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What's Really Behind Those Engineering Myths?

By John R. Platt

You may be nervous about a few things now that you are entering a world as complex as engineering. But some engineers' greatest fears are no longer anything to worry about.

1. "Women aren't welcome in engineering / technology fields."

A few years ago, women still had trouble finding their place in the engineering clubhouse. But no more. While women still form a minority in today's engineering fields, the number of professional women in technology is growing, as is the number of women in technology management.

Today, women are valued for their teamwork as well as their intellect and skills. Most of the men coming into the profession today grew up with working mothers; they expect to work with women, and are not protective of the "old boys' club" that might have existed 20 years ago. And increasingly, the addition of women into the workplace makes it easier for companies to offer flex-time and telecommuting options to all of their employees, making it more possible to achieve that elusive work-life balance.


2. "Engineers have no 'soft' skills. They don't know how to... um... communicate."

Not true by any means. Good interpersonal skills are just as valued as an employee's technical skills.

Engineers today work in teams more than as individuals. That means they rely upon their personal communication skills to get anything done.

Beyond that, projects need leaders, report writers, people to make presentations, and more. Anyone who thinks he can just work on his own and let his work speak for itself is losing out on the only advocate he has -- his own voice. And the more you can speak for yourself, and lead, the more likely you are to receive the career advancement you deserve.


3. "Building a professional network isn't important. (I've got a MySpace page, after all.)"

Remember that old saying "It's not what you know, it's who you know"? Well, in engineering, it's what you know and who you know.

Technology companies can be volatile, and layoffs are not uncommon. Companies reorganize, and start-ups go bust. The names in your contact file can help you to find the next job when you need it -- or before you need it. (And just as importantly, sometimes you're going to need to find a new employee or consultant, and your contacts can be vital in finding that right person.)


John R. Platt is a freelance writer and marketing consultant who often writes about technology, entrepreneurship, and the environment.


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