Starting your professional engineering career fresh out of college can be overwhelming to say the least. Both exciting and scary. What is the best way to get your feet wet, learn the most and ultimately be successful?
We sat down with some of our Lexmark engineers to get their advice on navigating the first few years of your career (and hopefully make them more valuable). Because you know what they say…hindsight really is 20/20.
1. Be curious
One of the most important things anyone can do when transitioning from an academic environment to a professional environment is to be curious. Ask lots of questions. Be willing to explore areas that are unknown to you. Most young engineers enter their careers with the expectation that they have to deliver. While that may be true, it is important to expand your knowledge base and personal network. You have to carve out the time and energy to apply toward exploration (and yes, your boss will appreciate it). An inquisitive spirit makes for a rewarding career. Combining experience, knowledge, inspiration and desire will yield impressive results.
– Tom Fields, Senior Electrical Engineer
2. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
Earlier in my software engineering career much of my focus was devoted to learning as fast as I could. I just simply wanted to get past that anxious feeling of being the newbie and be a successful contributor within the team. I wanted to be “comfortable.” But, many times, just when I felt like I was about to obtain that elusive goal, someone would inevitably come along and put me into a situation where success was not assured and those anxious feelings would return. Whether it is a challenging project, dealing with interpersonal conflict or public speaking, learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Only those who learn how to go outside their comfort zone and push past their own personal boundaries achieve the greatest success.
-Chad McQuillen, Senior Technical Staff Member
3. Be adaptable
Take the extra assignments offered that may not relate directly to your job. While this will give you more work to do on top of your regular job, these types of experiences help mold future leaders. Be open to shifting around to various areas of the business even if your degree does not reflect that business function. The ability for someone to be adaptable to the needs of a business is priceless. You are allowing yourself to gain experiences that separate you from the rest. You make a name for yourself with not only your technical skills, but by your ability to work cross-functionally, network within and outside of the company as well as be that “go-to person” when people know they need something done. Risks, when done with intent and with an open mind, can lead to a great and rewarding career.
-Dominique Rowe, Mechanical Engineer/Global Sourcing
4. Don’t be afraid to fail
Coming from a competitive academic environment, it is easy to view failure as an unacceptable result. This was the mindset I had when I first started my career. I soon learned that sometimes failure can be a good thing. Failure can open up opportunities to learn from peers and co-workers and can give you a chance to stop and analyze the failure rather than scramble to get the work done. This is a very difficult and humbling lesson to learn especially after graduating and feeling very accomplished. Failure should not be viewed as the end of the world (or a career) but as an opportunity to learn and grow.
-Andy Kiesler, Firmware Engineer
5. Chase after your dreams
At the heart of my nature, I love to tinker whether it is in business or engineering. I became an engineer because God wired me to see interactions, which opened my eyes to the bigger picture of people, problems and the interactions that drive solutions. Engineering is the basis that enables me to create solutions to problems that exist for the customer. However, once you learn to solve something, the challenge subsides, and you must continue to stretch yourself. The Sir Richard Branson quote, “If your dreams don’t scare you they are too small,” is amazing inspiration that helps push me beyond my boundaries as a person and work to realize my dreams. Go for your dreams; fear is natural, but success is only possible if you try.
-Mike Maul, Senior Mechanical Engineer
6. Never stop learning
When I finished my bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering, I had a friend take a picture of me with all of my textbooks stacked almost as high as I was tall. Then, I gave most of them away. I was so tired of being in school. I swore I was never going back. Boy was I wrong. Fast forward to today where I have a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and am actively seeking out new skills using online classes.
The pace of technology is accelerating. To stay valuable in the workplace you have to keep moving your skill set forward. This means more than classwork. It means seeking out new challenges and following technical advancements. It also means staying tuned into both where your employer is moving their business and how youth are adapting and using the latest “smart-somethings.”
After all, what you really got an education in was not a set of physics equations, but in how to learn and think.
-Julie Whitney, Senior Technical Staff Member
7. Speak and write
When you do well in engineering school, you are certain to travel down a career path working with many intelligent engineers. But what separates the good from the great is the ability to communicate their brilliant ideas. A good engineering school is going to prepare you for the technical challenges ahead, but might not focus much on communication skills. Look for electives and other opportunities to augment your writing, and especially, persuasive speaking skills. The future belongs to those who can convince others of their vision.
-Travis Riggs, Electrical and Computer Engineer
8. Learn when to compromise
On school projects I had to account for every edge case that could come up in a system, but those systems were small and well-defined. When I first started my career I kept wanting to firm up every edge case that I could think of in my software. However, in large systems with less well-defined requirements, I found I was doing extra work that wasn’t asked for and sometimes went contrary to the actual requirements. I’ve had to learn to work in the gray area between catching every edge case and writing software that can be quickly reviewed by the customers. As an engineer it is important to learn when to compromise between practicality and a perfect system.
-Angela Deady, Software Developer
9. Love what you do
Coming out of college, I was fortunate enough to have multiple job opportunities to choose from with a wide range of job descriptions and starting salaries. I look back now and realize how lucky I was to have made my decision based on what I thought I would like to do versus what was more lucrative in the short-term. Being engaged and passionate about the work that you do on a daily basis is key to being successful. With success comes reward in personal happiness and monetarily. As Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
-Matt Miles, Engineering Manager
10. Get involved early
It is never too early to get involved in projects or activities even if you are in the early stages of engineering. Getting involved early is an easy way to make friends, network, get more hands-on experience, and interact with your peers and seniors. If you have multiple options for projects, be sure to be selective in your decision process and don’t overwhelm yourself by getting into too many things at one time. If the project involves a team, learn from the team activities, play an active role and do not be afraid to step outside of the engineering boundaries to lead or manage the team. Not only will this provide a useful perspective, but will give you experience in leadership roles.
-Simarpreet Rattan, Motion Control Engineer
11. Slow down and get to know yourself
There is a lot of focus in college about defining your career path and being successful. Many of us come out of college equating success with moving up the ladder, promotions and salary – solely focused on the path to this success. Looking back on my career, I see that there are many different definitions to success. My number one definition right now? Happiness. My advice for the early years of a career is to slow down and get to know yourself – specifically what makes you happy. Don’t be in a rush to decide your career path, as it’s likely going to change considerably from what you thought your senior year in college. Work hard and learn, but not just about your discipline and job.
– Mike Bensing, Senior Chemical Engineer
12. Be creative
13. Find a mentor
Should your university have an internship program, take full advantage of it. This allows you to work at a company, and see how engineering is used in real-world applications. It also gives you an edge by creating relationships, which could turn into future job opportunities. When you finally get that first engineering job, find a mentor. Even if your company does not have a formal mentorship program, find a tenured engineer, and ask them for input and guidance. Having a mentor certainly helped me get my feet on the ground and become a successful engineer.
-Chris Lingle, Component Engineering Team Leader
14. Understand the importance of a problem
I really enjoy solving technical problems, just like most engineers. It’s fun, challenging and rewarding. When presented with a problem that peaks my interest, I take great pleasure in the entire process of analyzing the problem, coming up with and implementing a solution. But a mistake I have made repeatedly is fooling myself into thinking just because I really put a lot of effort into solving a difficult problem, or just because I am really proud of the solution, that means the problem I was working on was important. The reality is not all problems are equally critical, and so not all solutions have equal value. The amount of effort expended on any solution should be proportional to its relative importance. Before diving into solving a problem, first understand how important it is. Get advice. Does what you are working on make sense? Would your time be best spent elsewhere? A 10 percent improvement to 90 percent of the problem is better than a 90 percent improvement to 1 percent of the problem.
-Michael Phelps, Firmware Engineer
Interested in an internship at Lexmark? Check out our current opportunities.