Great feedback and some I hope the up and coming generation of engineers will take it to heart.
As far as the communications skills, I do think this next generation is all about collaboration and eliciting feedback from a peer community--skills that no doubt fall into the bucket of communications. But I do agree with you, Rich, that the way this generation communicates is very different than the past. They are better able to share ideas and work in a team-based atmosphere, but they are far too oriented to communicating in a digital format--through text, instant messages, email (I know archaic in that world), social platforms. What they seem to shy away from and what is still so critical is the face-to-face, conversation-to-conversation communications where nuance and context and mood is much more clear. A lot can get lost in the translation in digital communications so personal communications are still requisite and in some cases, an art form.
I agree that some of the best might find it hard and against their wiring. Overall, I'm an advocate of the strengthening your strengths theory.
However, there's a world of difference between someone who wants to be able to communicate and tries to get at least a minimum skill level and someone who just expects everyone to deal with their lack of communication skills because they are an engineering genius. (I'm ignoring any discussion of the autism spectrum here. I know that can be another matter.) Sometimes "translators" may be necessary. For general advice for a new student/grad, most of whom aren't geniuses, - being able to be a translator is a plus.
You are assuming that they even recognize that they have a problem communicating. Some people are just "out there". I don't think that they necessarily recognize their inability to communicate. They just are the way they are.
I agree that "translators" can be necessary. It takes the right kind of manager to get the most out of genius, and the right kind of person/people to "translate", and draw the person out when required.
I agree wholeheartedly with Beth Robinson's comment about co-ops. The best thing I did in my academic career was to get a part-time engineering job in my final year of college. Although the skills obstained at that job didn't translate well to my first full-time job, I got a taste of what it was like to be an engineer, and I made myself more marketable when I graduated. Co-ops are great because students can get a taste of engineering after their first year. That usually gives them a litle more enthusiasm for their chosen major and a better perspective on their education. On the flip side, if they find they don't like working in an engineering office, it's not too late to study something else.
I have one kid in college who keeps changing majors and two more who will enter college in the next couple years. I'm torn as to whether I should encourage them to choose a major early or wait to see if something pops with interest later on. I agree with you, Chuck, about working in your major during the last couple years of school. Internships and part-time work can turn into career jobs.
But you never know how things will turn out. Over the weekend, I watched one of Chuck's favorite movies: October Sky, which is about the "Rocket Boys." I was surprised to see what happened to these kids. Only one of the four ended up in an engineering-related job, the author, even though all four completed college on the scholarships they earned with their rocket work. So you never know.
Interesting point about October Sky, Rob. You've cited something that's definitely true -- many kids who appear to be naturally inclined toward engineering don't necessarily make it through the curriculum. Some who are mechanically/electrically inclined don't like the heavy emphasis on theory. Others simply get distracted, and engineering is not a good place for distracted students.
Rich, I remember that posting and I think I responded at the time. What I would say to youngsters going into engineering is be flexible. Of course, I have one that just started, and he is already switching. I have another looking at schools now. I think he is set, but you never know.
I know many people who have started with one degree and gone on to get others. Getting an advanced degree is often necessary when working on multidiscinplinary projects like robotics. At one time I ran into a bunch of engineers at a large company that was getting into robotics for their own use and for customer applications. Some had mechanical engineering degrees, some had electrical engineering degrees. Several got masters degrees in both as a part of their training. I also know someone who has a Masters of Mechanical Engineering degree, and is a Mechanical PE, who is working for a Civil Engineering firm. There seem to be lots of these cross discipline examples. I guess one bit of advise is to keep learning.
Naperlou, I agree with the need to be flexible and multidisciplinary in your learning. Advice that I would give to a new student would be that a master's degree while not required definitely helps in your career. Have a master's degree when entering the job market puts you near the top of the list when getting interviews.
The big advantage of being specialized is that you become obsolete as the technology changes. The challenge is to have a broad array of knowledge and skills, and then find an employer that will utilize them. I seldom, if ever, refused any task, those that went well added to my credentials, those tasks that did not go so well added to my experience and insight. I know a lot of things that won't work, and that is valuable knowledge, it really is.
But the nost important thing, I have found, is to find a position where you can like what you are doing and look forward to each day as a new chance to do enjoyable (fun) stuff. And when you do find such a position, as I did, just hope that the parent organization does not send in some ignorant neandrothal MBA to ruin everything.
When your alm mater solicuts support for their new MBA program, remind them that they have betrayed everything that is good and honorable, and gone over to the dark side, where they will get no support from you. possibly they might learn, probably, not.
I'm not sure I understnad your first sentence, William, but I agree with your thoughts about doing something you can look forward to every morning. So I encourage my kids to find something they love. I don't necessarily believe in the chiche that "do what you love and the money will follow." But I also don't believe the successful course is to try to guess on a career that pays well.
I believe that you should do what you love and parents shouldn't select or try to force their kid(s) into a career they selected. It is hard enough some days to work in a career you selected now imagine going to one someone selected for you.
I knew a man who forced his sons to go into engineering. He made a comment that the oldest son was finally starting to like engineering. His youngest son was very unhappy in college and eventually dropped out. The father just didn't get it. I'm not sure why it was so hard for him to let his kids make their own career decisions.
Doing things like that can (and did in this case) make for a very unhappy people.
Good points Gsmith120. I can't imagine having the ability to force kids into any particular course. Having been a rebellious kid, I've often been surprised that my kids haven't rebelled more. At any rate, I think the surest course is to encourage kids to find their individual talent and calling.
An explanation: The first sentence was a blast of irony, in that while most people regard a benefit as a positive thing, that is not always the case.
And about the value of the education: I had a co-worker who had ust earned his masters degree in electronic engineering He proposed designing an asic for one of our products, asserting that the cost would be less than $40,000 for the design. This was a product that we sold perhaps 50 units in a good year, and the 5 ICs involved cost a total of less than $5 per unit. So I wondered about how much economics he had learned, regarding return on investments of effort.
He also had a problem with getting his shoes on the correct foot. remember, this fellow just got his masters degree with a good GPA, at Oakland University, in Michigan. He was intensly qualified (only) in a small area. Hence my opening sentence.
That makes sense, William. Sometimes taking basic skills and applying them to a wide range of topics is the best route. I started out writing about Native American art many years ago. And there were many journalistic adventures between that and Design News. But the basic skill set is the same.
I AGREE with many of these entries either in part or in toto. As a youngster, I was always curious to learn how things worked, and to that end "unrepaired" many working apparati in our household, much to the consternation of my parents. As college loomed near, I decided that I could do NO other work (profession) than to continue in that mode. Because finances were very limited for us in the '50s, I chose a cooperative program (a new concept then) in which I would spend 3 years at the primary school, and transfer for 2 additional years of concentrated engineering curriculum. Unfortunately, as I was to embark on phase 2, the program was cancelled, so I stayed at the primary school for the additional year, getting a Bachelors in Mathematics & Physics. (Never really took to Chemistry!)
Since I had so much practical experience based on my personal investigations, I was immediately hired by a fairly large communications-oriented company. The unadvertised benefit? They had a rather liberal Tuition-refund program for employees.... a C average or better got an enrolee 100% reimbursemnt of ALL costs, including the administrative fees. Obviously, although my grades were all A's (well,maybe one A-!), I got full reimbursement. When I left that company & went on, I was able to appreciate their largesse again. This time I went for my Masters in Computer Science.
My point to relating all this? It IS fundamental to ALL good engineering understanding to have a FIRM, FUNCTIONAL, & FAR-REACHING knowledge of Mathematics. One cannot succeed without it!
My parents were typical pre-WW II parents, in that they were hard-working, conservative (NOT the political, conservative!) people who grew up before, during the Great Depression. In that regard, they had only their primary education as a tool to guide them through life. They were awestruck when I exploded on the scene w/ valid technical advice & explanations.
I DO NOT for one millisecond believe that today's youngsters of college age, and pre-college age, will make the same impression amongst their elders when it comes to communications skills. With such a proliferation of non-verbal communication devices being invented daily, it is my firm belief that in just a few generations, the spoken word will be almost obsolete, and in a short time after that, newborn will NOT have tongues shaped as they are now to aid in verbalizing. While I'm NOT against the modern technology of iPhones, etal., I believe that the social conscious has to be reined in or else I fear my prognostications WILL come true.
Placing greater value on people skills would be the main adjustment I would make if I only knew then what I know now. In my younger days, I focused extensively on engineering mathematics and rational problem solving, without placing much value on the 'softer skills' . Now that I am more experienced in the workplace, I would have placed much greater emphasis on team building and leadership and also communicating my ideas to the general population with better clarity.
Good point, Greg. In a lot of engineering jobs, everyone is on a similar level in terms of mathematics. Often, it's the other areas -- the "soft" people skills, as you say -- that make the difference between stagnation and promotion.
Your experience IS exactly why I added my comment at the end of my original comments about the fundamental importance of a strong mathematics background for any engineering discipline.
My concern now is that too many of the younger generations, from grammar school through recent college graduates, have totally embraced communicating through the marvels of the iPad, Droid, etc. IF these people are to be called in front of an audience to justify a design, or comment on a design, WILL THEY BE ABLE TO DO IT SUCCESSFULY without their electronic communicators???? I fear they will not!
While I do not suggest these devices are evil, I DO think that they degree they've been adopted to communicate with one another is appalling, to say the least. People will always be required to speak to one another in a face-to-face, casual manner, using only their inate bodily apparati. (tongues & voiceboxes!)
I agree. Studies have shown that non-verbal communication (tone, body language, facial expressions, etc.) is more effective than just the spoken word only. While texting technology offers more quantity of communication, it does not improve quality of communication. I already am seeing where my teenage daughters do not have as well-developed non-verbal communication as I saw with teenagers in previous generations. (Perhaps getting them to Skype more often will help address this issue....)
Not having any immediate youngsters in our lives now, I can only base my opinions on observations that are noteworthy when in the company of friends & relatives who DO have youngsters in their families. And, ONE thing that I've definitely noticed is that youngsters, including some of the 30-something parents who are totally immersed in this new "i" phenomenon are NOT able to effectively verbally communicate with others using eye-to-eye contact. They seem to be totally ill at ease in this ability, preferring to look down or away instead. I wonder IF any of the corporations who created these new "communicators" ever sought to solicit the research of psychologists and/or sociologists to determine these severely negative consequences??????
For me, personally, a simple wireless telephone is all I need, and my better half has none! I guess that really dates us, but at this point I don't care!
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