Engineering Effectiveness

Personal Effectiveness – updated 2020-06-23

The application environment of engineering work is much different from the learning environment of school.  Although the technical language, mathematics, and software are the same for the two settings, the differences often surprise the recent graduate and undermine their professional effectiveness.  In school, for instance, students are rewarded by how much they learn.  They are advanced and selected for fitness in the learning environment, and they seek affirmation and reward by demonstrating learning. They come to enjoy learning for learning’s sake, or for its promise of preparation for future successes.  Although learning is still important as a professional, the reward is in the doing, not the demonstration of understanding nor in the preparation to do; and the entry-level person must make the transition to the rules of effectiveness and rewards in the new environment.

Typically, the industrialization process of converting top students to effective employees takes about two years.  Partly, of course, it takes time to learn specifics about the process.  But more importantly, the transition is about the time required to shed the behaviors and perspectives associated with student success, and to acquire those of effectiveness within the employment environment. 

Industry often terms the differences as the academic-practice gap, and works to help new employees to accelerate their transition.  Amazingly, academe does not seem to accept the importance of the gap, and often even denies that it exists.  Substantially, but unintentionally, Education’s efforts to create the best learning environment misdirect the student persona.

For me, starting my industrial career, the transition was quite unexpected; but I made it to the other side of the gap.  Subsequently, as a senior engineer and engineering supervisor, I participated in bringing many new employees toward the alternate perspective that led to effectiveness in the new environment. 

Interestingly, I had to re-cross the gap when I left industry for an academic career.  My management of the classroom provided opportunity to better understand the phenomena, and to explore techniques to lessen the gap.

There is more to the transitioning to personal effectiveness than just crossing the academic-practice gap in the ‘way’ of learning to the ‘way’ of doing. To become effective as a professional each person must understand and shed the survival behaviors acquired during a child-directed youth that could be dysfunctional as an enterprise partner. 

At the bottom of this page are links to a collection of articles that I’ve written about understanding the gap and about making the transition to personal effectiveness in the professional environment.  They have been published in CONTROL magazine, and are reproduced here with the kind permission of the Editor-in-Chief.   Here is a description of each:

  1. “Bridging the Gap” explains why best practices in education create the gap, and offers some institutional, industrial, and post-graduation personal solutions to bridging it.
  2. “Two Ends to a Stick” addresses having a comprehensive view of the new environment, and recognizing relevant issues that were not important to you as a student.
  3. “Self-Guided Learning” addresses how to become your own teacher and how to evaluate how well you understand the material.
  4. “Bisecting a Line” is about balance in perspectives and recognizing that the solution is not the farthest from wrong, or closest to right, but the one that best balances all measures of functionality.
  5. “Seduction in Engineering” is about how following perfection, or any myopic value of ideal goodness, or your own ambitions can lead you down a bad path. 
  6. “Building a Team” is about setting community values and individual behavior. 
  7. “Overcoming Your 2-Year Old Self” is about becoming more functional, and aware of how your choices in infancy can be recognized and changed.
  8. “The Monster on the Balance Beam” is about fear of failing, which actually causes the feared thing to happen. 
  9. “The Elephant” explains why it is not your professors’ fault that you were misdirected by your education, and the responsibility of Industry to be a good customer and require Education to redesign their product.
  10. “Personal Growth” continues the concept of overcoming a child-chosen ‘way’.
  11. “Two Rules for Success” They are ‘Start Early then Wait’, and ‘Parallel not Serial’.
  12. “Desired Engineering Attributes” discusses the balance between opposing ideals.
  13. “Sleeping Dogmas” is about the need to question what is accepted as best practices, and the career danger in revealing that it is no longer best.

I hope you find the articles useful.

Here are the links to download the articles: