Dear Colleagues

Every now and again, one gets a handsome return for your tax dollars (thank you America). If you are working in renewable energy or energy systems, there is a complimentary and brilliant program (Homer) you have to add to your armoury (even if you are only mildly associated with energy systems). See the end of the newsletter for further details (no, I am not selling anything – courtesy of the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory).

I drank four coffees at midnight last night while contemplating an interesting article by Peggy Hutcheson of the IEEE (thanks Peggy) on keeping yourself competitive. Contemplate, for just two minutes, where you are going with your career and what you want out of life. Work is, after all, a large chunk of your life. In your contemplation consider the following 3 areas: Your market, your brand and your legacy.

Your market
Keep an eye on your skills. Unfortunately they (esp. in some IT areas) are being commoditised at an alarming rate and are being shipped off to lower cost countries. A hardened veteran at Cisco made the following comment regarding their strategy in developing new areas of business in response to increasing competition: “Where there’s mystery, there’s margin”. This applies to all of us. Where we fear to tread is where we have to go in terms of career development. Currently job markets which are growing strongly include; security (software/hardware/process), project management, green energy and other environmental markets, virtual communication products and processes, bio-engineering and biomedical, infrastructure development (the stimulus packages) and industrial automation. By comparison, traditional electronics design is only growing in niche areas (where it is going gangbusters mind you, but to find these areas and sustain them….).

Small and medium sized businesses (including units within large companies) offer the greatest opportunities for work. The more entrepreneurial ones can be risky due to funding constraints though.

Review the way you approach your job. Update yourself with fresh new approaches and technologies. Apparently the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again – so avoid this. To think outside the box requires you to continuously educate yourself by talking to your peers, reading, reviewing new technologies and approaches, attending courses and ultimately experimenting with new approaches (many may fail, but persist with others). This will keep you from doing the same old thing again and again.

Thy Brand
You are the product you offer your employer. Think about what you really enjoy doing at work. Ensure your deep rooted areas of satisfaction in your work are aligned with the work you are actually doing. And ensure you come across as someone who is outstanding and leading edge in your career, someone making a significant contribution. Show passion and enthusiasm (yes – I use this word with engineering professionals) in all that you do. And be a valuable mentor to your younger colleagues.

Thy Legacy
An odd comment (especially if you are only mid way through your career), but how do you want to be remembered in your career? How do others talk about your contribution to engineering and the firm now? And on this point, tempting as it is to get involved; always avoid the good old office politics and back-stabbing, “who stuffed what up when?”. Always focus on the positives. One of the top electrical and control engineers I have ever known would wander away when office gossip began, particularly when it involved the criticism of someone in relation to a disastrous project. He may have been within his rights to join in as he always did an outstanding design job, even uncomplainingly and successfully picking up and reworking failed projects. He showed enormous integrity by not partaking in the character assassinations. Even though he is now in his late sixties, he is still being pursued by a dozen firms to do projects for them. The engineering professionals that leave great legacies (and are still in demand) are those that show enormous enthusiasm, positive leadership, pioneer new approaches and technologies and are able to smoothly adapt to the daily challenges in engineering (these can range from: “Boss, I broke it – what do I do now?” to “Our key engineering supplier has gone bust – we need to urgently rework our production line today”) and business.

Remember, as Phil Crosby remarked: Very few of the great leaders ever get through their careers without failing, sometimes dramatically.

Homer software download

HOMER, the micropower and energy optimization model, helps you design off-grid and grid-connected systems. You can use HOMER to perform analyses to explore a wide range of design questions:
* Which technologies are most cost-effective?
* What size should components be?
* What happens to the project’s economics if costs or loads change?
* Is the renewable resource adequate?
HOMER’s optimization and sensitivity analysis capabilities help you answer these difficult questions.

Home page (for downloading):

Yours in engineering learning