Some Suggestions for Making the Most of Your Professional Journey
For young engineers and new technical professionals entering the field of electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) engineering, the journey of building a successful and lasting career can seem overwhelming. This article discusses common challenges of starting a career in EMC and offers practical advice based on my personal experience in the industry.
For EMC specifically, the public is often not aware that this industry exists. Even engineers in different disciplines can pass through much of their careers without considering the impact of EMC in their work. Despite this disconnect, ensuring the compatibility of electronics in the modern world is imperative. Many young engineers overlook a career in EMC, perhaps simply because they have not yet been exposed to it. The EMC industry continues to grow with advancements in technology and requires an influx of new technical professionals to keep up with the demand. This dynamic brings with it great opportunities for growth and career development.
Using Exploration and Questions as Tools for Learning
As many EMC engineers will attest, most of your learning is done on the job. Universities equip engineers with the fundamental knowledge they need to succeed, but more importantly, with the ability to think critically and solve problems. When these skills are applied to real-life scenarios and projects, practical knowledge is gained. Over time, this compounds into experience and expertise in a specific field.
A new professional’s first technical role represents a unique opportunity to bridge the gap between theoretical learning from their university education to the real-life practices of the working world. This experience may come in the form of an internship, volunteer role, or first engineering position after graduating. I pursued an undergraduate degree in Aerospace Engineering at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada which included a cooperative education program. This is how I was first introduced to the field of EMC and learned the fundamentals of electromagnetic shielding and RF chamber design.
One of my biggest lessons from this experience was learning to have the courage to ask questions. Asking questions is one of the greatest tools for young engineers to master. There is value in doing independent research and being resourceful in answering your own curiosities, but often asking a question in a meeting will be the fastest way to resolve your uncertainty. Asking questions does not demonstrate a lack of understanding. Instead, asking questions should be seen as a commendable active effort toward cultivating expertise.
It is also valid to join meetings simply to listen and learn until you reach a point of feeling comfortable enough to participate. Take time to reflect on discussions and follow up with an email or conversation when you have remaining thoughts or queries. Leaving questions unanswered will also leave unnecessary lingering doubt. Your coworkers are likely more willing to help you than you may expect.
Experience comes with time and ultimately leads to confidence. Put yourself in situations from which you can learn. For example, offer to assist with tasks outside of your usual role. This includes interacting with technicians, project managers, and other business professionals and support staff outside of the realm of engineering. Exploring a wide scope of work will help you become a well-rounded engineer and can also help you to uncover new professional interests. All experiences are valuable, so expose yourself to as many new situations as possible. One day in the future, you may find yourself relying on that previous experience to solve current challenges. Having a wealth of experiences to draw upon will serve you throughout your career.
Having Confidence in Your Technical Abilities
For young engineers, a common limiting belief is thinking that you do not have enough experience to contribute to technical discussions. I challenge this idea by suggesting that young engineers have a special advantage of being able to see situations from a new perspective and bring fresh ideas. The longer you work in an industry and become settled in familiar approaches, the harder it is to consider new ways of thinking. Have confidence in sharing your opinions and remember that a diversity of perspectives will always be a benefit to the end product of engineering. New ways of thinking can lead to fruitful conversations, design changes, or technical improvements.
When starting a career, especially in a field as specialized as EMC, you are not expected to know everything or be a technical expert from day one. Your managers and other engineers in positions of leadership have gone through a similar journey themselves and will help you build up your knowledge. The most important qualities for success are a willingness to learn and the ability to demonstrate initiative. These two characteristics will guide you through the initial learning curve and set you up for long-term professional growth. In fact, learning is a life-long pursuit since it is important to keep up to date with the industry and its technological advancements.
As a woman in engineering, I found myself falling into this misconception that I did not have enough experience to participate in meetings at the start of my career. If you are in a similar situation, I recommend that you think back to your engineering degree and remember that this is clear evidence of your technical merit. You have demonstrated your understanding and resilience by completing a rigorous academic curriculum. Graduating from a university engineering program is no small feat! As you accumulate work experience from internships, your first job after graduation, and all subsequent positions, your self-confidence and technical knowledge will continue to grow.
The Importance of Mentorship
Some of the best resources for young engineers starting in the EMC industry are the senior engineers who have been working in this field for decades. Unfortunately, as many senior engineers begin to retire, their wealth of knowledge leaves with them. This is the reason why it is critical to help engineers with different levels of experience to learn from each other.
Connecting with senior EMC engineers can result in developing a mentoring relationship. This starts with networking either within your place of employment, at a university, or while attending external networking events. Managers, professors, and leaders in the field are good examples of potential mentors. Mentors can be considered as your professional board of directors. These are individuals with career experience that you can rely on for guidance and advice. Strive to build meaningful connections and give back to your mentors whenever possible. Remember to prioritize quality over quantity because it will always be more fulfilling to invest in fewer mentors that will champion you rather than maintaining many mentoring relationships with less depth.
Personally, attending relevant conferences like the IEEE International Symposium on Electromagnetic Compatibility, Signal & Power Integrity, or the Annual Meeting and Symposium of the Antenna Measurement Techniques Association (AMTA) have been great places to connect with mentors. Volunteering in technical committees within the IEEE EMC Society has also been an effective method for finding mentors with similar professional interests.
For example, I am currently an Officer-at-Large with Technical Committee 8 (TC8) on Aeronautics and Space EMC. I first got involved with TC8 in 2019 by attending an “Ask the Experts” panel in New Orleans and asking the panelists how I could be further involved in the EMC industry as a recent graduate. I followed their recommendation to attend TC8 meetings and have held a position in the committee ever since. Because of my background in aerospace engineering, I have found that this committee aligns with my interests and allows me to connect with fellow committee members over shared passions.
Attending technical events or meetings on a regular basis where you can expect to interact with the same group of people is a great way to meet new professionals. Active participation helps other people to get to know you until you ultimately develop a relationship. Show initiative in reaching out on LinkedIn or by email and express appreciation for any support you receive. My mentors have been an integral part of my career development and I am very grateful to have had their help over the years.
Another benefit of staying involved in the EMC industry is developing skills that are complementary to your technical knowledge. Attending industry events or meetings are opportunities for networking, building conversational skills, and connecting with peers. These settings cultivate soft skills that are critical for a successful career in engineering. The ability to communicate your ideas clearly will directly affect how your technical suggestions are received in the workplace. Without proper delivery, your contributions may be neglected due to a lack of confidence and justification. The best ideas cannot materialize unless they are effectively communicated to decision-makers.
From societal expectations to biases in the workplace, women in engineering face additional challenges when starting their careers. The lack of representation in the EMC industry can be discouraging, but the situation is improved with every woman who decides to pursue the field. Finding a woman in the workplace in a position of leadership to be your mentor can be a great resource to keep you motivated. Even if it is not possible to find another woman in engineering to be your mentor, I would suggest that any woman in a position of leadership can be an inspiration and a valuable source of advice. There are many challenges that women face in the workplace that are common among different disciplines.
Top 3 Key Takeaways for Young Engineers
A summary of the key lessons described throughout this article is listed below. This advice can help guide professional growth for new engineers in EMC.
- Have the courage to put yourself in new situations with the goal of learning from them. Try expanding the scope of your role to discover your professional interests and preferences. Offer to assist other teams or volunteer your time and skills outside of work in technical committees like with the IEEE EMC Society. Ask questions, stay curious, and always continue learning.
- Have confidence in your technical skills and your ability to contribute, even if you are the least experienced member of a team. You bring a fresh perspective that is valuable to consider. When starting your career, you are not expected to know everything. Instead, demonstrate a willingness to learn and an active effort to participate. Showing initiative for your own learning will expedite professional growth.
- Invest in meaningful mentoring relationships and learn from senior EMC engineers. Look within your existing network to find potential mentors or expand your network by attending relevant conferences or events. Find mentors that will champion you and support your career progression. Treat mentors as your professional board of directors and rely on them for guidance.
I wish you the best of luck in your professional journey in the field of EMC. The opportunities for you are endless as long as you have the confidence, drive, and courage to pursue them.