Engineer, Educate Thyself! - Embedded.com

Engineer, Educate Thyself!

“We don't want it to impact our typewriter market.””Engineering Marketing Manager at IBM Advanced Systems Development Division explaining a decision to not release a computer-based individualized instruction multimedia system (including keyboard, printer, disk, CRT, film display device, cardreader, and CPU), 1966.

You don't want to be remembered for a decision like this some day, do you? One way to help ensure that you won't is to maintain your career vitality and personal intellectual agility by adopting a regular program of professional renewal, in part through regular continuing education, can help you assess emerging opportunities (and fading ones) and improve your ability to “think outside the box.”

At UC Berkeley Extension, in addition to a large annual program of short courses, conferences, and certificate-related evening courses, we have recently initiated a new service to the engineering profession: the Berkeley Summer Engineering Institute, now in its third year. You can see this year's program by setting your web browser to http://www.unex.berkeley.edu/eng/ and clicking the “Summer Engineering Institute 2002” button. Each summer you have an opportunity to learn from and network with technical leaders in cutting-edge short courses, while gaining the cutting edge knowledge tools you need to expand your technical competencies and position yourself for the next step in your career.

Dick Tsina
Assistant Dean Professional Studies
UC Berkeley Extension

Good engineering—like a good idea—is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Part of the perspiration is keeping pace with the dynamic, rapidly changing engineering environment, which also makes being an engineer fun and exciting. The need to constantly update and fine-tune your engineering skills is where continuing education comes into play.

There are several reasons why you, the engineer, should be taking advantage of continuing your education. First and foremost is achieving better job productivity. The higher the knowledge you have about your job, particularly its technical aspects, the better you can perform the job's tasks and achieve its objectives. This is where you apply the phrase, “work smarter, not harder.” Increased job productivity leads to better job satisfaction and, in times of corporate layoffs, a better chance of surviving what companies euphemistically call “downsizing.”

Better technical skills serve a dual purpose. Besides aiding in accomplishing the requirements of your current job, these skills are a platform from which you can go to either a higher-level technical job or to a job with expanded technical requirements—in other words, a promotion. Part of the fun of engineering is the opportunity for learning new skills for a current or future job—technical courses help you with this learning.

Once convinced that continuing your technical education is a desirable goal, the question is where you can get this type of education, without leaving your current job. Fortunately, there are many places to get trained, either through formal courses or through having the proper technical information available in easy-to-access formats. Helping accessibility is the pervasiveness of the Internet, which has opened many training opportunities that were not feasible just a few years ago. Among the best continuing educational sources are university extension classes, on-line courses and seminars, conference short courses, and technical trade publications.

Several universities, particularly those with strong engineering colleges, have extension-course programs available. These types of courses, usually fee-based, involve classes for short time periods compared to traditional university classes—for example, one-to-two days, or one evening a week for several weeks. Such courses may be tutorial in nature, giving an overview of a particular subject, or very focused on one particular aspect of a technology. To get an idea of the types of engineering courses that are available, visit www.unex.berkeley.edu/eng for a list of the extensive UC Berkeley Extension Program engineering short courses.

The 24/7 availability of on-line courses and NetSeminars (or webcasts), from TechOnLine and other e-learning organizations, make these types of educational vehicles very attractive to engineers with busy work schedules. Depending on the company, these courses and NetSeminars may be either technically broad (for the engineer wanting to get a technology overview) or product specific (for those who want in-depth information about a particular component or tool). Several e-learning providers offer these educational opportunities at no cost to the student.

You can listen to and watch a live NetSeminar, usually 30 minutes to an hour in length, and take advantage of the webcast's student/instructor interaction. If more convenient, access the NetSeminar in an archived version, from anywhere you have an Internet connection. You can take an on-line course, which is generally longer than a NetSeminar, whenever convenient, and can do so in modules over the course of days or weeks.

Technical-conference short courses are becoming an increasingly popular means for engineers to enhance their technical knowledge. These courses are available, usually for a fee, at several technology trade shows and may occur before, during, or after technical paper sessions. Check the educational session section of the Custom Integrated Circuits Conference (CICC) and the PCB Design Conference Web sites for examples of the types of courses available from a technology-focused conference.

Technical trade publications remain a tried and true (if somewhat limited) way of enhancing technical knowledge. Available in print or on-line, there are several good trade magazines available for the engineering community. These publications provide feature stories, technical evaluations, and other sources of technical knowledge. Depending on the publication, the technical editor writing the story or doing the evaluation, and subject matter, the quality of the information ranges from poor to very good.

Opportunities for continuing your engineering education are all around—in the classroom, in publications, and through the Internet. You'll find information on virtually any technical subject, available to you at little cost or for free. Furthermore, many companies will reimburse employees for any job-related courses they take. So—what's stopping you from becoming a better-educated engineer?

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