The lesson that every engineering graduate quickly learns after graduating college is that despite being educated for years on engineering theories and practices, they are ill prepared for the real world. In order to smoothly transition into the practical, here are a few tips every engineering student should ponder.
Tip #1 - At a Minimum, Learn Python
We live in a digital world controlled by software. Software drives everything in our modern world and every engineer whether your expertise is electrical, industrial, mechanical, or sanitary should understand programming language fundamentals. There are times when something needs to be automated or test data needs to be analyzed where knowing how to write a few lines of code can make the job orders of magnitude easier. A great cross platform and easy-to-learn language is Python and a great language for those engineers looking to round out their skills in the pragmatic.
Tip #2 - Take a Business Course
Once an engineer, not always an engineer. We often start our careers on the front lines; developing, designing, programming, testing, and so on. For many engineers, their careers quickly take a turn into project management, marketing, and sometimes even running a business. The problem is that engineers aren't taught these skills in the standard engineering curriculum. Taking a course on business or marketing can give engineers insights into how their employers businesses operate and provide the skills they need further into their careers.
Tip #3 - Get Hands-On
Hands-on, practical experience will trump theory any day. Understanding the theory for how a UART works and actually making it communicate are two totally different animals. Engineering students need to get hands-on by experimenting, developing, and playing with the technologies that they will one day be using in industry. Embedded developers can easily purchase a low-cost development kit and write code. Electrical engineers can design circuits and PCBs using freely available software and practice soldering surface mount components. Mechanical engineers can use freely available CAD software and then use a 3D printer to test their design. The possibilities are endless and make great examples to show and tell during interviews.
Firmware for Embedded Systems. Jacob Beningo will be leading sessions on HAL design for MCUs, real-time software using Micro Python, and how to create an IoT device in 45 minutes — all happening at the Embedded Systems Conference, Sept. 21-22, 2016 in Minneapolis. Register here for the event, hosted by Design News’ parent company, UBM.
Tip #4 - Speak, Write, and Get Comfortable
Engineers don't need speaking, writing, or presentation skills. Wrong! Just because engineers are designing and building things doesn't mean they will never have to give a presentation or speech. It doesn't mean they won't have to write an engineering report or analysis. Speaking, writing, and presenting are all skills engineers must have to be successful so get comfortable with the idea and take a class or two if needed.
Tip #5 - Diversify Internships
The sooner an engineering student can get involved in internships, the better. Internships provide real-world experience and also allow the student to test drive an area they are interested in. Students shouldn't just settle for a singular experience, though. If possible, try out multiple companies or work in different departments within a large company to make sure you enjoy the path you think you want to pursue. Sometimes early on there isn't much choice, but work experience often dictates the jobs we are qualified for so starting in EMC and then trying to change to embedded software could be quite challenging.
Creating a resume is not an activity for the last semester, but for the first. As soon as possible, go online and look for the experiences and skills that engineers in your field or desired position have. Make a simple list and then figure out how to build your resume to have those same key skills. Resume building is not an overnight activity and should actively be performed on a monthly basis. (Especially early on in one’s career when skills are being developed and changed rapidly.)
Tip #7 - Practice Interviewing Skills
Students need to get comfortable sitting in the hot seat. There will undoubtedly be more than a single student trying to get that entry-level position that are so few and far between. In order to stand out one must understand the interview process. In order to do that, one needs to practice and go on mock interviews as much as possible.
In order to really get a jumpstart on your career and transition from student to engineer seamlessly, engineering students need to take a proactive approach to their careers. These tips provide examples where in my own career and in those of colleagues and friends I've seen major deficiencies and struggles that could have been avoided.
Jacob Beningo is an embedded software consultant who currently works with clients in more than a dozen countries to dramatically transform their businesses by improving product quality, cost, and time to market. He has published more than 200 articles on embedded software development techniques, is a sought-after speaker and technical trainer, and holds three degrees which include a Masters of Engineering from the University of Michigan. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, at his website www.beningo.com, and sign up for his monthly Embedded Bytes Newsletter here.