In my past life I studied and worked as a mechanical engineer. That tract was a great foundation for many of the opportunities to service my customers and create the systems and products of my journey. When we were in the industrial age, engineering had a different meaning and trajectory. As the information age has changed our world, it is a great time for engineers to consider becoming entrepreneurs. Our economy needs the entrepreneurs that will truly build something great and create the jobs for others to fill.
Every day I deal with all types of people – attorneys, accountants, salespeople, marketers, business owners, executives and operations types. When I speak with engineers, it feels like I am home. The conversation is logical, congruent and focused on resolutions. Here’s what I want to say are the strengths of the engineers out there that need to think bigger and consider entrepreneurship:
- Problem-solving: We have been trained to solve problems. Business exists because of gaps. There is a problem or a need to fill continually. Most people are not even able to articulate or define a problem. Our training creates a logical methodology for defining problems, the boundary conditions and driving towards solutions. It is what moves the ball forward in value for customers.
- Optimism: I can remember the problem sets in graduate school seeming relentlessly difficult and obscure. Yet, with persistence, the pieces would come together. That persistence is a quality we were trained with. We believe there is always a solution. It may take a while, but we will figure it out. The game of entrepreneurship requires perseverance and continual pursuit of an answer.
- Candor: There is a lot of spin and fortune telling in business. Ask an engineer a question and they give you an answer. This is refreshing in a world of fluff, emotions and lies. Truth-telling and candor builds trust with customers. It’s not a quality you find easily.
- Learning: Salespeople carry a lot of bravado. It’s a generality, but it often sticks. Engineers have the humility to know they don’t have all the answers. However, they are not afraid to search, learn and keep growing. If you are not learning you are not growing. Growing is critical for successful entrepreneurship.
These strengths are a good core for starting or growing a business. However, there are some negatives that have to be recognized as well:
- Risk-averse: You have to be comfortable with risk. Another way to look at entrepreneurship is that having a job is a risk. You only have one paying customer and no diversification.
- Lack of articulation: Speaking in techno-terms is not appealing and does not connect. You have to be able to communicate like a human being.
- Unpersuasive: It may be easy to work with problems, machines, code or electronics. People are not an input and output. They require artful persuasion. Language, care, emotion and credibility all come into play. You have to develop these attributes and augment your strengths. Getting things done requires persuasion.
- Product obsession: Beyond building a great product, you have to be able to sell and identify markets. I would say these skills are even more important. Balancing the three needs to be both a passion as well as a recognition to avoid holing up with products that don’t sell.
If you are an engineer, consider the opportunities and reality today. It’s a talent game and the world will reward you for yours.