There have been many arguments here and there about how shortcomings of universities and colleges yield engineers with skill sets that do not cater to the demands of the industry. There have been many arguments here and there about an imminent shortage of engineers lacking knowledge in the sciences. There have been many arguments here and there about how the experience and know-how of engineers in the industry may vanish due to the fact that it can’t be passed on because the academic curriculum deviates from it.
These arguments have been debated on in various engineering articles and apply to all fields of engineering. Such arguments, though not immediately evident, would strike fear in undergraduates managing to get wind of such, and perhaps start giving them doubts about whether they are building their foundation at the right place.
Personally, I would not dare to make claims, keeping in mind cultural diversity and uniqueness of career, consequently making the targets of the above arguments not universal, but existential. I would also like to point out that when it comes to any gap in knowledge or skill, the student is responsible to train and educate himself/herself toward the bridging of that gap (as much as possible). Hopefully, I could provide the best insights on the similarities and differences of academic and industry life now, since I’ve just started my transition to life in the industry (though not biased on my alma mater, because I’ve also watched and observed lectures and curricula from other schools, not to mention those from India and America available on YouTube and their parent sites).
When I was in the academe, I enjoyed learning the concepts and theories taught by my professors, marvelling at the ingenuity of the innovators; such profound constructs of the mind. However, I thought things like using signal frequency as a source of information and processing (Fourier analysis), assuming a solution to a D.E. that will always be sinusoidal (phasors), taking advantage of the uncertainty principle in an electron (tunnelling) to emulate a negative resistance region and increase switching speed (tunnelling diode), etc., would never be of use.
When I started working, I was absolutely right. But to be less brutish, some came in handy. Depends on the type of work you get yourself into, I guess. My point is, don’t get discouraged to learn something if you won’t get to use it in the future. If there is something I’ve learned about effort, no matter how useless the effect may seem, it will never get wasted. Aside from usefulness, whatever you learn, no matter how absurd and unrelated, can be used as a stepping stone toward innovation.
In a non-technical light, it was lonelier on your school campus, with all those people, than where you are working right now. Must be a psychological factor or I’m just being over-emotional. Kidding aside, the responsibility you hold as a professional (especially when you’re dealing with customers) increases exponentially compared to the responsibility you had as a student. You also have to go all out with your “soft skills,” because they’re a crucial factor to the speed and quality of your work. I know you may be rolling your eyes right now, saying “Duuuuhhhh!” But it never hurts to over-emphasize an important point.
I accepted a position as design verification engineer trainee under the R&D (Research and Development Division) of a semiconductor company even though I specialized in communications and networking in college. Well, I felt my foundation in practical electronics was lacking and I thought wielding a soldering iron every now and then, playing with snow (if you know what I mean), and shuffling instruments here and there would fill the void. When I started working, I was absolutely right. Now, I can confidently solder a joint without burning myself.
When planning to take a job that requires use of instruments, it’s best to make a meticulous review of an instrument’s datasheet to become fully effective in using it. For example, you wouldn’t want to use an instrument manually when making complicated measurements. You’d take advantage of its GPIB interface if it had one.
Beware of social engineering if you have an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) with your company. It’s not what we don’t know that gives us problems, it’s what we think we know that just isn’t so. A social engineer can disguise himself/herself as a friend/colleague and manipulate you into giving valuable information. This can pose a serious threat to you and your company. This isn’t like the academe, where information sharing is highly encouraged.
Though I’d like to mention more, the rest borders more on the subjective side. These are just a few insights, and I would be very interested to hear your experiences and adjustments upon starting work in the industry.