Thursday, October 15, 2009

I think (like an engineer) , therefore I am (an engineer)!

In 1986, I made a decision that changed my life. I left a blossoming yet new engineering career to dive head first into business, at the most grass roots level, as an IBM sales rep. At the going away party in East Fishkill NY, my friends gave me a t-shirt (long gone to the goodwill) that said something like "Former Engineer - Technically Obsolete!"

Since that fateful day, my career has led me from sales rep, to business school, to CMO, from IBM to Intel to Netscape to successful and not so successful start-ups to my new consulting endeavor, KJR Assocs, from NY to Chicago to the Silicon Valley and to and through the black monday of 87, the dotc0m bubble burst of 2001 and the financial meltdown of 2009...and in all that time engineer has not been a word that I've even considered using to describe myself.

Until this Tuesday, when during the 7th worst rainstorm ever recorded in the bay area, I had an awesome coffee meeting with Julio Ottino, dean of the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern, my alma mater. Dean Ottino is a really dynamic guy, and I was honored to hear about all the great things he's been up to at NU, and even more flattered for some of the introductions that he offered up in our broad ranging and very entertaining conversation.

One thing sticks out in my mind. When I said to Dean Ottino that I was a "reformed engineer", I was corrected. Dean Ottino said (pardon the paraphrasing...) "It used to be that engineers were judged by what they made, but now they should be judged by how they think"

Dean Ottino also talked about the "Whole brain engineer". Every day of my career I have worked with engineers in some capacity or another, software engineer, systems engineers, developers, EEs, etc and I guess after a while I starting thinking of them as them, not us. I see now that this is a mistake. Thinking like an engineer means problem solving methodically AND creatively, with equations and with the heart. Above all I think it is a commitment to the analytical and the science of shaping the world to the benefit of the society. A daunting and awesome responsibility.

So now, as I prepare to travel to my alma mater for my 25th year (audible gasp) reunion, I am thinking of getting a t-shirt that says, "Think Like an Engineer, and You'll Never be Obsolete!" Thanks for the insight Dean!!

1 comment:

  1. Ken,

    Great post! As a fellow ex-engineer, I completely agree we need to take on the awesome responsibility of using our whole mind. As Dan Pink would say, we are in the Creative Age.



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