Engineers need to learn that it's not what you know, it's who you know -- network, network, network!
Not long after my blog post on making use of pre-event announcements was posted last June, my brother-in-law -- a technology fellow at a known software company -- sent me an email that read as follows: "Just read the latest article. Interesting! Mind you, it's somewhat removed from what most engineers tend to do, at least those who don't move up into management."
He continued: "I do wonder if marketing/PR principles can be applied within an engineering team itself, or between engineering teams, since engineers often have to 'sell' ideas or approaches or make the case for getting the resources they need to see a feature idea through to a finished product. In my experience, engineers could sometimes use a little PR to achieve their ends rather than trying to dictate to people who don't necessarily have to follow along."
Good question. Marketing and PR principles could be applied to an individual or an engineering team as well. Clive (Max) Maxfield is a terrific example of an engineer who has used successfully a few marketing approaches. When we talked, he offered several examples of how he promoted himself and built a high profile prior to becoming an even higher profile editor at EETimes.com and Embedded.com. He had been a regular blogger and wrote technical articles, both of which led to speaking opportunities. Max has written a few books as well. All helped position him as an expert.
If you are interested in blogging in the context of promoting yourself as an engineer, Max strongly advises writing blogs about something of interest to other engineers. He goes a step further with blogs on his hobby projects -- which are well read and commented on -- something that should make the management at EETimes/UBM happy because he's helping to build the community.
Another great example is one of my colleagues who is knowledgeable on a specific technical area. He has fashioned himself into a technical expert through articles, viewpoints, and blog posts. He recently was invited to give a talk at a technical conference. It's doubtful that invitation would have been extended had he not created awareness and an aura of authority from his writings.
Once a blog or article has been posted online, pushing it onto the Social Media sites frequented by the industry creates visibility and an image. The expert mentioned above has an up-to-date database that gets a link to the latest piece. An engineering team could do something similar or could create its own LinkedIn group. Another effective promotional channel is presenting a technical paper or participating on a panel at an event such as the Embedded System Conference (ESC).
Another thought someone mentioned to me is to add comments to blogs on various online publications like Embedded.com and EETimes.com.
These are all spot-on suggestions, but we also need to consider the engineer who doesn't like to write, or the more reticent engineer who is terribly shy and introverted and not up to public speaking. Following our conversation, Max sent out request for input to his posse -- a bunch of engineers who bounce ideas off each other -- and they responded with a wealth of suggestions.
One noted: "They might start with things like Toastmasters or something similar. I have found that, despite your skills, if you cannot communicate them, you will often be overlooked."
"Some engineering teams will write papers for technical conferences, and the more outgoing member of the group will present it. Even so, everyone's name makes it into the program."
"Another way, though less reliable, is to find someone who can be your voice and advocate, though this can be harder as you are dependent on them to have your best interest at heart," wrote the previous correspondent. I think he must mean having an editor such as Max write a profile piece. A marketing department loves getting a corporate or product story written by an editor, thereby giving the company or product unbiased exposure. The challenge is identifying the angle or news hook that would interest online readers.
One posse member offered an appealing suggestion: "Patent disclosures! Even if they don't result in grants of patents, they are very visible to upper management. They show that you are creative, and open to new ideas."
"There are some competitions around," wrote someone else. "Circuit Cellar, for instance, has some. Entries always appear and, if you are good enough to get an award, so much the better. There are others as well, like Create the Future, where the same holds true."
Thinking creatively, one of Max's crew recommended: "In the same vein as writing blogs, some manufacturers accept application notes written by non-employees. Having an App Note published by a large organization that is not your employer adds some credibility. You could also write app notes for your employer. Design Ideas in EDN and Electronic Design are also good for one's reputation."
One final respondent brought us back to reality: "Engineers need to learn that it's not what you know, it's who you know -- network, network, network. And then there's the unquantifiable -- luck, serendipity, chance."
Networking is an important skill, no matter what one's role within a company, as is being visible. Both should be added to any career or engineering plan. Sprinkling in a few marketing and PR approaches will help keep one's image burnished.