engineering specialty

Be The Go–To Engineer: Find your Engineering Specialty

AEHQ Essential Non-Technical Advice for Engineers Leave a Comment

My dad is an environmental engineer, and he told me when I was first starting out in engineering, to find a niche or engineering specialty where I can become an expert at a specific thing. He told me to find a specialty where I was the go-to guy and it could greatly help me in my career. It wasn’t until my current job that I realized how right he was.

Finding an engineering specialty where you are the expert for information on a topic makes you incredibly valuable to your organization as a whole. It’s like a small career shortcut you can take. There are always people at every company that are essential to the ongoing operation of a specific thing.  This especially applies when you are just starting out as an engineer or when you are starting a new position at a company.  Many times the specialty can fall right into your lap, you just need to be able to identify it when it does.

go–to industrial engineerA good example of this happened to me fairly recently, when I began work on a engineering change we needed to implement with our heat treatment process. Parts were below specification on the drawing and we needed to decide if this would affect function or not. After investigating, I found out a wealth of information on how heat treatment affects the load capacity of gears (fascinating stuff). The more I found out, the more I dug deeper into it. A while later, the same issue came up with a different set of parts in production that was close to shutting us down. Using the information I learned, I was able to determine that these parts were not at risk and we were able to keep the plant running. I am now the go-to guy to come to when we are facing heat treatment effects on parts, and much less fire-able.

When looking for where your niche is in the company, look for the following criteria:

  •  Specific problems that come up time and time again, where no one really steps up and handles.
  •  Roles that you see is missing in your group that could add value
  •  Jobs or topics are you personally interested in or seem to be really easy for you to understand.
  •  Areas just outside of your job description, that could help others in your group do their job more efficiently.
  • Pareto Issues – The 20% of the topics that cause 80% of the problems.

Once you find your topic that you want to pursue, its time for you to become an expert at it. You can go about it a few different ways. The easiest path is to involve your manager in your new found expertise and see if he will support your quest for knowledge. Usually managers find this commendable and will help you to merge it into your workload. A good time to bring up your desired engineering specialty is during a review. Here you usually have an opportunity to give feedback to management about what goals you have for the next year. Adding your niche as a goal is a great way to get support down the road and make sure that you will have separate time to focus on becoming the expert.

Now, sometimes your boss will not be too keen on you working on a topic outside of your core competencies. If you detect some resistance when you bring it up you may want to reconsider if the goal is critical to the advancement of you and the company. If the answer is still yes, then you should still pursue all the knowledge you can for the topic. If it is truly an important issue, the topic is bound to come up again. When it does, you will have the opportunity to show your manager that it is a critical role to fill, and you are the one with the knowledge to do it.

Keep your ear to the ground and that one awesome topic will eventually reveal itself. Then, it is up to you to become an expert in it. If you become good enough at it and can apply it well you will really be advancing your career.

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