Siddharth Jaiswal

    It was very useful talk, not only for folks who are going to join corporate sector but also for all of us, who sometimes ignore few things.

    One more point I would like to add here, which I gained from my small career till now is “Learning in any form should be welcomed”. While starting our career, we always think about what technology we are working on or whether we are getting Development project or not or whether we are working with Java or DOT NET. While thinking about this and trying to change the field, many times we lose the opportunity to learn, which has been provided us in different form. Today, career growth options are not limited to JAVA or DOT NET only. In my opinion, diversification is becoming key of success now. So, (just for example)if some fresher is starting his/her career with Testing instead of JAVA Development (as he/she would have supposed), I think it is equally good. Only you need to grasp that opportunity and be a master of that.

    Every field comes with its own uniqueness and if we analyze the career of great scientist or other professional, we found that many of them started their study or career with some other field rather than for which they became famous and earned Nobel prizes.

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