In the 1960s and 1970s, large technology companies like IBM assigned senior engineers on their technical staff to serve as mentors to new engineers entering the workforce. The arrangements were expected to be long-term, along with the expectation that the engineers would have a long-term career at the company, to help them “learn the ropes” with someone outside of their management chain with whom they could speak freely in seeking technical advice and career guidance, and who could make introductions for them to their contacts within the compliance community both inside and outside of the company. These arrangements helped to ensure that hard-learned experience could be passed on, and that new engineers would benefit from the years of wisdom and knowledge possessed by more experienced engineers.
Beginning in the 1980s, however, the expectations of long-term careers at tech companies started going away, and opportunities for formalized mentoring programs became less available. With short stays at multiple companies becoming the norm for a career path, mentoring programs became less common, as the number of long-term employees with years of experience at one firm declined. This has resulted in much inefficiency and waste in the modern work environment, since the absence of experienced engineers has forced new engineers to continually “reinvent the wheel.”
Do it Yourself
In today’s fast-paced work environment, regulatory compliance professionals are expected to make knowledgeable decisions and assessments on their projects, to avoid costly mistakes that could result in even shorter-term employment. Without the availability of in-house experts from whom to seek advice and guidance and who can help make external connections, it is incumbent on each compliance professional to develop their own network of knowledge resources, from their own activities within their company, and from groups and individuals outside of their company.
Especially in the regulatory compliance field, with the constantly changing standards and technology requirements, it is vital to have available a multitude of knowledge resources that can quickly provide information, or point to other sources that could be useful. In this article, I am going to present and discuss different resources, groups, and methods for creating your own unique and personal knowledge network that will help you to grow and develop, and that you can pass on as you mentor others later in your career. Within this knowledge network, you’ll also be able to identify a few key individuals who could become mentors, and I’ll discuss some ideas on how best to establish these types of special relationships.
Start you search for expertise at your current company. Even though there may not be a large number of long-term employees at your place of business, there will be experienced team members who have worked at a variety of different companies, and will have knowledge from which you can benefit.
Find opportunities in your daily work to seek out the more experienced staff members, and talk with them about their work background and experience. Most of your fellow workers will be glad to share their knowledge, but always be conscious that they have their own job responsibilities, so respect their time. For longer discussions, you might want to take them to lunch, where you will have the opportunity for more in-depth discussions, without the pressure of the workplace getting in the way. Just be sure to let them know beforehand what you would like to talk about, so they are prepared for the discussion.
To make the best use of the discussions, always take notes, so in the future you can know their particular areas of expertise, and will be able to quickly identify the contacts who would most likely have the knowledge you are looking for. Personally, I keep a spreadsheet with names, contact information, and categories for items such as “EMC Testing,” “Product Safety,” and “International Certifications.”
Also, be aware that, for these relationships to last, they need to be mutually beneficial. They can’t be one-sided affairs in which you are constantly asking for information but giving nothing in return. Whether it is letting them know about a new standard that you think might be of interest or offering some additional help on a project they are working on, keep the Golden Rule in mind in all of your interactions.
Professional Organizations and Affinity Groups
One of the best sources I have found for knowledge experts is professional organizations and affinity groups. These private non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are made up of individuals with all levels of experience, with many different backgrounds and life experiences, and can be instrumental in building your knowledge base and your career. One good way to find out which groups are best for your industry is by asking the senior staff members at your current company.
The organizations that will best meet your needs depends on your particular industry and job functions. But, in my career in regulatory compliance engineering, there are a few that I have found to be the most beneficial. They include the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Telecommunications Certification Body Council (TCBC), and the Project Management Institute (PMI). Although each of these organizations charge a nominal annual membership fee, if you’ll do some investigation and reviews, I think you’ll agree that the benefits far outweigh the costs. Also, some employers will pay or reimburse you for these annual fees, since they recognize the value of that these organizations provide in training and educating their employees.
Founded in 1963, the IEEE (www.ieee.org) is by far the largest engineering organization in the world, with more than 430,000 members, located in over 160 countries, with more than half of the members residing outside of the US. There are 38 Technical Societies within the IEEE, and many are directly related to the regulatory compliance engineering community, including:
- IEEE Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society
- IEEE Antennas and Propagation Society
- IEEE Consumer Electronics Society
- IEEE Electromagnetic Compatibility Society
- IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society
- IEEE Microwave Theory and Techniques Society
- IEEE Power & Energy Society
- IEEE Product Safety Engineering Society
- IEEE Vehicular Technology Society
Each of these Societies has local chapters in most major metropolitan areas, where you can meet and network with technology experts in your area. In addition, joining an IEEE Society gives you access and discounts for their peer-reviewed publications and conferences, as well as access to the worldwide professional network of technology experts within the Society membership. The full listing of all 38 IEEE Societies, along with full descriptions of each, can be found online at www.ieee.org/membership_services/membership/societies.
Also within the IEEE are special interest groups, which are similar in purpose to the IEEE Societies, but usually smaller in number of members. Some focus on new areas of technology development such as the IEEE Internet of Things Community, IEEE Electric Vehicles Community, and the IEEE Smart Grid Community. Others are focused on specific demographics, which can provide support for certain communities, such as the IEEE Women in Engineering Technical Council, and the IEEE Young Professionals Technical Council (formerly IEEE Graduates of the Last Decade).
To find out more about all of the benefits provided by the IEEE, and information on how to join, go to their website at www.ieee.org/membership_services. You don’t have to be an engineer to join, there is no minimum number of years of experience required, and only you can decide if joining is the right decision for you.
Next, I’d like to introduce you to the TCBC (www.tcbcouncil.org), which is a NGO that provides resources for those telecommunication certifications bodies (TCBs) that have been authorized by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to test and issue certifications for wireless and telecom equipment. TCBC members include TCBs, the FCC and other government agencies such as Industry Canada, laboratory accreditation bodies like the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (www.A2LA.org), test laboratories, equipment manufacturers, product developers, consultants, and other interested stakeholders. The purpose of the TCB Council, as stated on their website, is to “provide a forum for periodic dialogue between the FCC and the TCB’s and to facilitate on-going activities geared toward the improvement of TCB technical and administrative performance.”
The TCBC’s website contains general information on the organization and member benefits. The members of this organization have a wealth of experience in all aspects of the TCB program, including training materials from previous workshops and presentations. Two great opportunities for network-building are provided by the monthly conference calls with FCC staff members, and the semi-annual training workshops on the latest compliance requirements, featuring presenters from the FCC, Industry Canada, the European Union, and other international government regulators, in addition to the TCBs and international regulatory compliance consultants.
Anyone can become a member of the TCB Council. Membership is extended to a company, which pays an annual membership fee based on their specific membership category, and any employees of the member company can receive TCBC membership benefits without any additional cost. Any FCC designated TCB can join as a full TCB council member, and all other companies can join as associate members.
The final organization I’d like to recommend is the Project Management Institute (PMI, at www.pmi.org). In today’s workplace, it is common for regulatory compliance professionals to manage their own compliance projects, but many have not received any formal training or have access to those with project management experience within their own company.
PMI is the world’s leading not-for-profit professional membership association for project and program management professionals, and was founded in 1969. With more than 2.9 million professional members working in almost every country in the world, this organization helps to educate, advance careers, improves organizational success, and further advance the profession of project management through its global standards, certifications, resources, tools, academic research, publications, professional development courses, and networking opportunities. With local chapters in most major metropolitan areas around the world, PMI can provide local learning and mentoring opportunities as well.
Membership is open to all that have an interest in the field, with various levels dependent on years of experience and certifications. PMI members get access to PMI publications, including global standards, and online communities can provide resources for remote members who may not be near a local city chapter. To learn more about PMI membership, and to investigate whether membership might be beneficial for your career, go to their website at www.pmi.org/membership.aspx.
Conferences & Symposiums
Conferences and symposiums are great places to jump-start your compliance network efforts. These are held by the same professional organizations and affinity groups we have just discussed, but are also held by other industry organizations, private companies, and government organizations. Once again, a good way to find out which conferences or symposiums would be of greatest benefit is by asking the senior staff members at your current workplace. However, I don’t recommend attending any conference or symposium “sight unseen,” that is, without obtaining references or feedback from others that have attended. That’s because the level of technical content and applicability can vary widely, especially for those events put on by “for-profit” organizations. In many cases, employers will cover the cost for attending such events within the scope of their training budgets, because of the value of the technical content of the presentation, and the networking benefits provided for those that attend.
For example, I regularly attend the IEEE Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) Symposium and the IEEE Symposium on Product Compliance Engineering (ISPCE). While these Symposia differ regarding their focus, the length of the Symposium and the number of attendees, they both provide similar benefits in helping to build your professional compliance network.
The IEEE EMC Symposium is sponsored and managed by the IEEE EMC Society, and typically has close to 2000 EMC professionals from industry, education, and government organizations. With multiple simultaneous tracks of presentations held over a five day period, you can select the specific presentations that cover your areas of interest, and target the presenters that would make good professional contacts for your network. There are ample opportunities for informal networking at scheduled break times between presentations and at social events held during the evenings. In addition, a large trade show with exhibits from test equipment manufacturers, test labs, industry publications, and other affiliated groups presents another opportunity to develop new professional contacts. You can learn more about this event and the benefits of attending at
Similar to the EMC Symposium but on a smaller scale, the IEEE Symposium on Product Compliance Engineering is sponsored and managed by the IEEE Product Safety Engineering Society. Attendance is around 200 regulatory compliance professionals, with multiple tracks of presentations held over a three day period. This Symposium has a broad scope, covering many different
aspects of compliance, including product safety, energy management and conservations, EMC, telecom/wireless, and environmental aspects of electronic products. It also has a trade show that presents more opportunities for networking and developing new contacts. To find out more about this event, go to http://psessymposium.org.
Government Regulatory Agencies
Government regulatory compliance agencies can be another valuable source of information, and are valuable contacts to have in your personal network. It is not always possible to meet agency staff members at their offices, but it is possible to make personal contact with staff at government-held training events and other venues.
For example, the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) has a wealth of informational resources available on their website (http://transition.fcc.gov/oet/). The OET doesn’t typically conduct on-site training events, but OET representatives do attend the TCBC workshops held in Baltimore, Maryland in April and October every year, providing opportunities for face-to-face presentations and direct contact.
One US government agency that does hold training events applicable to the regulatory compliance industry is the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which is under the authority of the US Department of Commerce. The Standards & Trade department of NIST has periodic workshops and training sessions on topics related to global trade, and more information can be found on the NIST Standards & Trade webpage at http://gsi.nist.gov/global/index.cfm/L1-4.
Social Media Resources
Social media sites have become important venues for information sharing, and this is true for the regulatory compliance industry as well. In my opinion LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) is the most business-useful social media site, with dozens of special interest groups focused on the regulatory compliance industry sharing information and contacts, making it easier to expand your professional network with virtual contacts.
Once you set up an account on LinkedIn, you can join up to 50 special interest groups. Just as suggestions, here are some of my favorite regulatory compliance groups on the site, which you can find by searching on the group names listed:
- Electromagnetic Compatibility Forum
- EMC Goggles
- IEC The Electrotechnical Standards Group
- IEEE Consumer Electronics Society
- IEEE Product Safety Engineering Society (PSES)
- InCompliance Magazine
- International Approvals/Certifications
- RF and Microwave Community
- SAR Compliance Testing
- Wireless Certification Professionals
Finding a Mentor
Finally, after starting your efforts at building our own personal compliance network, it’s time to select a mentor that can best help you at the current stage of your career. Go back over the contacts you have made so far, and pick out two or three who you think best represent the direction or specific field in which you would like to develop more expertise. Then, arrange to meet them so that you can discuss your plan to identify a mentor to help you develop and grow your career, and to determine their possible interest. Make sure to discuss your expectations, and also find out what expectations the potential mentor might have.
After you have “interviewed” your candidates, make your selection, and then work out a schedule with your mentor. Determine how often you should meet, what will be discussed, and any “homework” that might be assigned. A good resource on the mentor-mentee relationship is the IEEE Mentor Centre webpage, which includes downloadable PDF publications that can be accessed at www.ieee.org/membership_services/membership/mentoring/index.html.
Mark Maynard is a Director at SIEMIC, a global compliance testing and certification services firm with strategic locations in the US and Asia. He is the new President-Elect for the IEEE Product Safety Engineering Society, and also serves on the Telecommunication Certification Body Council. Mark holds two Texas State University degrees, a BS in Mathematics and a BAAS in Marketing and Business, and has over 20 years of experience in international regulatory compliance engineering and product certifications. He can be reached at email@example.com.