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Maximizing career development

  • 1.  Maximizing career development

    Houston Admin
    Posted 07-10-2020 10:10
    ​What advice do more senior engineers have for younger engineers (early/mid career stage) to maximize their career development and grow quickly? Particularly:

    • How valuable do you think industry certifications (PE, CWI, CWE, PMP, CIP, ASNT L2/3, CQE, etc.) are? Do you think they make the difference between getting the job/raise/promotion and not?
    • Similarly, how valuable do you consider advanced degrees (either masters or PhD)? Is it worth the cost and time out of the workforce?
    • Do you think it's better to change jobs frequently to get more diverse experience, or to stay in one job for longer to specialize and climb the ladder more?
    • If the opportunity to branch into management presents itself, is it wise to accept, even if your ultimate aspiration is to remain technical?

    I realize the answer to all these questions can be "it depends" (and metallurgists love giving that answer in general), but please offer examples from your personal experience and be specific to explain whether you think these pursuits are worth it or not.

    Thank you,

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    Sean Piper
    Product / Process Metallurgist
    Ellwood Texas Forge Houston
    Houston TX

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  • 2.  RE: Maximizing career development

    Posted 08-20-2020 13:29
    Sean:
    These are all highly personal questions that will vary substantially from individual to individual. My advice to young professionals at any stage of their career is to always follow your passion. If you can find something that you want to do, even if its not for the rest of your life, put in the work and gain the credentials that will allow you to do it.

    To your specific examples:
    Any certifications, licenses, etc. that you can pick up along the path can never hurt and may be more valuable down the road than you expect. One example that is a no-brainer to me is the PE license. This credential requires completion an initial fundamentals examination (FE) followed by experience and a professional test in your specific engineering discipline. I always recommend that new graduates take the FE while still in school or shortly after even if they have no plans for practice in the public sector where a license would be required. The FE covers all areas of engineering. So, passing the FE should be easy right out of undergraduate work, but becomes increasingly difficult as you specialize later in your career. The PE examination should become easier with experience, so could be taken any time if the need arises later when you want to pursue an opportunity where a license is required. I may be biased, but I think a PE license is great mark of professionalism that should be recognized by any organization regardless of whether it is required for your job or not.

    There is much value personally in obtaining an advanced degree. Whether it has enough value for you or is financially justified depends on what you want to do. There are certainly career paths that require advanced degrees and where those with the advanced degree are highly favored. If you're career path does not have requirements for an advanced degree or offers no advantage for promotions or advancement, then the degree would only have value for the experience that you gained through the additional study and research. I have done well with just a BS degree in a profession dominated by engineers with advanced degrees. My path may have been easier with a PhD, but I don't think it would have turned out any better for me overall. (Apologies to my colleagues that are university professors trying to recruit grad students.)

    I hear that the younger generation is more likely to jump from job to job, but I have not found that to be true for engineers in my world. The answer to this question goes back to my guiding principal: your goal should be to like your job, the company that you work for, and the people you work with. If you think that you could be happier doing something different or working someplace else, then make that change.

    Your last question is the easiest. If your passion is to do technical work, stay in a technical role. If you think you would happier doing management, seek the management opportunities.

    Good luck with your decisions. Always remember that few decisions are final in your career path. Good employers will almost always find a spot for a good former employee. You can always go back to school for that advanced degree.

    Larry D. Hanke, PE FASM
    Materials Evaluation and Engineering, Inc.

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    Larry Hanke FASM
    Principal Engineer
    Materials Evaluation And Engineering Inc
    Minneapolis MN
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  • 3.  RE: Maximizing career development

    Posted 08-22-2020 17:37
    Sean,
    It's not just metallurgists who say, "It depends."  Larry's comments were very good.  So I will just fit in a few in between.

    What do you want to do?  The answer will almost certainly change over your career, and depends on life, and the work environment. 

    At some employers, a PE is valued, and it's certainly one of the easier certifications to get.  It won't ever hurt you, is what one of my old bosses told me.  However at others it adds little and doesn't result in any sort of a bump.  Where I worked it was expected that you would have one to move up the ladder, either technical or managerial.  It is "general", as opposed to the specificity of CWI, ASNT, CIP.  The latter will often be required for certain positions in technical specialties.  So will you be working in those areas?
    Advanced degrees move you to a different spot in the job market.  They are mostly valuable when you are looking for a job, either a first one or a change.  Not so much if you get one while staying in a specific position.  Will you stay in that field long enough for the opportunity cost of not being employed to be offset by higher salary?  Crunch some numbers and see if it makes sense.  If you go into management then the advanced technical degree will lose some of its salary offset.  People who I knew who went back to school often did it for an MBA or similar and were deciding to go into management.  Many firms still do not have a functional ladder for tech people.  At the National labs, the old perception was that PhD's did the work, MS's were technicians, and BS's swept the floors.  But if you find a subject area that drives you towards an advanced technical degree, and can afford it, it can be rewarding.

    I knew some really bright people who went into management from an engineering start, and who really enjoyed it.  I knew some who did it because it was the way up, and who didn't enjoy the management part as much.  I stayed in technical because the few experiences I had with managing weren't great, and the path at my firm wasn't open to those who stayed technical, at least until much later on.  But I loved the work (primarily failure analysis) and stayed because of that.  I know a PhD physicist who loves the technical work but has had three companies sell/downsize the research labs he worked in.  He has had to resettle and change career focus multiple times, and doesn't think that he would advise a student to go his route.  So you can't really tell what your future is!

    Participating in professional events and conferences, getting on Code committees, taking classes, these all add to your industry view and help you make valuable contacts.  These personal interactions are even more valuable than Facebook or LinkedIn connections, though they take more investment of personal and career time.

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    Paul Tibbals
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