The Social Runner: Networking for the Engineer

Running is usually a solo practice but sometimes you just want to be around others.  Joining a running group can help you achieve your personal goals.  These groups give runners the opportunity to socialize with other runners allowing them to find out about methods for improvement, races they may not have known about, and access to coaches that can improve your abilities.  These groups are the best way to network with runners of all abilities.

For engineers’, networking is a must and not just something that is needed when looking for a career change.  Through networking you maintain connection that can help you promote new engineering concepts and ideas, acquire information that may help in solving an engineering problem, and have a mentor to contact who can help you make it to the next milestone in your goals. Most engineers identify themselves as introverts, which hinders our ability to communicate with others. Here are some need-to-know networking tips to help engineers make the most out of their connections.

Find a Mentor:  Mentorships are beneficial to young engineers, because they provide seasoned veterans and new professionals with an opportunity to learn from each other.  This is a great starting point for building a network by having a strong connection with someone in your industry. Mentors can help expand a new engineer’s knowledge in addition to improving their intercommunication skill.  Interaction with an experienced engineer as your mentor can enhance skills that aren’t always called upon, such as leadership and communication.

Join a Professional Engineering Group: Organizations such as TMS were created for two main reasons, sharing knowledge and connecting people.  A professional such as myself has about four organizational memberships. Through these memberships you will have the ability to attend meetings and events, stay continuously connected through the organization blogs and emails, and become more involved in your industry.  If you are trying to create long-lasting relationships in your field, consider joining a committee or serving on a board. Not only will it give you an opportunity to be a leader, but it will help boost your communication skills.

Attend Conferences/Trade Shows: Conferences and Trade Shows bring persons of the same professional background to one location.  This promotes great opportunities for face to face interaction with people in your industry. Key leaders of your industry will be available to discuss topics during these events; use the breakout session to talk to these individuals so your name can become more known.  If you are willing to pitch a presentation, do so.  This will allow you to share your research experience and position yourself as an expert in your field.  Make sure you obtain contact information and trade business cards

Always be prepared with a Personal Pitch:  You will never know when a network opportunity can happen.  Be ready for the surprise opportunity by having a brief pitch prepared about who you are.  This pitch should be short, focused, and Strong.  Include information of your experience, interests, and career path.

Use a LinkedIn Account: LinkedIn is the social media platform that engineers are taking advantage of.  Groups on LinkedIn allow users with common interest to share content, ask questions, share knowledge and identify themselves in their industry.  I personal like to use it as my business card holder.  After I acquire a business card from a new contact, I add them to my LinkedIn following.

How do you network? Please share a comment.

The Runner’s Fear: Adapting to Change for Engineers

Runners love to push themselves to the limits and I am no different from any other runner.  Unfortunately, every so often we push ourselves too far and pay for it through an injury.  When this occurs the reality sets in that we will not be able to run like we enjoy until we fully heal.  We have to face the reality and adapt our workout routine until we are fully able to run again.

During your engineering career there are times when you will be working on a project or career path and modifications will be required.  This is not something that is avoidable, so make the most of it and be willing to become adaptable.  Learning to adapt will help promote your future growth. Here are some tips to remember when changes occur.

Accept the new norm:  Individuals tend to romanticize the past, and often for good reason. However, holding on to the memory of how things once were is counterproductive when changes are present.

Modify your goals and strive to reach them:  Change can leave a person feeling directionless or confused about the future.  When your surroundings change, we have to adapt our plans and ambitions will need revising.

Take control of your own actions: As in all aspects of life, there will always be elements within our careers which are not in our control. Instead of feeling like you have lost control of a formerly controllable situation, focus on specific tasks you can do.  This will give you the sense of fulfillment and significance.

Keep a positive inner dialogue: It’s quite easy to recoil at a new concept, especially when you did not see problems with the previous method.  Maintaining the ability to view any potential change with a positive attitude is certainly essential to our ability to adjust to new situations.

Remember that change is inevitable, and you are able to adapt.  As humans, we have this amazing ability to change, learn and adapt at will.  For a runner like myself, if I am not willing to change my workout when recuperating from an injury, I would go stir-crazy from boredom.  Additionally, I would hurt my ability to achieve my goals to be a more efficient runner.

What recommendation can you add to accept change?

Running to Success: Achieving Engineering Career Goals.

When you run your first marathon the goal is usually just to finish, but as your running career continues this goal changes. Runners begin to set personal accomplishments such as completing a race in a certain time, increasing the distance to become an ultra-marathoner or wanting to finish a challenge like running races in seven continents in seven days. These runners are able to succeed by laying out small feats along the way that help them reach their final objectives.

As a new engineer entering the workforce, it is always recommended that you determine the career goals you want to achieve. When I hire engineers, after about a month I ask what their professional objectives are and which career benchmarks they’d like to reach in this department. Normally, it’s easy to identify the people that have not put thought into their futures. Career goal setting can be the reason why one person loves their work and moves forward, while another finds their job stressful and lacking purpose. After all, you don’t want to work in a position for years only to realize you’re merely spinning your wheels. The key to setting up your career goal is determining what matters to you.

Like runners, you need to setup two types of goals: short term and long term. A long-term goal is usually your overall vision for the future, such as a dream job or how you want to be remembered. For example, my long-term vision is to be a university professor of material science. Once you have established this target, you will be able to determine the short-term goals you need to accomplish along the way.

When setting short-term goals, you want to look at tasks or milestones that can be attained in a reasonable time frame, such as six months or three years. My short-term goals, for instance, revolve around my desire to be a professor so I can use my experience and industry knowledge to educate students. The short-term goals I have completed to move me closer toward my ultimate aspiration include obtaining a bachelor’s degree, acquiring experience as an industrial engineer and a process metallurgist, as well as acquiring quality experience and becoming a department manager. Additional short-term achievements that I have left to accomplish on my path towards my long-term goal include earning my master’s degree and Ph. D.

Now that you have laid out your goals, you want to formulate them properly to make sure you can reach success. Some simple guidelines to follow are:

Be Specific: You might say, “I want to be successful.” But who doesn’t?  A better question is “What does ‘success’ mean to me?” In my case, success is being able to educate prospective engineers and help improve our community and environment for future generations. For another person, it could be only working 40 hours a week so they can spend more time with family.

Don’t Be Negative: Make sure your goals are something you want to do rather than avoid. Otherwise, you might end up abandoning your efforts.

Keep it Realistic: Make sure your long-term goal is compatible with your ability and skills. You will never hear me set a goal like, “I’m going to win the PGA tour.” I can barely golf!

Make Sure the Goal is Obtainable in a Reasonable Time-frame: Don’t set yourself up for failure.  When setting a goal, make sure you include a reasonable time frame to achieve it. Remember to take the large goal and break it down into shorter goals that are easier to manage.

Link Actions to Each Goal: For instance, I needed to become a department manager. To achieve this, I signed up for my Master’s in Business Administration.

Be Flexible: If you encounter a barrier that impedes your progress, don’t give up. Modify your goal accordingly. For me this means it will take four years to complete a Ph. D since I will need to work full time throughout my program.

What items that have helped you achieve your short- and long-term goals?

Running into a Wall: Engineering Problem Solving

Trail runners tend to sign-up for several different events to see nature and experience the feeling of true freedom.  A trail runner will train for a race by learning the different sections of the terrain, studying elevation maps, and reviewing the routes.  Sometimes, last minute changes can occur to the trail route due to unknown events.  A few years back I came across one of these last-minute changes where the race coordinator stated the new route section was going to be EPIC.  Fifteen miles into the trail run, I approached the unknown section and discovered why it was epic.  The new trail section was a good quarter mile of rocks going up the side of a mountain.  What a challenge! Let’s use some problem-solving skills!

For the new engineer coming into the industry, one primary skill that you will need to exercise and perfect is your problem-solving skills.  These skills can be used on small decisions like, “should I wear a jacket today?”, up to the large opportunity such as, “why is their rapid grain growth in solution heat treated 188”?  I work in quality, metallurgy, and management.  Problem-solving is part of the everyday routine. My years of experience have taught me that problem-solving can be implemented in four basic steps: Outline the Problem, Generate Multiple Solutions, Select a Solution, and Implement.

Outline the Problem: You will want to diagnose the situation to focus on the problem, and not the symptoms. A great method is to implement root cause corrective action process.  For quality, we love to implement the cause-and-effect diagram also referred to as a fishbone diagram.

Generate Multiple Solutions:  Don’t stop at one solution.  You should always have multiple solutions identified before starting to evaluate.  This will prevent the common mistake of evaluating as solutions are proposed, resulting in the first acceptable solution chosen and not the best fit. Remember, if you are focused on trying to get results required, you will miss the potential for learning something and allowing real improvement.

Select a Solution:  There are several things to consider when evaluating and selecting the best solution, such as; will all persons involved accept the solution, does the selected solution fit the organization constraints, will the selected solution solve the problem without causing other problems, is implementation likely? Now chose.

Implement:  One of the best ways to implement a solution is to involve others in the implementation process.  This will help you to sell the solution and minimize resistance to subsequent changes.  As part of the implementation remember to build feedback channels to monitor if the solution is giving expected results.  Remember your overall goal is learning for improvement.

As for my trivial problem during the race, I had to act fast and perform a quick outline of what my different solutions were and which to implement. My stubborn personality chose to go through the large rocks by bouldering. The feedback I received from my selection is I am a capable climber and visiting the rock climbing gym has improved my skills. I finished the race and enjoyed my achievement.

 

Problem: How to get to the top of the trail?

Solution

Analysis

Result

Go Back Run about 7 miles until last check point; DNF; Limited Hydration Finish
Go Around Cause damage to environment; Increase time Finish
Go Through Exhaust Energy; Fall; Strain Finish

 

What your Runner Wants: Engineering with the End-User in Mind

For a trail runner that loves a challenge and the most beautiful landscape that exists in the Sierra Nevada’s, I rely on organizations such as Ascent Runs.  When I first wandered upon their website, I was drawn in by their mission statement. “To create and host challenging, fun, and memorable trail running experiences that promote the natural environment of the Tahoe Basin and contribute to the success of local businesses and communities”.  I have found this to be true in every event.  This organization knows which runners they are trying to please and they always try to keep the customer in mind when they design a new race.

This is a significant concept that can be incorporated into all professional fields, but is very important for the up and coming engineers to understand, “you must know your end-user”.  Engineers can be very creative in their field when designing products.  But if your end-user is going to have complications with the design, they will not see value added in the product and most likely reject it.

One of my favorite memories of this occurring, was when a young Mechanical Engineer Intern was tasked to redesign a hydraulic pump system that had to fit in a particular location.  He sat at his computer for weeks drawing up the design, and when he requested the installation occur, the proposal was denied.  The design itself would have functioned perfectly for the required performance; however, when preventative maintenance had to be performed on the system, it was impossible unless you took the entire unit apart making it impractical for use.

So what actions could this young Intern have taken to design a practical system?  The first item would have been to take a step back and determine all parties that would be involved in the end application.  The Intern’s focus was just on the functionality of the system and missed the requirement of maintaining the system.  Before I start developing, I find it useful to discuss with different parties to determine who the end-users will be. This allows for idea interaction from various sources.

Secondly, if the Intern would have kept open communication with all end-users, he could have received their input through the design process and modified the system during development. Unfortunately, he decided not to include communication, resulting in weeks of lost productivity and he had to redesign the system in the end. Communication is a key skill in order to create a value added product.

Third, he forgot about the human element.  As engineers we get excited to create something new and innovative, but it is important to remember human interaction will occur.  You will need to determine what physical attribute, cognitive ability, and ergonomics are required for interaction with the user. Always keep the end-user in mind.

As for Ascent Runs, they focus on their end-user by giving them exactly what they expect; 25 miles with a 6700-foot vert, that you know is going to be rough going up. When you reach that peak, and see that unforgettable view, all pain melts away to success. Your awe moment.

Please leave feedback on what you expect as a end-user?

New Runner Mistakes: What Engineers should take away from Failure

When a person decides to train for their first marathon, they begin to realize how much they must shift their lifestyle if they want to reach certain goals.  This can be adding more exercise to your routine, modifying you eating habits, and increasing your running.  With my “head on” personality, I dove straight in with the no sugar, no more booze, must be up early everyday to run and must stick to a firm training schedule.  I was doing so well for 9 weeks.  Then one of my friends had a birthday party scheduled the night before my longest training run.  I enjoyed myself with my friends until the wee hours of the morning, and had the worst run of my life.  I learned from this mistake just as I have learned from the mistakes I have made in my engineering career.

For the new engineers coming into the industry, mistakes will be made.  How you act on those mistakes and use them in the future is what will help you to have a successful career.  Mistakes are how we learn and improve for our future projects.  By following a basic guideline, you can turn failures into success for the future.

Step 1:  Admit that you Made the Error: This is the most difficult part for people starting a new career. If you are unable to acknowledge that you made the mistake, then you will never be able to evaluate objectively to find what went wrong.

Step 2:  Learn:  Evaluate what occurred and retain this information, so that the error will not be repeated in the future.

Step 3: Do Not Fear Failure:  Once you have failed you have hit the bottom.  The only way to go is up! New engineers tend to beat themselves up when a mistake is made, but the best thing to do is accept responsibility and move on.

Step 4: Find Innovation: When a failure occurs, this opens the opportunity to try something new and creative to resolve the error.  This also helps you to be less restrictive on taking risk.

So, what was taken away from my running mistake?  I have learned that drinking large sums of alcohol after 9 weeks of sobriety is not recommend.  I am no longer 20 years old, and am unable to recover after staying up all night.  It’s also okay to modify my training schedule when there are events that I want to attend that could affect my run.

Work Smarter and Train Harder: Time Management Tips from an Engineering Runner

It requires a lot of dedication, determination and discipline to be a superb distance runner.  You can’t just wake up one day and say, “I am going to run 50 miles in under 6 hours today”.  If you try, I guarantee you will not succeed.   Runners have to evaluate the season and adjust their diet accordingly.  For me, this means my diet becomes clean; full of whole foods, tons of veggies, and I deny myself the joy of brownies or refined sugar. With this change comes the added task of meal preparation and scheduling the appropriate time to supply my body with fuel. The next task runners must do is setup their training schedule for the season.  Mine consist of five running sessions, (various types of runs), three strength training sessions, and one Yoga/Pilates session per week. People have asked, how do you keep up with such a rigorous workout routine when you are a manager, college student, and wife?  My answer is:  Time Management Skills!  The same skill that helps me in my engineering career.

Several new engineers have asked how I fit everything I do into my schedule.  Simple.  I have many years of practice developing my time management skills.  Without these skills I would not be able to maintain the amount of work I perform in a day.  There are several techniques to improve your time management skills, but I will share the few I have identified to be beneficial in reducing stress and increasing productivity.

Plan:  Scheduling tasks needs to become a habit.  I carry a planner and list task as I identify them.  I like to categorize task by work, home, school and health.  At the start of the day form a to do list, prioritize the items so you can focus on the essential tasks.

Deadlines:  Now that you have a task list you need to set deadlines for when these task need to be completed.  This will help you to avoid procrastinating on the task which results in a negative effect on your productivity.

Do Not Multitask:   Even through most of us believe multitasking is an efficient way to get things done.  The truth is, the human brain functions better when we focus and concentrate on one thing.

Take Breaks:  Too much stress can take a toll on your body and have a negative effect on your productivity.  Go ahead and schedule in your break time. This helps you relax so you can return to your tasks energized.

Be an Early Bird:   When you get up early, you are more calm, creative, and clear-headed.  Your energy levels start to decline as the day progresses affecting productivity, and you may not perform as well.  My solution is to assign the tasks that require less creative thinking and problem solving for later in the day.

Time management skills are an essential part of making your day just a little easier. Find what works for you and stick to it. When you accomplish something, celebrate it! How you celebrate your accomplishments is up to you. But for the runners my word of advice is to keep whatever you choose to do healthy, make sure it’s something you really enjoy, don’t do it in excess, and don’t let it cause you to get further behind.