The last time I checked, the number of engineering disciplines was expanding – not contracting. Every time I read a job description for an engineering position, specifically for a sales engineering position, the description gets less and less specific about the technical expertise required and more and more specific about the sales / customer experience required. You know, those “soft skills.”
Who’s doing the hiring anyway? We all know the answer to that question: HR.
And guess what. Human Resources has a set battery of qualities and variables against which they evaluate everyone. They’re not just going to give you an engineering exam or look at your grade point average. And they aren’t cutting the engineering and medical communities any slack during the interview process – at least at the entry and middle management levels. They will evaluate you against the whole continuum, not just their concept of a blended “engineering” discipline. Now, if you happen to be a thought leader, if you are Yoda, well, you will be recruited on your own merits because you are, well, “you”. That’s another blog, another day.
In smaller companies, Human Resources may be yet another title given to an individual (Owner, Accountant, etc.) who already is wearing lots of hats. And they may have a pressing problem that needs to be addressed and are in desperate need of what may spin out to be a short-term solution. Are you willing to let that short-term solution be you? They may not have an elaborate battery of questions and variables they are using as a template for hiring. They are looking for someone who can solve problems in a technical area which, to them, is equated with being an engineer.
Or companies of any size may have outsourced the Human Resource function to an external group who may be generalists rather than specialists in hiring entry-to-mid level technical individuals. Perhaps these HR folks use templated and scripted interviewing protocols, and are not seasoned professionals who are comfortable going with their gut on certain issues. They are playing it safe. Perhaps this is a question you should be asking the next time you interview for a position.
In other words, it’s up to you to educate your colleagues (including HR) about the specific brand of Engineering that you wear. You went to school for a reason and pursued a specific course(s) of undergraduate and perhaps graduate study. You didn’t graduate to become labeled simply as an “Engineer”, did you? Yet how many times do you refer to yourself , or others, as: “So-and-so is an engineer.”
Do you leave off the descriptor of the specific type of engineering because you don’t think the lay person will “get it”? I would hope that if you said you were a biomedical engineer, the listener would say, “Gee, what’s that?” And guess what? You can educate with enthusiasm and passion. And pride in your accomplishments.
And don’t think that using the full descriptor of your engineering specialty is off-putting to the non-techie individual. After all, they’re used to multiple descriptors of complex concepts in their day to day lives. Ask anyone who’s been to Starbucks™ recently and ordered a Half-Decaf-Soy-Carmel-Macchiato™ with no whipped cream and sugar- free vanilla.
Perhaps the origin of the marginalization and commoditization of the Engineer starts at home. Your home. We divide ourselves into camps (techie vs. non-techie, us vs. them, techie vs. sales – you get it) and we set our boundaries and can become very comfortable engaging within them. Instead of outside of them.
The last time I checked, there were a ton of non-techies who were pretty adept at downloading and implementing Apps onto their iPhones. Which means there is a technical acumen inherent in anyone who is curious, likes to problem solve and can implement solutions and communicate with others. Geo-location to coordinate social plans on an iPhone can get pretty complex. Oh, and try changing airline reservations via iPhone – without giving in and calling the airline. OK, so these folks may not understand the IT infrastructure of the iPhone. Nor may they care.
Ultimately, there may be a bit of engineering talent in each one of us. It’s up to you to bring it out into the light. At the very least, an interesting dialogue can result. Perhaps even a job offer.
Think about it.