I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Kevin Ilcisin, VP and CTO for Tektronix. Here are the highlights of his responses when I asked him about his advice for new engineers and any funny stories from his career. (To find out more about Kevin and for the text of our entire interview, which includes his observations on test trends, challenges, and technology surprises, see my article on EDN.com.)
Janine Love: So, any advice for new engineers?
Dr. Kevin Ilcisin: This is a great question, and as education is another passion for me, I often have the opportunity to speak with students. I get a lot of questions, but many of them are a variation of the following two questions: Is engineering a good profession to enter? and how do I ensure a good career in engineering?
The answers are related. Yes, absolutely, engineering is a great profession to enter despite what you may hear about off-shoring, pay, hours, all of which to some extent have a basis. Engineers solve problems. If I look at the problems that exist today, think of the engineering grand challenges, my view is that we will have more problems to solve in our lifetime than we have engineers and resources to solve them. The world can absolutely benefit from energetic, passionate problem solvers in all kinds of industries.
And this leads to my second answer. Many people ask me, what discipline should I study, which software language should I master. Those do matter and should be aligned with your interests. The overriding goal is not domain knowledge, especially as a young engineer, it's about developing world-class skills -- first and foremost problem solving. If you become known as an exceptional problem solver, you will find a place in most organizations, in a variety of roles where you can enjoy what you are doing day-to-day and have a positive impact on the world around you.
Janine: Any funny stories?
Kevin: Too many to choose from and most associated with embarrassing myself in some way. I remember a time when I was new in a role. I had been there four weeks. It was a new industry, new company, new product family -- I didn't know anything. At the last minute I was asked to cover for a sick colleague at a roadmap meeting where the objective was to "go deep." I managed the presentation portion fine, but when we got into the Q&A about the customer's specific application, I was clearly in over my head. I got one question, and to buy time to try and figure it out, I rephrased the question in a form that it could be answered with a yes or no.
At that moment, I spotted a guy at the back of the room whom I had never met, who was wearing a visitor badge, and was gently nodding his head "yes." Realizing he was trying to help, I went through the rest of the Q&A session rephrasing the questions this way and each time he would nod, yes or no. It got me through the entire 15-minute Q&A. I went up to him when the meeting was finished and learned he was one of our best field applications engineers. He knew more about our products than many people back in the factory. He told me he had heard that I had been hired, and figured I was in trouble and realized how he could help. It kept our reputation as a company intact and I've never forgotten that. Throughout my career, when wanting to understand our products from a customer perspective, I've found you can really rely on the experience of the field teams.