With the current economic climate and an ever-aging engineering community, newly minted engineers will have to ramp up faster than ever before. They will work on projects that were previously staffed by more senior engineers and with technology that evolves at unprecedented rates. The pressure to innovate and meet tight deadlines simply raises the bar for success.
To make matters more complicated, a significant portion of the engineering workforce will retire in the next decade, so the most senior person on a project may also face a learning curve. New engineers have to be more resourceful and self-sufficient than ever. They will be lucky if they have access to a mentor, and while access to information is more plentiful than ever, they will need to decipher what is most relevant and reliable.
Information literacy is a critical skill in lifelong learning. Knowing where to go to find answers and how to leverage available reference resources is not only important for entry-level roles, but also as engineers move up the ranks into leadership positions.
As electrical engineers choose from a variety of career paths – from renewable energy R&D to microelectronic design – they will inevitably face situations they didn’t learn about in school. While some may have completed specialty courses and internships related to the field they’re entering, the on-the job learning curve is significant. Engineers must quickly learn the ins and outs of how to find answers to their questions.
Beyond getting to know colleagues and mentors, engineers should determine the available content resources. Many tech and power companies employ special librarians, who are tasked with helping engineers research and find answers. Electrical engineers should start by getting a tour of available information resources from the special librarian if possible, and also check in regularly to learn what new resources are available. Many resources are listed on corporate intranets, so engineers should investigate what is available.
Too often engineers turn to popular search engines like Google when faced with a problem. If that’s the only place they turn for answers, they will not find the most useful, reliable or documentable sources. For instance, if an electrical engineer starting work on a design system has a question about a formula related to the project, she needs to ensure that the information she uses to answer her question is accurate. An internet search may present an answer, but the quality of that information will be ambiguous at best. In contrast, if the engineer uses a trusted source like RF Circuit Design (2nd Edition) or Efficient Electrical Systems Design Handbook, she will consistently find the sound information needed to move forward with her design system.
Learning how to leverage information resources is not only important for learning the ins and outs of a first job in electrical engineering, but it also lays the groundwork for rapid promotion and success in leadership roles. For example, an electrical engineer recently promoted to project manager may be surprised to find out that the company she works for has information resources related to management training. Using the same research skills that helped her succeed as an engineer can be used to track down useful management resources such as Effective Team Leadership for Engineers.
While graduating electrical engineers enter the field full of theory and equations, the most important skill they’re taught in higher education is how to find answers. Taking this skill, information literacy, and aggressively applying it to a career in electrical engineering can help new engineers achieve their goals faster than they imagine.
Sasha Gurke is senior vice president and cofounder of Knovel (http://www.knovel.com). Gurke has more than 25 years experience in the technical information field. He led the expansion of Knovel’s award-winning technical resource and contributes to the company’s success by integrating real-life workplace solutions.