The business of engineering


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Why have you chosen a technical career in radio? I think most of us in radio had our start with a different focus than we have today. At some point, being on-air was probably the big draw. It was for me. My original plan was to work in production and on-air, and then I realized that I knew how to maintain and install the equipment I was using. This was a skill no one else had. I was still able to feed my creative on-air and production interests, but I found my real interest in the technical side.

As an engineer, you likely have a passion for solving problems. You see a challenge, identify possible solutions, formulate a strategy and get the job done. But while most engineers have excellent troubleshooting skills, many do not have the best business skills. I was fortunate to work with several engineers and managers who taught me to understand the value of my skills.

I recently observed an engineer completely devalue his skills by volunteering to develop a communications system for a commercial entity. The company has its own IT department, and it was creating a new system to serve its needs. For the company, this was a new endeavor. For the engineer, this was a task he had completed many times before. The engineer saw a problem and wanted to provide a solution. That's being proactive. Unfortunately, the engineer stopped short. He evaluated the problem and formulated a solution, but he did not consider his own value in the solution. His knowledge and skill have value. He was able to provide a service to a commercial entity. Instead of submitting a business proposal, he volunteered to fix the problem.

His business proposal may have been rejected, but that's a choice the business operator can make. It's frustrating for most engineers to watch a problem go unfixed, especially when we know we can correct it, but it's smart business to understand your own value.

Anything free has no value in the end. It's been my experience that services performed for a fair price have a greater value in the end. Being fairly compensated also avoids the repeated asking of favors to get the job done. To borrow the phrase from a phone book company, it's nothing personal, it's just business.

I often hear engineers and technicians lament that they are underpaid. Using the scenario above, it's not surprising. Good engineers are not always good businessmen. However, new skills can be acquired and honed.

Be somebody

In addition to my career work, I work in several volunteer positions. In both cases, there's a phrase I often hear that can often lead to automatic failure. During a discussion of a problem or goal, I'll hear someone say, “You know, somebody should …”

This is usually followed by a general agreement with the idea. Yes, somebody should do that. This is a tipping point for success or failure.

At that point, if no one takes the responsibility, the idea languishes on the table and often dies. An effective leader can eliminate this by assigning the task to someone, but this doesn't always happen. It may not be the fault of the leader. It's easy to assume that the person suggesting the plan is the one who will execute it.

But why leave that to random chance? The next time you hear someone suggest “somebody should,” step up and be somebody. Don't leave it at somebody should. Make it happen that somebody will.


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