Open Letter to the Engineering Class of 2014

Engineers of Tomorrow, Welcome to the rest of your life.  
As of this moment, you are no longer a student at an institute of higher education, but a co-creator of this world.  You may have noticed: it’s full of problems, full of breakdowns, full of inconsistencies and contradictions – systems that do not work the way they were supposed to, people who have been let down, things that need to be better than they are. 

That iron ring you’re placing on your finger could be many things; a symbol of your victory over academic onslaught, an entrance into an exclusive club of engineering professionals, but we believe it’s also a call to action. You are being called on to build bridges, but not the type that you can build out of concrete and steel.  
You are being called upon to bridge the gap
between the disappointments of the past and the everpresent hope for the future.  

You are being called upon to imagine the world that your heart wants to live in, that your sense of right and wrong says there should be, and then to find yourself a way to help change that idea into a reality.  You are being called upon to use your skills for good; not just for your own enjoyment or profit but also to benefit and take care of others.  
You are being called upon to contribute to something you believe in
– as a member of this professional community and as thinking, feeling citizen of the world.  

How will you choose?  However will you accomplish this lofty and vaguely-defined goal?  How will you know what to do with no one to tell you? Where will you start?  The same way you would walk a journey of 10,000 miles –
one step at a time.  
You’ll need your creativity and imagination every bit as much as your mad math skills.  You’ll need your intuition and empathy as much as your analytical prowess, and your heart as much as your head.  
Up until this moment you were a consumer of knowledge, a navigator of systems, a follower of orders, a passer of really tough examinations.  Your parents and professors seemed to knew more than you; always seemed to have the upper hand.  It may be a while before you assume positions of formal power and influence, but make no mistake:   
you are now one hundred percept in charge of you.  
You will never stop learning and growing but using your curiosity, you will keep creating your own education.  You may not have infinite job offers in your hand, but your inner wisdom will always bring you to the opportunities that are perfect for you.  You may have no idea where you fit in, but your courage to speak up and take action will guarantee you will never be alone.

Take that job you’re not quite sure you can handle.  It’s character-building to fail.  
Try that volunteer opportunity that has you work with people who think nothing like you do.  Learning to honour differences rather than hating them is one of the toughest and most useful skills you’ll ever learn.  
Making diversity into fuel for innovation and revelation is really the only alchemy you will ever need.  
It’s the perpetual motion machine of this world.  
Do that thing you’re scared to do that gives you goosebumps just thinking about.  Try.  Risk telling your truth.  Open your ears when others do the same.  
Dig deep to make a difference, however you can, whenever you can.  

What do you want to do?   The future, in so many ways, depends on you. 
Read More

Engineer Profile #2: The Point of Quantum Mechanics with Lindsay Watt

Engineer Profile #2:  The Point of Quantum Mechanics with Lindsay Watt

Hello engineers!  I am really excited to bring you the second in the Engineer Profile series with tech-business-finance-traveling man Lindsay Watt.  He is a true thinker and a doer, and a natural story-teller. I think you’ll really enjoy this interview.

Click here to listen now!  (And by the way here is Engineer Profile #1 if you missed it)

If you’re a student now, or if you are an engineering educator, I am sure you will find Lindsay’s take on engineering education really encouraging and interesting.  He also references Lebron James, Thomas Edison and Mark Vandreesen (though not all at the same time!), defines his most important ABC (great advice), and reveals his top three criteria for picking that perfect first job:

 

1) Make sure it has something that you’re passionate about in it.

2) Look for a position where you can learn as much as possible, and they will just keep throwing things at you!
3) Is in a place where things really get done, so you can put thing out there in the world and see how it feels.

You might be surprised by what he said is not so important in that first job.  And I was certainly surprised when he explained the relevance of the Quantum Mechanics course he took in school.  He tells us his perspective on the five-year plan, and why he choosing to study engineering was such a great choice for him.    He also dishes on why his first start-up failed, and the benefits he experienced of getting an MBA.

Please leave a comment below and let me know – was Lindsay’s advice what you expected?  What provoked most insight for you?  Any temptation to research a new interest or aha’s about your next steps after listening to this?  (A degree in Engineering Physics , perhaps?) :)    Enjoy!

Read More

3 Things about engineering that Marc Lepine will never know

Twenty-three years ago today, a national tragedy occurred in Montreal.  In case you don’t recall:

“On Dec. 6, 1989, Marc Lepine entered Ecole Polytechnique, a Montreal-based engineering school, separated the men from the women and then shot and killed 14 female students. He also injured nine other women and four men, before turning the gun on himself. Lepine left a note blaming feminists for ruining his life.”  from ctvnews.ca

Before I was an engineer

I was not quite a teenager at the time, but I remember my mother’s reaction; that it was a hateful and cowardly act by a deranged, angry man who hated women.  Years later when I became an engineer, the incident took on new significance; these women could have been my classmates.  We were only one decade, and one Canadian province, apart.

These 14 female engineering students were picked out because their choice of program made them feminists, in Marc Lepine’s mind, and he resented them for taking a spot that should have been his.  He had applied to Ecole Polytechnique twice and been rejected because he lacked two course pre-requisites.

A national Rorschach test

To this day much angry debate carries on about whether female engineers are uniquely qualified to ‘claim’ the effects of the so-called Montreal Massacre, or whether it is better viewed as part of a wider symptom of all violence against all women.   Or is it about feminism?  Or is it about gun control?  Or the fact he was raised by a single mother?  Everyone seems to have their own lens on the incident, and their own opinion on what to do in response.

A faulty logic chain

My own take: One man’s faulty logic said that he had been victimized, so he acted to even the score in an unthinkable way.  His logic went:  I did not get what I want + Women did get what I want = Women are to blame for me not getting what I want.   I hate not getting what I want = I hate women.

Had even one piece of that logic chain been dislodged, he may have stayed home that day.  We might have those women in our boardrooms, factories, design studios, schools, courtrooms.  As it is, we’ll never know what they might have done.

What I’d have said

When I think about what went through his mind that day, or in the days and weeks before, I wish I’d been able to tell him three things:

1) When one door closes, another door opens.  If you really want to be an engineer, get the courses, and apply again next year.  Lots of people have difficult in academic settings then go on to thrive in their profession; myself included.  Or maybe check out a related career:  a trade, a technology profession, a technician discipline or a drafting or design-related career; lots of overlap with engineers in terms of skills and opportunities.  Engineering is no ‘better’ than any other profession, and it’s not for everyone.

2) It’s a really good thing that there are women in engineering.  Women bring a diversity of thought, approach and strength to the profession that allows its benefits to reach more people.  Teams work better with women on them.  Many women engineers become excellent mentors and helpers to peers, male and female.   The same argument can be made for more visible minorities and new immigrants since they bring a perspective through their life experience.  Also, they make things much more interesting and vibrant!

3) There is more than enough space – for both genders – within our profession.  There are lots of opportunities and tons of work to do.  No need to fear women entering the profession because there is actually a shortage of engineers globally.  As the planet nears seven billion people and technology continues to change the way we live, work and connect to each other, we need more smart, divergent thinkers to solve ever more complicated problems.

Whether it’s designing gear for the next space mission to Mars, making companies work smarter, faster, cleaner and safer, or breaking down systemic issues that keep billions living in poverty, there is lots of work to do.

And, if I may be permitted to add in one last more defiant personal observation: we women engineers are tough.  We may leave the profession to raise babies, go to law school, volunteer, and start our own businesses, but we will never stop being engineers in response to hate and fear.

That’s just not what we’re made of.

 

Read More