#70 AIAA-SF Panel Tells It Like It Is!

by Steven Cerri on August 26, 2008

“If you do one thing… do this”

Hello everyone!

You’ve been hearing me say for some time that for the typical engineer, management is a new career. You’ve heard me say that the soft skills, the interpersonal people skills make all the difference in your success, long-term.

Well, last Wednesday I moderated a panel discussion at the monthly evening dinner meeting of the San Francisco chapter of the AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics). We had three panelists. They were, Dorothy McKinney, a Chief Software Architect in Mission Success at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company; Jim Nobel, Global Communication Systems Chief Engineer also at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, and Paul Munninghoff, Executive Director for Export Compliance & Administration at Space Systems/Loral, Incorporated.

The title of the evening’s panel discussion was “What can you expect for your engineering career: engineering or management?”

We had a lively discussion and although we did our best to end the dinner meetings by 9:00 PM the audience kept the discussion going until past 9:30 PM.

The panel discussions covered a lot of topics relating to management and what is necessary to get from engineering to a long-term engineering career or from engineering to management.

Here are some of the most important highlights and conclusions from our three panelists. Some of the same concepts were stated in a variety of ways and so I’ve attempted to capture that flavor.

1. It is very difficult to remain an engineer throughout your career. While it may be possible in some circumstances, it is difficult. Your company and organization will ultimately request that you do more than your technical work. You may not necessarily be requested to be a full-time manager, but you will ultimately be requested to facilitate, integrate, and move beyond your technical work and acquire more people skills.

2. There is significant pressure to move into some form of task or people management as your career advances.

3. The critical successful factor, whether for engineers who want to manage or for engineers who want to stay engineers is the soft skills, the interpersonal people skills. Without the ability to communicate effectively and get along with people you will be at a significant disadvantage. Several times, all three panelists said something close to this: “Notice, that the thing that was missing in this situation that led to the engineer having difficulty was his or her inability to communicate and work effectively with others.” “Notice that the critical factor here was the ability to communicate and get along with others.”

4. Dorothy McKinney told of the decision to forgo completion of a Ph.D. in favor of completion of an MBA. The MBA provided her with some of the people skills that had a greater impact on her career advancement than she thought a Ph.D. would provide.

5. All the panelists believe it is important to pursue your passion whatever it is. Whatever it is that gets you up in the morning with a charge in your step must be pursued.

The bottom line is this. Do what you love to do. Whether it’s technology or management. It doesn’t matter as long as you are happy doing it. And make sure you add to it a good dose of interpersonal people skills.

Be well,

Steven Cerri

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