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Launching Your Career:

Lifelong Learning Your Key to

an Enjoyable and Rewarding Career
The GOLD Series: BOOK 4
TO COME: Look for upcoming books in this series about mentoring, networking, and more
By John Meredith
Published by IEEE-USA.
Copyright 2009 by the IEEE. All rights reserved. Printed in the U.S.A.
Edited by Georgia C. Stelluto, IEEE-USA Publishing Manager.
Cover design and layout by Josie Thompson, Thompson Design.
This IEEE-USA publication is made possible through funding provided by a special dues assessment of IEEE
members residing in the United States.
Copying this material in any form is not permitted without prior written approval from the IEEE.
This e-book is the fourth in the IEEE-USA GOLD e-book series, Launching Your Career. This series lls an
important role in helping young engineers launch their careers in the exciting world of technology that we
live in today. This series was an idea that I proposed to my IEEE-USA colleagues in early 2008. I owe a deep
debt of gratitude to 2001 IEEE-USA President, Paul Kostek, for embracing this idea and making practical
suggestions on launching the series. I am also grateful to Abby Vogel, editor of the GOLD series, for her
enthusiastic support and many practical suggestions relating to the series and this work. Abby also assisted
me in developing and evaluating a survey related to this book. I thank IEEE members who responded to
this survey. Their responses have validated the importance of my efforts to communicate the importance
of lifelong learning to tomorrows engineers. A number of IEEE-USA staff personnel have given me strong
encouragement for my writing endeavors; I thank Chris Brantley, Pender McCarter, Georgia Stelluto,
Chris McManes, and Greg Hill for their suggestions and encouragement on this and other writing projects.
Finally, I wish to thank my wife, Lorraine, for her generous support and encouragement in writing this
e-book, as well as all my other IEEE volunteer activities that Ive pursued over the years.

3 Table Of Contents
Chapter 1. The Importance of Lifelong Learning. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Chapter 2. Charting Your Course. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Chapter 3. The Launch Phase . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
3.1 Organizing for Learning. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
3.2 Your First Assignment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Chapter 4. The Long Haul . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Chapter 5. Tips for the Busy Engineer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
5.1 Graduate Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
5.2 On-the-Job Learning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
5.3 Read to Learn . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
5.4 Professional Societies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Chapter 6. Improving Your Learning Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
6.1 Improving Your Reading Effectiveness. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
6.2 Effectively Learning from Others. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
6.3 The Discovery Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
Chapter 7. Final Thoughts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
Chapter 8. References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
4 Chapter 1
The Importance of Lifelong Learning
ne of the greatest challenges that engineers face today is keeping current. Technology
is growing at an unprecedented rate. New tools that engineers use to perform their
daily work are being introduced constantly. Many engineers are required to collaborate with
colleagues in elds outside their primary expertise. Soft skills and company-specic knowledge
require newly graduated engineers to rapidly come up to speed on ones rst job. It has
been estimated that an engineers technical skills will be obsolete in seven years unless one
continues to upgrade his or her knowledge and skills [1]. Some say this cycle is getting even
At the same time, global competition is driving companies to become more and more
competitive. This puts pressure on the engineer to become even more productive and
innovative. Engineers need new knowledge, skills and tools that will enable them to compete.
After all, engineers are the innovators who design the products and services that companies
provide for their customers.
The challenge to continually expand ones knowledge, skills and tools may seem like a
daunting challenge; however, newly-minted engineers should look at keeping current as an
exciting part of their jobs. After all, engineers who are just entering professional practice have
been exposed to the seemingly impossible in their undergraduate training creating new
processes, devices, products, or systems based on ones own creative talents. The excitement
relating to the creative processes drive the engineer to seek new ideas and new methods for
their next project. Engineers must practice this learning process throughout their careers.
While you should look at lifelong learning as a fun and rewarding process, it is important to
stress how vital it is to your career. The engineer who keeps current will be rewarded with
a more enjoyable and successful career. At the same time, you have to realize that lifelong
learning is not automatic the process of keeping up-to-date in knowledge, skills and
tools requires time and effort. The process can be likened to keeping shape physically, as
University of Wyoming Professor of Electrical Engineering Cameron Wright points out. As
Cameron suggests, you have to exercise regularly if you want to keep in shape. The process
for keeping current can be thought of in a similar way.
This e-book is a guide for engineering students who are about to begin their career, or
the engineer who is just launching his or her career. A number of practical ideas and thoughts
are suggested that can help you make lifelong learning a priority in pursuing an exciting and
rewarding career.
Chapter 2
Charting Your Course
program of lifelong learning does not just happen. It is incumbent upon you as a new
technical professional to develop a plan for continuing professional development. Your plan
must be periodically updated. Most importantly, you should use the plan as a guide to ensure
your continued career development.
An essential part of planning is to carefully perform an assessment of your knowledge, skills
and capabilities. This important rst step should be done at the end of your undergraduate
education, even if you plan to immediately commence graduate studies. The purpose of
this assessment is to identify gaps in knowledge, skills and tools that you will need in the
initial phase of your professional career. If your plan is to enter graduate school this initial
assessment will provide guidance for focus in your graduate studies.
Following your initial assessment, you should document a plan to strengthen your portfolio
of knowledge, skills and tools needed for the initial phase of your professional endeavors.
It is recommended that this plan be simple as possible. A simple checklist of learning and
development tasks with time goals is adequate. It is important that you review this plan
on a regular basis, updating the list with new items as you identify needed actions to keep
current. This process is standard in many industrial companies who employ engineers. The
plan, typically called the employee development plan, is used by supervisors to encourage
an employees development.
The next serious assessment should be carried out shortly after entering professional
practice. The aim is to identify additional knowledge, skills and tools needed to launch your
career. These new areas of focus are aimed at your specic job and company. This assessment
should focus on two categories: (1) general training, orientation, or certication required by your
employer; and (2) specialized training needed to perform your job.
The former category is usually not technical in nature and includes such things as information
on your company, travel policies, safety training, code of business conduct, and similar topics.
This type of training is usually required within the rst few days of initial employment, and may
be undertaken either as self-study or in a classroom setting, depending on your company.
The latter category is more technical in nature, typically including topics such as computer-
aided-engineering software (CAE) tools, project management software, production tracking
software, and other similar tools that will be used in carrying out your daily work. Here again,
the method of training can be less formal self-learning to more formal on- or off-site classroom
training classes depending on your company. Obviously, this type of training is critical to
becoming a productive technical contributor and should be completed as soon as possible.
A plan for these short-term training activities should be documented to keep you on track
during the initial few weeks of employment. It is a good idea to go over your plan with your
supervisor to ensure you are covering all company and department requirements. Your plan
will help get you up to speed as you commence your new job.
Once you are on board with your new job and have received your rst job assignment, it is
time to shift your focus to strategic or longer term aspects of your job. You need to identify
knowledge, skills and capabilities that you need to make contributions that will be expected of
you. You should also consider your long-term career goals. It is good to consult with colleagues
and teammates for help in dening specic opportunities for learning. You should also identify
possible resources for these learning endeavors courses offered by your company, local
university courses, textbooks, technical papers, consulting with company experts, conferences
in your eld of interest, etc. Obviously these learning activities will require a longer period
of time. The goal is to ensure you are continuously building a stronger and stronger base of
knowledge and skills that will keep you on the leading edge in your professional endeavors.
At this time, you should update your development plan to delineate activities, timelines and
possible resources that will be used to carry out your plan. You should share this plan with
your supervisor, inviting his or her comments. In most cases, you will need support from your
company in the form of resources or time to complete some of the tasks on your list, so you
should be prepared to negotiate company resources that support your plan.
Finally, you must use your plan, step by step, to ensure continuous growth and development.
If your company requires a development plan, you should incorporate key elements, perhaps
your entire plan, into your company required development plan. It is recommended that you
review your plan periodically perhaps quarterly or biannually to ensure you are on track.
Since circumstances can change, you will need to update your plan from time to time to keep
in step with ever changing situations that exist in the real world.
Chapter 3
The Launch Phase
he rst several days on your rst engineering job are a very exciting time. You will be
briefed by your supervisor on your duties and responsibilities, and you will be introduced
to your rst project assignment. No doubt you will be given a tour of your new surroundings,
where you will be introduced to teammates and colleagues. You will be briefed on company
procedures and practices, and you will be given an ofce with the required ofce furniture
and equipment needed to do your work. It is important that you use this short indoctrination
period to set up your new working environment, and to organize your ofce to maximize your
efciency in carrying out your daily activities.
Being organized and efcient in the use of your time is an important aspect of lifelong
learning. You will encounter many demands on your time managing the many tasks and
activities associated with your job, as well as your responsibilities and activities outside
the work place, can leave you with very little time for professional development. You must
organize your work environment and manage your time to ensure that time is available for
learning activities.
Allen Taylor, who teaches electrical and computer engineering courses at Portland State
University, stresses the importance of making time to keep current. Allen strongly emphasizes,
Make the time.
3.1 Organizing for Learning
As a minimum, the typical engineering ofce includes a desk, shelves for books and reference
documents, a ling cabinet, a telephone, and a computer. One of your rst tasks will be
organization of your ofce in a way that facilitates your daily work activities.
A good starting point is to set up your computer. Once you have established a network
connection, you should set up e-mail service on your computer, assuring that your address is
communicated to those who need to know. You will want to ensure that your new address is
added to distribution lists that may exist in your working group. Including access to relevant
distribution lists and contact lists and ensuring that you can link your e-mail service to your PDA
(personal digital assistant) will maximize your communications efciency. Finally, you should
organize your e-mail les for easy retrieval.
It is also a good idea to make use of your computers electronic calendar. Electronic calendars
link employee scheduled activities, enabling you to coordinate your schedule with your work
group and fellow employees. A calendar is essential to being organized and is a must for
keeping track of meetings and activities.
Another part of your ofce organization should include a contact list. This list should be
electronic and built around les that are transferable to portable devices that you may use to
communicate with colleagues, business contacts, family and friends.
A good computer ling system is essential. The ling system should include your working les,
project notes, reference documents, technical papers, and other documentation associated
with your work. Your ling system should be logical and should be set-up for easy access.
A priority is to provide a ling category for material that you will be using for learning activities
papers, tutorials, notes and similar reference material. You should become familiar with tools
that facilitate organization of information.
One technique is to create your own web site, where you can organize the many pieces of
information you will need to access quickly. An added benet is the ability to share information
with colleagues.
Another possibility is to consider a free online notebook service offered by Google [2] or Zoho
[3]. These services provide an easy way to write notes and clip text, links and images from web
pages. Notebooks can be organized by subject with individual pages under each subject. Note-
books not only provide a very exible way of organizing and cataloging information, but also
enable you to share and collaborate with others. Your employer may offer a proprietary online
notebook system for organizing, sharing and collaborating related to project work.
Time spent in setting up your computer is a good investment, because a well-organized ling
system will save a considerable amount of time in your day-to-day work a well-designed l-
ing system can help you quickly nd information. You should set up categories that make sense
to you. Each category should be organized into groups and subgroups, as necessary. You should
adopt le a le naming convention that makes sense. Short le names are always a good idea.
While electronic tools are becoming more and more prevalent in the ofce environment, you
will still see paper in the form of notes, papers, books, manuals, and other documentation that
comes across your desk. You will need to set up a ling system for your paper documentation.
Keeping in mind that your paper ling system should enhance your efciency, your approach
in setting up this system should be similar to your electronic ling system. It is a good idea to
try to minimize paper documentation, since les tend to grow with time. Scanning documents
into electronic form (pdf les) can help minimize paper, enabling you to control the never-ending
ow of papers and documents that you will encounter.
3.2 Your First Assignment
An important part of your indoctrination is learning about your rst project or job assignment.
Your supervisor or your assigned project leader will provide a detailed brieng. You will be given
such information as:
4 Background on the project
4 Big picture view of the project
4 Technical details
4 Status of the project
4 Project plans and timeline
4 Engineering specications
4 Customer expectations and information
4 Your role and expectations
4 Reference documents and computer les
You should take careful notes, ensuring that you understand as much as possible about your
new project assignment. It is important to identify resources that you will need to carry out your
work, and people who can assist you when questions arise.
No doubt you will go back to your ofce with a number of notes, documents and references to
computer les. You must carefully le this information in your computer or paper ling system,
so that you will have easy access to information that you will need to carry out your new job. It
is now time to commence work on your rst assignment!

10 Chapter 4
The Long Haul
s you commence work on your project you will discover the many pleasures of
engineering work:
4 Dening and setting goals for your project
4 Exploring a possible design or problem solution
4 Collaboration with colleagues
4 Creating the best design or solution
4 Building a prototype
4 Testing your prototype
4 Improving your design or problem solution
4 Seeing successful completion of your project
Along the way, you will be tracking progress against your schedule and budget, while keeping
your supervisor and management appraised of progress. You will nd that you are using much
of the knowledge and many of the technical skills you learned while in school. You will quickly
learn that much of your job centers on non-technical skills such as
4 One-on-one communications
4 Oral presentations
4 Writing reports and memos
4 Organizing meetings
4 Interpersonal relations
4 Project management
4 Planning and budgeting
All these are important skills for the technical professional who wishes to enjoy a successful
career; nevertheless, you will quickly discover the need to grow in your technical competence.
You will frequently nd yourself searching for new technical information or reviewing material
that you may have forgotten. You will be expected to learn new tools and procedures that are
needed in developing products, processes, or systems.
Along the way, you will experience pressures associated with project schedules, deadlines for
reports, important meetings, and an endless list of unexpected events. While you see the need
for attending a conference, taking a course, or some other activity needed to keep up with new
advancements in technology and techniques, you will be tempted to put off the items you have
on your development plan. You may skip over learning goals with the idea of slipping your plan
until next year. This approach often results in a pattern of ignoring important self-development
activities to the point where you nd yourself hopelessly outdated.
This problem, called technical obsolescence, occurs at mid-career for many technical profes-
sionals. Some of the symptoms of technical obsolescence are:
4 Inability to understand technical articles
4 Lower performance rankings
4 Passed over for promotion
4 Career stagnation
You must avoid technical obsolescence at all cost. If you nd yourself falling into this trap,
you should take time to do some serious reection on your situation. Pull out your long-term
development plan and make some major adjustments. Some possible outcomes might be:
4 Identify need to improve your time management or organizational skills. Perhaps you
can get tips from a mentor or a colleague who has demonstrated organizational or time
management skills.
4 Identify a need for specialized knowledge or skills. You might consider taking a course,
consulting with a colleague who is an expert in the subject you have identied as a
weakness, or you might take a tutorial.
4 Inadequate resources that hamper your efciency and perhaps you colleagues as well.
You might brainstorm a possible solution in the form of a proposal to management,
outlining a realistic plan that provides benets to you, your colleagues and your
Hopefully, your actions will result in a step improvement in your skills and knowledge that
translate to greater contributions to your employer. And, just as important, is that your actions
will enable you to continue to grow professionally.
Chapter 5
Tips for the Busy Engineer
he most important factor in lifelong learning is to have a solid background in the
fundamentals in your eld of intended practice. You will need this foundation for further
learning to pursue a successful career. If you are a graduate of an engineering program
accredited by Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), you are assured
that your undergraduate education has met minimum educational requirements for enter-
ing professional practice, or for pursuing graduate school. ABET criterion require programs to
include: (1) mathematics and basic sciences, (2) engineering topics consisting of engineering
sciences and design, and (3) general education that complements the technical content of
the curriculum. ABET further requires incorporation of realistic constraints and standards
be included in a students course work.
As previously indicated, a good education is not sufcient to enable you to contribute and
succeed in professional practice. You will need to add new knowledge, new skills, and new
tools as your career progresses. This can be a real challenge because of the many pressures
that you will encounter as you pursue your career. This chapter provides a number of thoughts
on how you can keep current as you pursue your career.
5.1 Graduate Education
A question that you should answer early in your career, hopefully during your undergraduate
studies, is whether to pursue graduate studies. If your goal is to work in an area where you
are involved with leading-edge technology, or if you wish to work in research, you should
consider graduate studies. A masters degree will prepare you for work in a specialized area
of your chosen discipline. Many employers seek candidates who have completed a masters
program because of the specialized nature and depth of knowledge required of their technical
work force. If this is the case, you should complete requirements for your masters degree
prior to entering professional practice.
If you are not certain about your eld of specialization, you may consider deferring completion
of a masters degree until you have some work experience. This will enable you to determine
where your interests lie and will guide you in choosing courses appropriate for your eld of
interest. Many companies provide nancial assistance for pursuing a masters program. In
most cases, you will be required to undertake studies on a part-time or evening basis, since
most companies do not allow employees to study full-time. Nevertheless, a masters degree
is a good investment and will make you more competitive as a technical professional.
If your goals are to perform advanced research and development, or to go into the teaching
profession, you should complete a Ph.D. program in your area of interest. It is important to
realize that the Ph.D. degree prepares the engineer to make original contributions in just about
any engineering eld. The Ph.D. requires a signicant amount of time two to ve years
and is broad-based degree where candidates are required to understand several fundamental
areas very well. In addition, the candidate must complete a research project and complete
a dissertation.
Alexander [4] provides some insight on the important question of whether to pursue graduate
studies. This classic paper also addresses the question of whether the technical professional
should complete a Masters in Business Administration degree (MBA).
It is important to realize that a graduate degree, in itself, is not a substitute for lifelong learning.
An advanced degree can jump start your career, and it can give you a considerable advantage
in nding the job that really ts your goals. Nevertheless, you still need to keep up with new
University of Alabama at Birmingham Electrical Engineering Professor and Department Head,
Greg Vaughn, pursued the advanced education track. Greg completed his Ph.D. in 1974, and
has enjoyed a successful career in teaching and research. He keeps current by doing research
and by teaching. Greg recommends developing and new teaching courses as a way of forcing
himself to keep up on new developments.
5.2 On-the-Job Learning
Once you have completed your formal education and are working, you will nd many on-the-job
opportunities to gain new knowledge, develop new skills, or to become procient in tools that
help you make contributions in your work. This is an important method of keeping current, and
you should maximize every opportunity to develop yourself during your day-to-day work. There
are a number of things you can do to enhance your level of competence:
4 Find a mentor who is willing to help you grow your expertise as an engineer. Choose a
person who you respect as an expert in the area you want to pursue. Mentors can help
you build your knowledge and skills, and can provide valuable guidance and advice on
non-technical as well as technical matters. Learning from mentors is an important piece
of advice given by economist, N. Gregory Mankiw [5].
4 Seek out and work on leading-edge projects. Working on challenging projects will
force you to learn. This may appear daunting at rst, but realize that you can collaborate
with colleagues, seek help and advice from your mentor, or you can nd solutions to
problems by conducting research. Not only will you learn new things, but also you will
be more satised with your contributions.
4 Collaboration with teammates and colleagues is a good way to pick up new ideas.
This can be done in a one-on-one setting where you exchange ideas with a person.
A project review setting is another method of exchanging ideas. This method is
powerful for improving on an idea and is a great learning technique.
4 Identify resources where you can nd data and information that you will need for
carrying out your work. Some possible resources include your private les, books,
or documents; the company library; or the Internet.
4 Organize in-house technical presentations for technical professionals at your work
location. You may wish to collaborate with one or two other colleagues in designing
a program that you can sell to management. A number of companies support monthly
lunch-hour technical interest groups, and may even be willing to provide pizza and
soft drinks as an added attraction. You can tap on company experts as well as outside
speakers, perhaps from your local university, to provide stimulating technical talks of
interest to you and your colleagues.
4 Study groups are a great way to jump start yourself and a small group of your colleagues
interested in a focused subject. This is an informal approach to learning and can be
organized with little effort. You only have to identify two or three co-workers who
are interested in learning more about a technical subject. Study material could be
a textbook, technical papers, or self-study tutorial courses offered by IEEE or other
organizations. Once you have organized a study group, you should hold discussion
sessions in a small conference room one or two times each week, during lunch breaks
or after work, to discuss the material each group member has studied outside of the
scheduled discussion time. This method of learning provides deeper insight into the
subject and enables individual group members to understand perspectives of others.
Emily Sopenski, who is Vice President and Chief Operating Ofcer of the RFID Educational
Foundation, is a string proponent of learning on the job and learning from peers. Emily
suggests, Learn by doing. Stay Involved. Information will ow. Tap peer expertise.
5.3 Read to Learn
Almost all technical professionals agree that reading technical literature is one of the most
effective ways to keep current. One of your most important priorities as you commence
professional practice is to seek out appropriate reading material, and develop a habit of reading.
Like every engineer and scientist, you will be inundated with a never-ending ow of reports,
data, technical papers, and other documentation in the course of doing your work. Much of this
material will be related to your present assignment, and you may become so focused on the
current problem at hand that you neglect reading up on new technology and breakthroughs.
You must guard against getting into a routine where you are not keeping up on the latest
developments breakthroughs that may be outside your current technological thrust or new
technologies that will be important in the future. As time marches on, you will encounter new
opportunities that will require new knowledge. If you have been diligent in keeping current
through an active program of reading, you will be ready to take on these future challenges
and you will be rewarded with a more exciting career.
Some key points you should keep in mind as you embark on your reading program are:
4 Your reading should include study of material related to your profession, as well as
material related or perhaps peripheral to your profession. You should always include
material on new technology and breakthroughs.
4 Reading material on non-technical subjects, such as newspapers or books, should be
part of your reading plan. This will keep you informed and will provide some diversion
an important consideration in the busy work environment that is typical in todays
competitive world.
4 Identify quality reading material that you want to read. Place the material in a convenient
location where you can easily access it. You will want to nd one or more comfortable
locations where you can regularly sit down to read. This might be at the breakfast table,
in your ofce, in your company library, or perhaps in a study room in your home.
4 There are a number of sources for quality reading material. The library, a book store,
technical journals and magazines, and Internet sites are just a few examples. As
suggested in Chapter 3, you should have some good reading material readily accessible
in your computer and hard copy les.
4 Keep a reading list, constantly updating it as you read books and papers. Since you will
frequently discover books, papers, or Web sites that you want to check out, it is a good
idea to have this list on your PDA.
4 Visit your library and book store frequently. Scan the cover pages and table of contents
of books to identify reading that ts into your reading plan.
4 Finally, you should read on a regular basis. Identify a quiet time when you can slip away
to a quiet area for reading, perhaps early in the morning while you are eating breakfast
or for an hour or so after dinner. If you have down time, such as during airline or train
travel, or while commuting, or while you are waiting for an appointment, you should use
that opportunity for reading.
Dr. Susan Federici, who does market analysis and business case analysis as a Principal of
the Fererici Business Group, is a voracious reader. Her advice is: Read! Talk to a lot of other
5.4 Professional Societies
Every technical professional should belong to a professional organization that represents their
profession. If your eld of interest is in the electro-technology area, you should belong to
the IEEE. Professional organizations offer many opportunities for professional development.
For example:
4 Local meetings offered by your professional organization provide opportunities to attend
educational technical and professional development meetings that will help you grow
in your career as an engineer. These meetings also enable you to network with other
technical professionals.
4 Professional organizations provide a broad array of technical publications that will help
you keep current. These publications cover the gambit from broad coverage of the
discipline to specialization areas within the discipline. If your discipline is in the elds of
interest covered by IEEE, you should join one of the 45 Societies representing your area
of specialization.
4 Professional societies also sponsor technical conferences. IEEE conferences
are sponsored by all of the Societies and provide opportunities to share technical
information. Many of the conferences provide tutorial sessions, where attendees can
learn about emerging technologies and focus topics of interest to the leading-edge
technologist. You should become a regular attendee at a technical conference in your
area of specialization. A higher level goal would be to present a paper at the conference.
4 Professional organizations are also involved with developing standards. This is another
educational opportunity that some engineers are involved in. If your work is in an area
where a new standard is being developed, you should explore the possibility of joining
a standards working group. This process provides a great educational opportunity and
also ensures that your company has a voice in setting the standard.
Milind Nagada, a senior design engineer with Advanced Micro Devices, emphasizes
the importance of belonging to a professional society. Miland, an IEEE member, keeps
current by reading IEEE papers and journals. He suggests reading IEEE Spectrum as a
way to keep up-to-date in the broader technical eld.
17 Chapter 6
Improving Your Learning Process
earning is the process where you gain skill or knowledge through study, practice, or by
being taught. There are several methods of learning reading, instruction from others, or
by a process of discovery. Since learning is a key success factor for the technical professional,
you should seek ways to improving your learning effectiveness. This subject has been of
interest to a number of professional educators and trainers. Ronald Gross book, Peak Learning
[6], addresses this topic and is recommended to you as a practical guide to help you improve
your learning effectiveness.
This chapter provides some practical advice on how to improve your learning effectiveness.
6.1 Improving Your Reading Effectiveness
Reading is a basic learning skill. To be an effective reader you must comprehend what you are
reading while reading, as rapidly as possible. The rst step in improving your reading effective-
ness is to learn to read with a purpose. Every reading task has an objective. This could be a
simple task, such as nding a piece of data hidden in a document, or it could be a complex
objective, such as evaluating how or why a system reacts to multiple inputs. You should always
identify your reading objective and adjust your reading technique accordingly.
In setting your objective for a reading task, it is helpful to ask what information you are
seeking. Asking the question who, what, when, where, how, or why keep you focused on
your objective. Let us consider three reading techniques that are used to achieve a reading
1. When you are seeking information to answer the question who, what, when, or where,
you should use the skimming technique. Skimming requires you to rapidly move your
eyes through the document until you nd a key word that answers your question. This
technique is akin to looking up a phone number in a telephone directory.
2. If you are attempting to answer the question how or why, you should use the scanning
technique. Scanning requires you to scan the document rapidly from left to right rapidly
to nd key words that answer the how or why question. It may be helpful to use your
index nger as a pointer to force your eyes to move faster. How and why answers
require several words, requiring you to capture more than a key word or two.
3. When you are seeking deeper meaning associated with the how or why question,
such as implied suggestions, explanations, or descriptions, you should use the study
technique. This technique requires slower reading of the material. Nevertheless, you
may scan most of the reading material to identify text that requires you to fall back to
the slower study technique to achieve your purpose.
When you have mastered skim, scan and study techniques, you should explore rapid reading
techniques. If you are like the average person who reads at 250 to 300 words per minute, you
can signicantly increase your reading speed. Speed reading techniques have improved reading
rates to over 10,000 words-per-minute for many people. This is an enormous improvement but
can only be achieved through study and practice. You may wish to explore some books on this
topic [7, 8].
Even if you do not pursue speed reading, you should always survey papers, documents, or
books that you plan to read or that you are exploring as a possibility of reading. Some things
that you should keep in mind when you are surveying are:
4 Check out the title, jacket summary, and table of contents.
4 Read the introduction or abstract.
4 Look over graphs, illustrations, examples, or supporting information that will facilitate
understanding of the material.
Surveying will help you quickly determine if a book, paper, or document ts your reading
objective. It is also a good way to identify material that you may want to add to your reading list
for future reading or reference. You will often nd through the surveying process that you only
need to read specic segments of the reading material you are surveying, thereby saving time.
6.2 Effectively Learning from Others
As suggested in Chapter 5, you will nd opportunities to learn on-the-job. In many cases,
this learning will be through contact with your supervisor, co-workers, or your mentor. Some
learning experiences will be deliberate or planned events. For example, a colleague might train
you on how to use a complex computer simulation program. Several things that will maximize
the benet of this type of learning are:
4 Familiarize yourself with the procedure or process that you are being trained on
4 If the training is complex, consider breaking it into a number of sessions where you have
the opportunity to practice what you have learned between sessions.
4 Formulate questions prior to each session.
4 Take notes for future reference.
4 Respect the commitment of your trainer by being on time and by pre-study of any
available documentation prior to each session.
You will also encounter opportunities where learning is accomplished on an informal basis.
For example, you might be having a conversation with your mentor when a question pops into
your mind. Such occasions often result in a short tutorial on a technical subject that can provide
you with deeper understanding of the subject. You should maximize these opportunities for
learning by:
4 If possible, provide a sketch pad or white board for use by your colleague.
4 Ask questions to help you understand the subject under discussion.
4 Identify references, such as web pages, technical papers, or documentation that would
provide additional insight.
4 After your informal learning encounter, make notes and study.
4 Record what you have learned in your notebook for future reference.
6.3 The Discovery Process
On many occasions, you will gain new knowledge or understanding through a process of
discovery or experimentation. The process requires you to:
4 Explore the effects of manipulation of inputs to a problem or design that you are
involved with.
4 Wrestle with questions or controversies surrounding the problem that you are trying
to solve.
4 Perform experiments to determine how a system responds to changes in key variables.
You can improve the chances of learning through the discovery process by using an organized
approach to your work. This approach should be based on the scientic method, as opposed
to a guess or shooting from the hip approach. Opportunities for discovery are enhanced by
using the approach:
4 Know what you are trying to accomplish.
4 Ask questions.
4 Do background research.
4 Construct a hypothesis.
4 Test the hypothesis using experimentation.
4 Analyze data and draw conclusions.
4 Document your ndings.
Realize that you may have to go through this process several times to arrive at satisfactory
solutions to a problem that you are trying to solve. Dont get stuck on pet ideas that arent
yielding results. You should get in the habit of quickly moving on to new ideas. Remember
Edisons approach in developing the incandescent lamp was to reject one possibility after
another. His persistence ultimately rewarded him with success.

20 Chapter 7
Final Thoughts
n todays highly competitive global economy, the technical professional must keep current.
Your success in your career endeavors will require you to constantly upgrade your skills and
knowledge. Emerging technologies will replace the technologies that you are comfortable
with today. The pace of change is increasing more rapidly as time marches on.
You must take responsibility for your own development. The rst step is to develop a plan
for your own professional growth and development. You should continually pursue your
development goals, monitoring your progress against your plan with updates as required.
Your plan should consider short-term development goals, as well as your long-term career
You should organize your work environment for efcient learning. This will ensure that you
have reference materials that can be accessed easily. Being organized also avoids wasted time
time that can be used for self-learning activities.
The foundation for lifelong learning is a solid understanding of fundamentals that you acquire
during your undergraduate education years. You should include graduate education as part of
your plans. But remember that formal education is not sufcient for the technical professional
who has to constantly innovate. You need to seek learning opportunities associated with your
job most will be informal opportunities that are self-directed. Most important, you should
always seek out job assignments that are leading-edge. This insures that you are constantly
keeping up-to-date on new breakthroughs and techniques.
Finally, you should develop habits that improve your learning effectiveness. Improvement in
basic skills, such as reading and problem-solving, can multiply your learning effectiveness. This
translates to having more time for other activities and will make you even more successful.
In the end, a career that embraces a program of continuous learning will ensure that you have
a successful career. A career that is lled with many proud accomplishments a career that
earns you respect from your colleagues and a career that is fun and exciting.
Chapter 8
1. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., Proc. Industry 2000: Technical Vitality
Through Continuing Education, Piscataway, NJ, 1995.
2. Electronic notebook, http://notebook/google.com/notebook/
3. Electronic notebook, http://notebook/zoho.com/nb/
4. C. K. Alexander, Jr., A Solution to the Crisis in Engineering Education, in IEEE Transcript
On Education, 1984, pp 20-22.
5. N. G. Mankiw, My Rules of Thumb, in The American Economist, March 1996.
6. R. Gross, Peak Learning, New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, 1999.
7. P. Kump, Breakthrough Rapid Reading, Paramus, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998.
8. L. Rozakis, Power Reading, New York, NY: Macmillan, 1995.
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