Business, Construction, Design, Engineering Education, Lean Construction, Lean Design and Development, Risk Management

So You want to be an Engineer?

March 26, 2015

James (Jim) McGibney

I am an Engineer. I graduated with a BS in Electrical Engineering and then received a combined Master’s Degree in Industrial Management and Business Administration. My education and career have been a gift. They have allowed me to work around the globe on fascinating projects with many people much smarter than I am. I have had a ringside seat to enormous change within this industry—and pervasively across our world. While many careers provide the opportunity to gain great material wealth, that has never been a priority. The wealth I sought and received was the wealth of learning every day—which continues even now- and the wealth of being a part of projects and teams that have accomplished simply amazing things- things I could never do alone. And– I worked with people that were scary-smart, and graciously generous with their time and intellect.

The basic Engineering Education I went through was not easy, was not intuitive and, frankly, was un-interesting except as a way to gain a degree. That is unnecessarily critical as it was very much the norm for Engineering Universities in those years.

The advanced work at the Master’s level was different. By then I was traveling extensively and my instructors at the University of Houston—to a person—provided 3 plus weeks of advanced assignments and allowed me to literally mail-in my work. Actually DHL as the mail took months. Those two years were the first time that I had found the “joy of learning” and set the pace for my being continually curious as I took on new roles and new levels of responsibility.

Today, there is change underway all around us. Whether you are an Engineer, Architect, Lawyer, Medical Doctor— your profession is well into a period of technology-driven change, and there does not seem to be a slowdown in sight. Read back through the titles in the Posts on this website and you see Robotics, Lean Practices, prefabrication and many more topics. Engineering students and graduates will need to be knowledgeable in these and many more topics, and the Engineer’s approach to their education must be and is changing just as fast and just as profoundly. While it is a bit intimidating, I just finished a book that I believe sets the course we should be on.

A Whole New Engineer; The Coming Revolution in Engineering Education by David E. Goldberg and Mark Somerville—copyright 2104,

This book should be mandatory reading for every Engineering Student, Instructor, practicing Professional, University President, active Alumnae, employer, etc. The authors address all of the critical issues from MOOCs, to distance learning, to self- established curriculum, research, incubators, management of continuous change, coaching not managing or teaching, intrinsic motivation versus salary driven motivation, dealing with constant and pervasive disruption.

They deal with the educational process in great detail as to how it is now changing at places like Olin College in Needham, Massachusetts, the University of Illinois, and many more.

The authors also tell the story that the Engineering education should focus—rather than on content, curriculum and pedagogy— on “the emotionally intrinsic values that enable students to accomplish things and to experience meaning in their lives and work.”

The book is not a touchy feely, new age, how to. It is the story of a curriculum and learning program that drew 600 applications of the best and brightest in the second year – to fill 75 seats. Students that had already been accepted at MIT, Caltech, etc. It is the story of how these students and their coaches drew a new curricular map and a new and deeply engaging way to learn and practice the role of Engineer.

I found the book compelling and worth your time and I will leave you with one anecdote that set the tone of this new approach for me—and sets the new thinking a successful engineer must bring to their profession.

In my first major class at the School of Mines a senior member of the faculty and accredited researcher looked out across the large audience and said;

“Look at the student to your left, and look at the student to your right. They are your competition, and the odds are they will not be here next year. You must work harder and longer and better to earn your place in this school and this profession”.

It was an oddly self full-filling prophesy. It is also an anecdote you will hear from every engineer over 35, practicing or not.

Today that conversation is different. That highly accomplished academic coach will look out over a much smaller audience and say,

“look at the student to your left and look at the student to your right. The working relationship you establish with these people will be the way to finish your degree, successfully, and accomplish something worthwhile in the process.”

That conversation is the first step to a long and successful career as an engineer, and the only way to accomplish the important tasks in our professional and personal lives.

I highly recommend this book, and hope you will download it today. It is the guide through the enormous change that is underway in all facets of our lives.

James (Jim) McGibney
(see also my LinkedIn profile)

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