A couple of weeks ago a group of local high school students visited NI for a few days with the intent of learning what it is like to be an engineer. They toured around and asked each group at NI a few questions about what they do, what they like about it, and how they got there. Applications engineers, sales engineers, the R&D groups, and even marketing all tried to entice each student into a life of engineering. Then, at the end of the visit, these students got to play the role of a real engineer, developing hardware and software on LEGO robots!
Here are some of my answers to their questions for a marketer. Can you think of when you were in their shoes? What advice would you give to an aspiring engineer?
1. How did you know you wanted to be an electrical engineer?
At the end of 10th grade I was lucky enough to attend a summer program at Brown University and I enrolled in the most exciting course: Designing Mobile Machines: Robot Rover Derby. In this course the goal was to create a robot that would push another team's robot out of the playing field. Partners and engineering roles were randomly assigned: I was put in a group of 3 and was assigned, as you might guess, electrical engineer.
My teammates got to work designing the chassis, putting together the drivetrain, and mounting the sensors while I was tasked with creating the battery charging system. Batteries are boring compared to the gears and bolts of a robot, right? That's what I thought until.... BANG! My circuit went up in a cloud of flames and smoke! Instead of yelling at me or having me do it again, the professor calmly put out the fire, grabbed my pile of melted wires, and walked with me to the chalkboard. That's when I realized everything in electrical engineering is a big puzzle and I was destined to solve it.
Young Brian in summer classes
2. What are your daily tasks in marketing?
Marketing is a lot more about preparing and positioning than you'd think. Making sure you understand who is the best person to use the hardware or software, what class it fits in best, and how are you going to talk to the people and professors who care most about your solution. What that looks like day-to-day for me is a lot of talking to NI sales engineers, writing them emails, scheduling late-night meetings with people on the other side of the world, and generally getting feedback on any new ideas. Then the hard part is succinctly writing that down so anyone can convey the right message. My day still requires in-depth knowledge of the hardware but the puzzle is different: now I get to figure out how best to get professors and students excited about engineering and excited about the hardware and software I believe is the best way to teach engineering.
3. How did you choose a university?
My best experience looking for the right university was spending time there on my own. Many schools have a program where you can stay overnight or visit for a short period as a prospective student. Getting to know other students and getting to explore campus without my parents gave me the best understanding of what it would be like to spend four years in Cleveland. I was able to ask the current students what projects they work on, what the labs were like, and what activities they were involved in outside of classes. This experience was the most influential in getting me to choose CWRU.
4. What is the craziest project you've worked on?
The winner is by far the automated Wine Decanter project. The CEO and Founder of NI, Dr. T, wanted to pour an 18-liter bottle of wine for his wedding reception. This is not an easy task for a human to do, precisely controlling a 40-pound sloshing bottle of wine so Dr. T asked for a robot to do the task instead! After a few months of long nights and tough weekends we were able to make the beautiful contraption below. Check out the full story here: The T-Canter Story
5. How much engineering do you use in marketing?
Product marketing is all about being an expert in your field. That means being able to communicate with experts in the field and, at the very least, make them think you are also an expert. Every day I use what I learned in college to make decisions, create trainings for sellers, and create fun demonstrations that catch attention while also teaching a lesson in electrical engineering. Being a marketer does not mean giving up engineering!