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  • Jeff Schuster

Breaking Out of Your Engineering Shell


Engineers… remember all that calculus you took in college? What about physics, dynamics, circuits, thermodynamics? It was drudgery. But… let’s face it, you love learning about how the world works. You love diagnosing problems and coming up with brilliant solutions. You can quickly break down complex problems into mathematical equations and extract real world solutions. You’re an ENGINEER…. and you’re a rare breed. Only 0.1% of people in our modern-day workforce are engineers.


As amazing as you are, you’re being asked to grow. Maybe the person doing the asking is your boss… or maybe it’s you.


I was like you. I loved learning how things work, identifying and solving problems. When I wanted a promotion, I was asked to become a sales engineer. Then I was asked to lead other sales engineers. Then I was tasked with leading salespeople, construction managers, and solution development engineers. I eventually started, grew, and sold a multi-million-dollar business. All of this wouldn’t have been possible had I not broken out of my engineering shell.


Yes, you’re very special as a brilliant engineer doing what you do best… problem solving. But you can be so much more if you’re willing to grow. I want to lay out six specific growth paths that you may want to consider.


Problem Solving

I know. Problem solving is what engineers do naturally. However, I’ve noticed that many engineers get stuck in ruts. They tend to get complacent and create cookie cutter solutions to cookie cutter problems. The engineers who earn the big bucks get beyond mere problem solving and start creating greater value for their companies and for their company’s customers. When you can turn a $100,000 project that does what every other engineer does into an earthshattering $1-Million project, that brilliance translates into higher value and higher compensation for you.


Communication

Many engineers are challenged with articulating their brilliance to the non-engineering world. In many cases, engineers would just-as-soon avoid other people all-together. This isn’t an option. With all the calculus, thermodynamics, physics, and other rigorous engineering curricula in college, engineers rarely take communication courses. This leaves some engineers lacking in written and oral communication skills that are necessary to connect their ideas to investors, customers, corporate executives, and colleagues. As basic as communication sounds, the engineers who can communicate their ideas rise to the top of their companies. The engineers who fail to learn how to communicate, remain in their cubicles taking direction from others.


Leadership

Leadership is the hardest transition for most engineers. Let’s face it. If you became an engineer to create and build amazing designs; the last thing you want to do is manage a group of people who do what you want to do. Frankly, to accomplish great things, you must become a leader. Why? Because you cannot accomplish great things on your own. Again, those subjects you took in college don’t teach you how to be a leader. And you won’t get promoted to a leadership position until you can demonstrate leaderships skills.


Sales

I always felt that sales and selling were for engineers who couldn’t make it as REAL engineers. Boy was I wrong! When I transitioned from engineering to a sales engineer as part of a sales team; I quickly developed my problem solving, communication, leadership, and sales skills at once. Selling is not about convincing someone to buy something they don’t need. Instead, it is a process of problem identification, problem solving, and then educating a prospective customer on the merits of your proposed solution. The art and science of selling is needed for any problem to be solved in a free-market economy. If you want to grow your skills quickly, gain sales training and become a sales engineer.


Business

Engineers have an ability to learn like no other professional. This allows them to pick up sales, marketing, production, and every other skill it takes to start and grow a viable business. If they can master problem solving, communication, leadership, and sales skills, they’re ready to start their own business. As a business owner, you will remove any limitations that stopped you from creating as an employee. You can create a company that innovates and builds the way you want. As engineers take the step into entrepreneurship, they must again learn some skills that employment and college never taught them. They need to understand accounting, financial statements, investment, pricing, and merging sales, marketing, engineering, production, and anything else into one amazing machine that is their business.


Life

This may sound odd… but engineers sometimes have difficulty adapting to family “life”. Because engineers are sought after, they may be required to work ridiculous hours to accomplish great things for their company. Most professionals leave college a single man or single woman; find a partner along the way; and start a family. At the same time, they’re growing their family, they’re trying to climb the corporate ladder. And… they’re being pulled apart. As brilliant as engineers are with machines, buildings, and systems; that brilliances seems to fall flat when finding solutions to family life challenges. Somehow logic doesn’t produce the same magic with personal relationships that it does with the object of their engineering. This means that once again, a skill can be learned that was not taught in college or learned in the workplace. That skill is the skill of “life”. Otherwise known as “life skills”.


How can you break out of your engineering shell?

As you read through this list, you may think, “Where do I learn these cool skills?” or you may think, “I’ll pick up these skills as I go. I don’t need anyone else to teach me.”

It just so happens that I picked up many of these skills in my career as an engineer. Frankly, I learned the hard way. While the result of my business ownership and life was a success, I struggled most of the time.


…I struggled to balance time with work and family.

…I struggled to keep work coming in to support an ever-growing staff.

…I struggled with the burden of debt and keeping cash in the bank.

…I struggled with knowing when to grow and when to retreat.


Struggling is part of learning. However, you’ll learn much more quickly with a mentor and coach who will help you grow in your problem solving, leadership, sales, and entrepreneurship skills.


If you’re an engineer and you’d like to advance your career; or just live a happy life while you manage the stressors of your career; I’d love to help. After selling my engineering firm, I became a certified life and business coach. I have been coaching small business owners for several years with a focus on engineering entrepreneurs. I now exclusively coach engineers as business owners or career-minded employees. If you want to talk, set up a time on my calendar.

 

About me. I have been actively engaged in the energy efficiency, renewable energy, and energy conservation industry all my professional career from 1987 until now. I was a licensed Professional Engineering in six states and a Certified Energy Manager (CEM). I worked as a sales executive, energy engineer, sales manager, and entrepreneur. I started, grew and sold my own Energy Service Company (ESCo) called Ennovate Corporation (1997 to 2013). I now coach business owners, engineers, and business development executives in technology industries.

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