Globalization has put engineers on the front line of an unrelenting drive by companies to shorten development cycles and cut production costs. This means engineers must seek new tools and methods to improve their efficiency and speed in delivering new product designs to the marketplace.
Whether you're a recent college graduate, in the middle of your career, or even counting the months until retirement, you must pursue an aggressive plan to stay on top of current technologies. Today, lifelong learning is a critical aspect of every engineer's career.
New knowledge and techniques must be applied to tomorrow's challenges. New technologies will enable better products that will replace previous generations. Engineers must continually innovate to drive the neverending flow of new products, services, and processes.
While it's impossible to pursue learning endeavors that are completely aligned with your current job or assignment, it's important to make time to sharpen your skills and knowledge to enable you to contribute in the future. Emerging technologies will drive tomorrow's products, so place some focus in areas outside your current specialty.
ON THE JOB LEARNING
The most important opportunity for learning is in your job. Young engineers and students should seek challenging assignments. Also, everyone should identify projects that upgrade their knowledge and skills so they're qualified to contribute to new initiatives.
Working on challenging projects not only is exciting, it also provides great learning opportunities. Success on a leading-edge project will ensure you're in line for the next big challenge. The more valuable you make yourself, the more likely your compensation will reflect your value to the company.
Seek out the successful engineers in your company. Observe their approach and methods. Engage them in serious discussions. Find out what they read. Discuss your work with them and seek their advice.
Reading is key to expanding your technical knowledge, so maintain a list of articles, papers, and books that you want to tackle. Update this list frequently and add new opportunities as you hear about them. Also, organize a repository for reference material where you can store paper and electronic files.
Develop an ability to scan material quickly to determine its value and to find information. Annotate material that you have read with your own notes to help you capture your previous impressions. A properly organized and cataloged system for your reference file can be a great asset in your project-related research.
ON THE GO LEARNING
The Internet can be a wonderful resource for project research and reading material. For example, Mike Stanley's EE HomePage (www.eehomepage.com) is filled with learning resources for the busy electrical engineer. Libraries also are still an excellent source of research and reading material. Visit your company, university, or public library as frequently as possible.
Finally, tutorials, seminars, and conferences provide learning opportunities and the ability to network with colleagues—a big benefit in itself. If time constraints and budgetary considerations limit this approach, go online and check out some webinars and Web-based tutorials instead.
PLAYING WELL WITH OTHERS
While remaining technically current is paramount, people skills are important too. A modern engineer's tool set should include the ability to communicate, influence colleagues, and listen to customers. Engineers also should have the knack for applying common sense to their decision making as well as the willingness to act in the best interests of the company.
Lifelong learning provides rewards through the sheer joy of learning and good insurance for survival in an ever-competitive world. By continually striving to learn new things, you and your company will benefit.