Sumathi Bhaskaran, Senior Director, Software Engineering, Lowe’s India
Engineers play the role of modern-day visionaries, pushing the boundaries of human progress. Their ability to combine creativity with technical expertise is driving innovation in every industry, affecting every facet of our lives. To think of it, where we are headed as a tech-driven world has a lot to do with how engineers are visualizing it every day- the data they analyze, the insights they draw and the choices they make. Take for instance, industries such as health-tech, ed-tech and retail-tech – innovation in these industries presents a compelling narrative of how engineering ingenuity can influence consumer behaviors.
For the new generation of engineers, this journey of the future world has just begun and I truly believe this decade, rather the ‘techade’, is going to be one of the most interesting and inspiring ones we’ve ever seen. With organizations unlocking the potential of AI/ML, Data Science, Cloud etc. – there are immense opportunities in every industry to craft specialized careers. Besides, from a workplace point of view, organizations are making significant strides in investing in learning, growth and career navigation opportunities for young talent. It’s no longer a tech-only career choice; for instance, engineers are being increasingly involved in the sustainability space. That said, opportunities in technology innovation bring its own set of challenges and responsibilities.
Learning from my engineering career of over two decades, I strongly believe in these eight pre-requisites that can enable engineers accelerate their careers and make a positive real-world impact.
Embracing a Growth Mindset: Technology is evolving at a fast pace, and it’s highly likely that the ones we are working with today, are not going to be the same in the next five years. For instance, a decade ago AI-based automation wasn’t as exciting as it is for engineers today – it was difficult to imagine it go mainstream but today it is among the biggest skills in demand. Embracing this change with a growth mindset can be your superpower. Continuous learning should not be an option but a priority as staying abreast of trends will drive your career forward and help you maintain your edge.
Cultivating Craftsmanship: Engineering isn’t just about building things; it’s about making them with excellence and attention to detail. From getting fundamentals right to embracing failure – it involves developing a deep commitment to quality, continuous improvement, and a strong sense of pride in your work. You must go beyond the basics and showcase how you haven’t left any stone unturned in the execution. For example, an engineer designs an AI-driven inventory management system that doesn’t just give you stock visibility but also optimizes stock levels and reduces wastage.
Staying Curious: Curiosity is the fuel for innovation. All solutions that we take for granted only exist because someone was curious enough to explore difficult questions and keep the curiosity going. If Alexander Graham Bell wouldn’t have been curious about the outcome of sending sound through telegraph wires, we wouldn’t have had telephones. Ask questions, seek answers, and let curiosity drive you to explore unconventional ideas and perspectives.
Mastering Soft Skills: While honing your skills, it’s important to develop skills such as creativity, empathy, active listening, etc. to help understand and solve problems better and innovatively. Moreover, you must also learn to convey your ideas clearly and concisely as engineers today must increasingly work with cross-functional teams. Developing the right communication and leadership skills and mastering collaboration and team building are all essential and highly relevant for engineers.
Balancing Technical Excellence and Practical Application: With innovation pushing boundaries of what’s possible, as engineers, you must become pragmatic problem solvers. Even the most incredible idea in your mind is unusable if it isn’t practically possible. Imagine an engineer who envisions a fully automated store powered by robots, AR and VR. As futuristic as it may sound, it’s difficult to execute without addressing real-world challenges such as security, scalability, cultural nuances, and customer acceptance.
Navigating Bias: Last but one of the most complex challenges of technology is identifying and eliminating biases. Inclusivity should be a core principle of engineering and you should actively master the skill to identify biases. For instance, when developing facial recognition systems for retail security, engineers should actively mitigate biases related to gender, ethnicity, or age. Whether it’s in software or hardware, diverse and inclusive engineering practices are essential for creating fair and equitable solutions.
Cultivating Empathy and Compassion: When Nils Bohlin at Volvo invented the first ever three-point safety belt for consumer cars, they made sure the patent was given for free to the world. The invention has been credited with saving at least a million lives worldwide. Engineers have the power to make a positive impact on people’s lives; embrace this responsibility and ensure your solutions help humanity thrive. Remember, before an engineer, you are human and always keep the human side of engineering in mind.
Networking and Building Professional Relationships: Building a solid network is invaluable in your engineering career, especially if you are a woman engineer. It is critical that you build allies and sponsors at work. Attending industry events, conferences, and online forums to connect with peers, mentors, and potential collaborators can help expand your network and learning opportunities.