Recently I was invited to give a speech at my school commencement ceremony. I graduated with a Ph.D in Electrical and Computer Engineering a few years back and have been working in the EDA industry for over a decade. In the end, most of my thoughts point to one encompassing theme: the theme of diversification.
We all know that when investing our money, we want to diversify; we don't put all our eggs in one basket. We should not only diversify by putting our money into different investment vehicles such as CDs, bonds, and stocks, but also in capital investments such as real estate.
Diversification reduces the potential risks and increases the chances of long term financial returns. The same holds true for all walks of life: business, friends and education.
A diversified life experience gives one the balance, joy and richness of what life has to offer.
Diversification applies to our careers as well.
Diversifying our skills can reduce the risk of losing your job in difficult times, like now and it also increases the enjoyment of your career. Acquiring different skills requires continuous learning and hard work, but it is an effort with high return on investment.
While the need for diversification holds for everybody, it is extremely important for engineering graduates.
Adam Smith first pointed out the advantages of specialization and the resulting gains from trade in his 1776 book "The Wealth of Nations".
More than 200 years later, most of the engineering careers today are highly specialized.
While specialization helps individuals to become an expert in one particular area, it also increases the risks of not being able to switch job easily to a different field.
In economic downturns, when the supply of labor exceeds the capacity needed in a industry, those who have a diversified skill set will have a much easier time finding another fit.
Engineering graduates have mastered the technical skills to learn and solve any technical challenges. While the on-the-job training and work tend to make a person specialized in one field, it is fine to become an expert but you need to resist the tendency to stay there.
We live in a world with fast technology development and innovation. A knowledge set could become obsolete in ten years or less. It is vital to keep up learning the latest technology trend beyond the field one is familiar.
Cross examination of different technologies could also breed innovation. Universities are almost always at the forefront of research and development. Stay connected with a university even after graduation. This will help keep one's mind open to new and important research efforts in science and technology.
Another way to stay updated and connected is to join and get involved in your chosen community, such as IEEE, or EDA Consortium etc. Ride the technology wave and don't be left behind.
Many soft skills are critical in advancing one's career. Communication skills come to mind as one of the most important.
As an engineer solely responsible for specific tasks, being able to get one's points across in writing or in conversation effectively and efficiently is critical in successful collaboration between team members.
It is a learned skill to be able to create professional written materials (emails, functional specs, articles, presentations), to present and promote creative ideas clearly and concisely, and to negotiate to achieve your goals.
While graduates from business schools go through a lot of training in communication skills, engineering schools focus less in this area. Communication skill is something we continue to work on and improve throughout our careers. Excellent communication skills create a good brand image for you and can increase the chances of success in one's career.
Engineers are often more interested in new technology gadgets than business issues, hence the reason that we go into Engineering. However we live in a capitalistic society, the success of your business also affects the success of your career.