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Studying Subjects Outside Your Specialty


Sometimes we can get stuck in our careers, doing the same things over and over again, day in and day out, just like in the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray. One way we can break free from this situation and improve our cognitive abilities is to continue to study and learn new things – even subjects outside of what might be considered our chosen specialty.

Look for Some Commonality

One way to become less specialized and more of an overall rounded engineer or technician is to pick a subject closely related to our specialty and learn as much about it as we can. Often times we’ll discover some commonality and crossover of information that pertains to our specialty and the new subject we’re studying. A great example of this is electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) and its closely related counterpart signal integrity (SI) or power integrity (PI). Although EMC topics focus more in the frequency domain, SI uses language that is more indicative of the time domain. Much of the design criteria used to solve SI/PI problems also help solve EMC problems and vice versa.

Fill in Gaps in Education

Everyone one of us has a unique education and has come from different backgrounds. Sometimes the formal education we received has little to nothing to do with our current roles in compliance engineering. For instance, what college or university teaches how to calculate spacings and creepage and clearance distance requirements based on the pollution degree and overvoltage category your product will be used in? If you’re in product safety compliance, knowing something like this will definitely help you and your employer develop compliant product faster, that is also safer. Even if you don’t specialize in product safety, studying a subject like spacings, something that is missing from our formal education, but has a direct positive impact on our jobs, careers, and our employers. 

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Potential Subjects for Future Career Development

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what other areas to study to improve your knowledge base and career. There is just so much that is out there. In no particular order, here are some suggestions based on my own search for knowledge and a greater understanding of compliance engineering:

  • Reliability Engineering: Develop more robust products. Note that EMC and product safety compliance are considered subsets of reliability engineering.
  • Quality Engineering: Create and implement strategies for quality assurance in product development and production.
  • Signal Integrity / Power Integrity: Previously mentioned.
  • Metrology: Metrology is also known as measurement science. Understand uncertainty in measurements, traceability, accuracy, repeatability, bias, reproducibility, etc. Helpful if you’re developing a product that makes measurements, and a certain level of accuracy must be established correctly.
  • Material Science: Understand how properties of materials behave under various environmental conditions and in contact with other materials. A subset of material science is thermodynamics which is concerned with heat and temperature and their relation to energy and work.
  • Product Safety (or EMC) Engineering: If your focus is EMC engineering, try learning more about product safety and vice versa.
  • Business: Understand how businesses operate and ways to allow businesses to run smoother.
  • Coding: If you’re more hardware focused, learn to do some coding that will help you automate some repetitive tasks. Learn a new software program like MS Excel, Python, VBA, etc.
  • Environmental Compliance: Understand requirements for Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and other similar types of environmental compliance regulations.
  • Climatic Testing: Study climatic test techniques, accelerated testing such as environmental stress screening (ESS), highly accelerated life test (HALT), and high accelerated stress screening (HASS). ESS, HALT, and HASS also fall under the umbrella of Reliability Engineering.
  • Environmental Testing: Similar to climatic testing but includes vibration testing techniques.
  • Mechanical Design: Mechanical design is important in most engineering applications where the product is exposed to vibration and shock during transport and service.
  • Leadership: Learn what it takes to lead and, if desired, move away from an individual contributor role and into a supervisor or manager role.
  • Writing: If you’re weak in this category, the best thing you can do is to start writing. Practice makes perfect.

Where to Obtain Training and Associated Costs

Listed least costly to most costly here is where to find training:

  • Books: I personally plan a monthly budget to cover the cost of books I plan to read. I can gain a lot of great knowledge simply by reading a few books on a subject that interests me. Books cost anywhere from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars.
  • Webinars: A 1 to 2-hour webinar should run no more than about $200.
  • Virtual Courses: A 4 to 5-day virtual course should run no more than about $2,000, and you won’t have to travel.
  • In-person Courses (if provided after COVID): Same cost as a virtual course but with travel fees.
  • Professional Development Courses: There are some online sites that teach a myriad of professional development courses. Some run frequent specials where the cost for a complete course runs about $10 US each.

Be sure to check In Compliance’s website for other articles that describe specific training provider websites and training locations.


We’re all stretched for time and we can’t always devote the time we’re working on learning something new. We have deadlines to meet and new products to release to production. Unless you have a private office that is quiet, trying to absorb new information can be difficult. Here are some suggestions on what you can do. If you’re already a morning person, try getting get up a little earlier than normal to devote a half-hour to an hour to study each day. If you think better at night, then try this same routine an hour before you go to bed. By simply devoting a half-hour to an hour each day to learning something new, you’ll be surprised how much you can pick up in just a short amount of time.

References and Further Reading

  1. Fasano, A., Engineer Your Own Success, Premier Publishing, 2011.

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