In an earlier post ("Engineer This!") that I published almost exactly one year ago, I challenged engineers world-wide to solve some fundamental issues regarding energy - I think everyone is still working on those (my fusion powered electric car hasn’t been delivered yet...). However, the other day I was talking with a very wise man I met from Egypt. It is not often you find such wisdom in an individual and so I wanted to absorb as much of this as possible... we were talking about how we influence one another and how our little actions effect so many. He said something so profound it stopped me in my tracks. He said, "You can know exactly how many seeds are in an apple, but you will never know how many apples are in a seed".
Nikola Tesla or Thomas Edison would never know how their great inventions would affect so many lives. Simply removing those two individual’s contributions from history would almost immediately lead to the death of half of our population followed by many more dying from diseases. It is not to say that those technologies would never have been invented, it simply states how wide spread those technologies have become and how much humanity depends on them. But this post is less about great inventions and more about how we as engineers touch others through our work and also how we can help the next generation of engineers become even greater.
When I was a young designer I had a mentor. His name was Jorge and he had worked for Control Data Corporation along side greats such as Seymour Cray (father of the vector super computer and the founder of Cray Corporation). I was very fortunate to have had him as a mentor. He challenged me daily and always continued to push my abilities as an engineer. He would assign me design challenges even if he had already completed the design just to see what I would come up with - on occasion, I would surprise him. I left that job in 1984 to join National Semiconductor and also had a string of mentors during the development of my career - and to this day continue to have mentors to help guide my decision processes.
So what is this all about? We’ll here’s another call to action for all of you out there... and I’m pretty confident these can be accomplished long before my fusion powered electric car reaches my garage!
1. Become an Engineering Mentor - Young minds are fertile ground and combined with the enthusiasm of these new designers they will learn what ever you have to offer. Many companies have formal mentoring programs and they will help you find a suitable candidate. In my career I have mentored three young engineers (2 post graduates and 1 undergraduate) and it has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.
2. Find a Mentor - I am a true believer that you can never know too much or have too many skills as an engineer (or as a human being). Much of what I have learned about Engineering and business has come from older, more experienced engineers and businessmen and I owe much of my personal success to them. Finding a mentor is less difficult since there are always those inside an engineering lab that know the "old man" or a "guru" of something. Usually they will be more than happy to teach you what they know.
3. Share your Knowledge - Join a professional organization such as the IEEE and attend meetings. There you can share your ideas or discuss possible ways to solve a problem. In many cases you will help someone else solve something by sharing your expertise. There are committees and teams you can join to set standards or work on larger issues which can be extremely rewarding.
Whatever you chose to do realize that, as my wise friend had stated, "From the apple seed many new apples will be created." Your action will start in motion the future of many new engineers to what extents you may never know. In addition, I personally feel if you want to learn a subject, you should teach it - that forces you to learn it better than your students (or Mentee). So either way you may learn something new or even something about yourself in the process. Till next time...