Advice for Young Professionals
It is an honor and privilege to write this column. I have been very fortunate to have associations with professional and educational institutions which afforded me an incredibly satisfying professional career. I joined IEEE PES in 1978, the year I started my MSEE at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. I retired as Chief Engineer and Vice President from Bonneville Power Administration in May, 2015. In the interceding 38 years, I worked with 3 public utilities, numerous local chapter organizations, held several volunteer positions, and made hundreds of professional contacts. I am so fortunate that many of these individuals have become part of my family.
As I reflect on my career, it is striking how much the engineering environment has changed. When I started people used to work at the same company for 30+ years and retire with a gold watch. Today, we live in a different world and few end their career in the same organization they started in. I have always hoped that my work helped my peers, organization, and community. Now retired, I hope to continue to make a difference – but now by mentoring and helping the next generation learn from my mistakes and experiences. My father, a farmer in India, used to always tell me “the success of a family or country depends on how we train the next generation to do better than we did.” I believe this applies to professional industries as well.
Expand your Knowledge Base
Over my career I worked my way from an Engineer at Tacoma Public Utilities to Chief Engineer and Vice President at Bonneville Power Administration. Through several different roles and organizations, I have become concerned that engineers have lost our industry to non-engineers. Look around you – the majority of CEOs and COOs are either attorneys or from the financial sector. While these individuals have a unique knowledge base and skill set, but they lack the technical expertise that we have. These folks are more concerned about the bottom line and not much concerned about the well-being of the organization.
We engineers are partly responsible for this. Have you ever heard “paralysis by analysis?” Engineers are trained to avoid making mistakes, and thus we often procrastinate on decision making. We need to learn to make timely decisions with the information we have. University curricula should expanded to help young engineers acquire these skills. Further economic, financial, and contractual obligation classes should be part of any engineering degree. I encourage you to seek out these classes or knowledge if not offered to you in your requisite degree program. These courses and skills are required if you are to be become a supervisor, manager, VP or CEO.
Expand your experience beyond the workplace-volunteer
Each employer tries groom the next generation of leaders. However, due to limited opportunities you may need to look outside your work environment to acquire leadership skills. Through the years I have served as Chair of March of Dimes in my local community, Chairing the United Way campaign, Chair of Seattle Section PES, Chaired Seattle Section IEEE, and several others. Getting things done at volunteer organizations teaches you that you have responsibility even when you have limited authority and will open up your professional network.
Arthur Ash once said, “From what we get, we can make living; what we give, however, makes a life.”
Seek out mentors
I could not achieve what I have without the guidance of several mentors. Sometimes mentoring just happens, but often times you will need to actively seek out a mentor. Identify the person you want to be or the position you want to do. Meet with this individual, and ask what they have gone through to achieve their professional status. You will be surprised how many CEOs and VPs are excited to share their experiences. Be sure to ask, “how do you balance your work/life obligations?” It will then be up to you to decide what you are willing to sacrifice to achieve your goals.
I am fortunate to have met two of my most influential mentors as a graduate student. Dr. Edmund Schweitzer, my professor at WSU, used to work alongside us in the lab – sometimes up until 2am! He often said, “get fired by doing the right/ethical thing, and you’ll find a line of people ready to hire you.” I lived by this, and continue to agree with this statement. Dr. Clifford Mosher was my professor, who is responsible for me to get into Power Engineering . Through the years he served as a father figure, guided me through hard times, pushed me beyond my capabilities, and often reminded me that I had to be five times better than my peers because I was a foreign graduate.
There will be situations where you believe you are the deserving and most qualified persona for a promotion, yet you will be disappointed. This is a situation that each of us at the executive level has encountered at some point. When this occurred to me, after the selection was made I could not focus on my job. The COO, Mr. Woodrow Jones, who was part of the selection committee, noticed the change in my performance. He took me out to lunch and told me “don’t stop doing what you are good at. There are others internally and externally looking over your shoulder.” Thanks to his advice I worked even harder and was offered a better position in less than two months.
Bring your values to your day to day work
Your daily performance is going to dictate the ultimate trajectory of your work. Core values are essential – commitment, listening and respect. If you have an assignment, commit to it and put yourself into your work completely. If you are unable to meet a deadline, do not wait until the last moment to let your boss know. This will build trust and resources may be diverted to help you meet your deadline. Listening to your peers is critical. We engineers are problem solvers and often we start thinking about solutions even before the other person finishes with the problem statement. It is important to fully listen to others without reacting strongly or anticipating what will be said. Rather, you need to hear the full problem before coming up with solutions. Show respect even if you have difference of opinion. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I practiced this and it came from Maya Angelou.
In such situations you may have a difference of opinions to what is being said. Diversity in thought is a positive thing for an organization or company. Have respect for views other than your own – you will often find that this helps come up with better solutions to the most complex problems.
Bridging Generations of thought
The millennials think and do things differently. They are capable of multitasking and have a different mindset. What seems normal to the next generation may cause alarm to established or mature supervisors. One example comes to mind – during an interview the process the candidate pulls out a smartphone and keeps the interview going while and after answering a text. To make a long story short, we need to work together so that the new generation learns from our experiences and we need to learn how to support and guide them. The coming generation of engineers are way more smarter and their bosses need to give them flexibility and independence to come up with great ideas and solutions to complex problems.
Your work should be a source of pride and a place you enjoy. There will be times in your life where you spend just as much, if not more time, at work than at home. Do work you enjoy, seek out colleagues that you look forward to spending time with. And remember that work-life balance is critical. You will enjoy your professional life more when you are taking care of your personal life. Of course there will be times when work needs to take a priority or times when home take a priority, but over the course of the career aim to have a balance between the two. In the end, my sincere wishes are with you all to take care of the most complicated synchronous machine ever created by human beings. I appreciate Wanda Reder and Damir Novesel, the past and present Presidents of PES for infusing new blood into the organization. Folks, it your organization and it is up to you where you want to take it.
Hardev S. Juj, P.E.
Retired Chief Engineer and Vice President
Bonneville Power Administration