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Product Insights: The Most Important Skill to Develop as a Compliance Professional

Introduction

It does not matter what your role in the profession of compliance engineering is. Or whether you are an engineer, technician, analyst, or other. Or whether you work in or for a test laboratory, the quality organization, research and development, manufacturing, or other. There is one important skill to develop, over and above all others, that makes life much easier, sets you on a path toward success, and increases your status as a true compliance professional.

This one skill trumps all others, and it is more important to develop than any other technical skill you can develop. Examples of these less important compliance engineering skills include hard skills such as designing a filter digitally or through passive components in hardware, installing software, coding/programming, and using Python, NumPy, SciPy, and matplotlib to synthesize functions. Getting good at this one skill is more important than knowing standards and regulations and EMC principles such as shielding, grounding, balancing, and filtering, passive components, printed circuit board layout and stackup, and precompliance EMC measurements, etc. It is more important than knowing how to calculate spacings (creepage and clearance) when developing a product to pass product safety standards. The list of less important technical compliance engineering skills is endless, and I am sure you can think of more on your own.

Note: When I say less important above, I do mean not important at all. Developing hard technical skills in compliance engineering is very important and takes a lifetime!

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Personal Background

Before I divulge this skill, first, a little background on my personal history. When I first got into compliance engineering in early 1997, I did not even know that compliance engineering was a profession. I thought it was interesting and challenging, and I just kind of fell into it like many others in our profession. The requirement to CE Mark products had just, dare I say, “reared its ugly head,” and I took on a role to help obtain it for some complex industrial control type products.

When I first started in compliance, I was overwhelmed trying to learn all the regulations, help update an entire line of products to apply CE, obtain safety approvals for the same suite of products, and help develop the next line of products. I was overwhelmed and often caught off guard, not making some key deadlines to release products on time (not a career-enhancing event), not getting products CE marked on time, and generally not able to respond quickly to the organization’s needs and concerns when it involved some aspects of my responsibility in compliance engineering. Luckily, about two years into my compliance journey, I started working for a good manager who showed me the way. This way helped shape the rest of my career in compliance engineering (at the time of this writing, some twenty-seven and a half years later!). I am truly indebted to the skill this manager taught me, which I am about to reveal to you what it is.

Okay, enough with the talk, what is the most important skill to develop in compliance engineering?

The most important skill to develop in compliance engineering is… Drumroll, please!…

Organization

That’s right! “Organization” is the most important skill to develop in compliance engineering. Without organization, there is chaos in our lives, and we can never proceed in our careers. As compliance professionals, the other individuals we interact with (above and below us) expect organization from us daily. For example, they expect us to know where each product’s test certificates and test reports are located. They expect that if a certificate expires, we know when it expires and plan to renew it. They expect us to know where to find an applicable standard or section of the application standard. Suppose a certified product changes and re-test/re-certification is required. In that case, they expect us to know what tests and re-tests are required and have already developed a plan (which tests, what priority, number of samples, model numbers, firmware, etc.) to maintain compliance. As our careers in compliance engineering, the need for organizational skills only increases. It does not decrease.

How to Get Organized

How to get organized is a matter of personal preference. For some folks who often have certifications for many products and many countries that expire annually, new commercial tools are available to help these individuals organize their certifications. If this reflects your situation, I highly encourage you to research what these tools will do for you. For other folks, spreadsheets, whiteboards, and a well-thought-out file structure work equally well. What matters most is recognizing the need for organization and finding what tool or tools work best for you.

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Life after Organization

Once you get organized, you will find out that you now have control over your world of compliance engineering. No more “tail wagging the dog,” but now you have the “dog wagging the tail.” You are no longer behind the eight ball, and you will find that you can now devote more time to honing your technical skills through self-study, taking courses, or a combination of both. You also learn that the field of compliance engineering is more enjoyable, and you start having others recognize you for your contributions to the team.

Conclusion

The most important skill to develop as a compliance professional is organization. Organization is the cornerstone of a successful compliance engineering career.

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