Karen Field, VP of EE Life, had a sit down session with about 30 engineers early on Tuesday morning of ESC Boston. Karen sat in front and moderated a discussion about the merits and drawbacks of social media; coffee in hand, engineers interested in their careers and advancing their knowledge about new media listened in and participated in the conversation. Much like yesterday's session with Jack Ganssle, I was quite impressed with the involvement of the audience. Questions were bounced up to Karen and back and conversations continued among the participants.
Topics were initially based around LinkedIn and the use of social media for today's engineer. However we also delved into situations involving Facebook, Twitter and many other types of social media. Why don't we see more engineers using these resources? Why do we continue to hear about jobs going unfilled if these social media tools are meant to solve them? Discussion topics were very strongly biased towards employment. Many in the crowd added anecdotes about hiring others; often managers eschew social media type component and instead trust personal recommendations. In this manner, are we no further than the hiring methods of 30 years ago? And most importantly, should this practice ever change?
In fact, it seemed that the stereotypical engineer had no place in the room as heads were nodding along to the idea of meeting others face to face (as opposed to using social media). Other engineers pointed out that social networking was often much better used as maintaining contacts from former jobs; using those same real social contacts would be useful at some later time, during a job search or when trying to find information about a topic or new product. These maintained connections can then be translated into a personal recommendation that the managers seem to prefer, as noted above.
When we began switching topics to the delivery of information to the engineers in the future, there was still mixed feelings of delving into social media headfirst. Twitter uptake still seems lukewarm, as has been captured in myriad surveys; and yet it seems that recruiters and those that hold the keys to the employment door continue to move towards these tools; it seems they may find very few engineers knocking at that door because of the medium of the employment message. There was also the notion that Twitter is still too limited and that conversations cannot happen on a regular basis, namely due to information overload. And in general there was resistance to push media (blast email marketing, Twitter) vs pull marketing (RSS feeds you can check whenever).
All in all, the conversation was a useful snapshot of a subset of the conference attendees. There is still general wariness towards all types of media, with social media being only part of the issue. Will we see more engineers on Twitter in the future? As an active user, I can say that I've seen benefits in my own career, but that most people will have to try it and see if it works for them. I think that after the initial learning curves, the benefits often emerge; and if other engineers begin joining in large numbers, we'll all benefit from having more people joining the conversation.
Chris Gammell is an analog engineer and writer from Cleveland, Ohio. His latest project is The Amp Hour, a radio show devoted to electronics.