Adaptability: Just How Good Are You?

If you have ever been involved in design, designed a product, a circuit, or been in any type of engineering field, it may be safe to say that we all share the same fundamental ways of thinking and approaching certain issues or activities. We strip down an issue and develop creative problem solving approaches, or we visualize a design we want and know the initial steps to take to get to the end of the road. We have all been involved in certain approvals and standards. We know or can sympathize with other engineers' headaches and issues.

However, is it possible that there may be a separation or a fork in the road in our common ways of thinking? Can an engineer adapt to markets and designs that they have never had experience with? Of course, there was a day when we first came out of college and started that first job with no experience. At that time, we adapted to working on our first designs and dealing with whatever market we were involved in. But for the time later in our careers, I'm wondering if you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Could an engineer that has developed TV speaker soundbars or audio amplifiers for 20 years jump into a military market designing rocket launchers or night vision goggles? How about the engineer that has developed blood glucose meters for 30 years? Could he or she start over in the industrial market designing uninterruptable power supplies (UPSs), actuators, or test and measurement devices? What about the automotive engineer? Could he or she do just as well designing dental chairs? Can we quickly and easily adapt to any market as different as they are?

As far as projects go, no matter the market, I think the same steps are taken. Research is done, samples are made, testing, design reviews, approvals, engineering builds, pre-production runs, production, etc. Regarding design, we have power supplies, digital and analog circuits, processors, software, interfaces, displays, etc. Every market or company or engineering group follow the same basic project flows and most any design contains the same or similar blocks in the circuit. But is it really that easy?

Again, can an engineer from one market easily adapt to a totally different market? Is it also possible that we have a niche or a gift, or that our brains are designed to be the most effective in one certain market? Perhaps you are awesome and the best at designing printers or washing machines, but have absolutely no skill or grasp when it comes to designing a communication system for NASA. Maybe it just comes down to interest or what you want to do. Maybe we are only good at what we enjoy doing.

I am curious for all fellow engineers reading this — how did you end up where you are today and do you enjoy what you are doing? Could you see yourself designing or working in a completely different market? Are you scared to change, or perhaps have no interest?

I don't want to get into the economic issues or talk about which markets are dying or have no jobs or growth. I want to focus purely on the issues of interest and capability. Do you think if you used your skills and brain in a different market that maybe you could excel more? Could you move up the ladder more quickly? Can we change and become engineering chameleons, blending in and adapting to any market environment and the different headaches they bring? Let me know with your comments.

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7 comments on “Adaptability: Just How Good Are You?

  1. Davidled
    December 3, 2013

    Company offers the training course to their employee to keep the updated skill in the market. Through the training and some seminar, engineer would be re-educated for a specific area. They knew already company vision and direction with past experience. Then they will contribute more in any areas of projects with past experience and new skill.

  2. samicksha
    December 4, 2013

    I agree you Daej, but in my prospect training should be conducted in such a way that it includes revision of previous technologies following up current or forthcoming technology. Which will further help engineer relate and understand things in better manner.

  3. Victor Lorenzo
    December 4, 2013

    @Jason, perhaps the most interesting EE skill would precisely be that: the adaptability.

    When facing new occupations or projects, totally different ones at some times, I've found myself in need to recycle (or recover from that almost erased long-term memory). Acquiring the new required background/knowlegde is sometimes a challenge, but also part of the fun in being EE. Don't you agree?

  4. etnapowers
    December 5, 2013

    I think that a training on the job with a mentor is more effective than a training course, but the courses are useful to to keep the updated skill on the current market.

    Adaptability is a requirement that an engineer has to satisfy expecially in a market like the electronics one that is very fast changing.


  5. etnapowers
    December 5, 2013

    @Victor, I fully agree with you, let me add only that acquiring a new knowledge is not only funny but also the real added value of an EE versus another technical profile.

    The problem solving adaptability is a factor that identifies univocally an engineer professional profile.


  6. eafpres
    December 6, 2013

    @Jason–I think engineers are on average more adaptable than some other professionals.  There is a disproportionate number of engineers running companies.  That says something.

    For me, I started with a degree in Chemical Engineering.  10 years in I had a hiatus of sorts, and worked, among other things, as a bicycle mechanic.  I then worked in a startup where I ran a lab comissioning expensive chemical test instrumentation.  I also created a service department, never having done so before.  I also got involved in ISO certification, and learned a number of new things.  Along the way I got a professional certificate in Quality Managemetnt.  A few years later I went to another startup as Quality Manager for a disk drive product.  Suddenly my lab days seemed far away.  That startup failed and I was picked up by an antenna startup company.  Within a year or so I was running antenna design groups and could hold my own with the RF engineers.  I even got some patents for antenna designs.  Through a couple more acquisitions (being acquired) I ended up in Corporate roles, and ran Marketing at one point.  I also started to learn about business strategy.

    I have known many engineers that stay in essentially the same area their entire career, and there is nothing wrong with that.  But I think my experience isn't unique and “reinventing ourselves” is a trait shared by many in all engineering professions.

  7. RedDerek
    December 31, 2013

    I agree that the basics can be easily adapted from one field to another. However there are certain specialties that can take time to shift. Taking a digital person and expecting them to design magnetics for a flash-lamp circuit is not really an easy transisition. I actually have seen this and the magnetics the digital engineer designed burned up within a few moments after applying power. Or asking that same engineer to start designing antenna for space flight hardware.

    However, if you take a power engineer and ask them to do transition to instrumentation or other analog focus, the transistion is not that difficult.

    Otherwise, the testing, thought process and research – we should all be able to manage that in any field.

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