Up Yours [A book review on career advice in the field of engineering]

Before I get to the actual book review, I’d like to first talk about the topic of cover art and design. Everyone has heard of the term “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” but I personally take that lesson with a grain of salt, as it should be. The cover is a strong portrayal of what one may be getting into.

Let’s take exhibit A: Advice to Rocket Scientists. As you can see below, this book has a simple logo for a small (~80 page) book for its topic of giving career advice for current and future scientists of all ages and career paths.

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The book cover should do a few things. Of course it should catch the eye of the customer, the key aspect on marketing a product. Something has to get your attention before you start contemplating the choice of investing time and money (mostly time) in the novel. Additionally, the cover should help portray the style of writing that the book has to offer. A simple icon: a clean-cut style of writing. Lots of white space could also implement a feeling for advice in a modern era. And the wording advertises a solution to a potential (or current) lack of fulfillment in one’s career status.

Now, lets take the book of interest in this article, Exhibit B: Up Yours.

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I’m sorry Spiro, but guess what? I am DEFINITELY judging this cover ….. a lot!

I wouldn’t say that a picture of a rocket launching up someone’s rear would be the choice I would utilize to advertise technical advice to professional engineers and possibly future industrial executives. I actually ignored this book the first time I saw the cover on Amazon, unconsciously disregarding it as a possible joke of a book. I didn’t consider purchasing this until I read another one of the author’s books [R&D is War, the previous book I reviewed].

After reading this book, the cover (in hindsight) makes a lot more sense. Engineers aren’t the most social creatures on the planet, and the overly nerdy representative on the front is a dramatization of that stereotype. But the oddly farce of a cover, along with the “phrasing” of a title, is a flag that this isn’t your typical clean-cut boring read that you would expect from your popular titles including 7 Effective Habits or How to Win Friends. The underlying atmosphere is similar to a scene where two employees are meeting at a local pub and casually talking about how their own experiences have shaped their view in the work force. The novel discusses how the gears grind, what has greased their chains, and which hazards to try and avoid or prepare for (almost like a personal FMEA).

I never found myself falling asleep while reading this book……..most of the time (unlike my text book Light Emitting Diodes that I’m slowly reading for “continuing education”).

Thus, the book Up Yours, by Clifford Spiro, once again brings you into his realm of experiences and insights during his career path from R&D to various VP positions through his 30+ years in industry. There is a small amount of overlap with his previous book, but it’s mostly references to the larger stories he writes more in detail in R&D is War. The book is also a lot thicker (>200 pages) than Exhibit A was. The chapters are easily divided into possible segments along your professional career development: from your first interview to what one can expect during executive leadership, along with everything would expect to get there.

It’s hard to summarize everything in this book, considering it’s already a 200 page summary of life experiences. Rather, I’ll list some of the overall highlights that extend beyond individual chapters:

  • Passion: When you go into engineering, we hope that you are in it for more than just the plentiful pay. Most students need a strong desire to learn their majors, and employees should never lose this personal drive during their professional career. As long as you work on what you truly love, the money will follow.
  • Teamwork: A major dislike I had with academia was the strong “individualism” factor; you are always competing for the top grade, the first papers, and the best grants. There is a little bit of collaboration in academia, but it is mandatory in an industrial environment. You have to sacrifice your level of narcissism for the betterment of your manager, team, and company. If the company is a keeper, your work will truly be acknowledged not just by your boss, but your boss’s boss and his/her peers (hopefully with your boss praising your efforts behind your back).
  • Development: While it always seems safe to “sandbag” (do small jobs and over-perform), don’t be afraid to take on some challenging objectives that do have a risk of failure. Being able to expand your expertise and your comfort zone will not only improve your confidence and capabilities, but also your personal standing and trust with your fellow co-workers. There’s even a chapter on how to handle failure, which isn’t a time for blame but a great learning experience. However, failing all the time comes to others as a red flag, so please know your personal limits.
  • Face-time: As humans, we are very social beings. Thus, part of success in your company isn’t about what your accomplishment are, but also how you present yourself. Spiro strongly suggests that you build a personal brand (image) and stock (experiences). These are the first impressions and the unconscious images that your peers will relate you with. It may be a cold, hard truth, but it is truth nonetheless. Furthermore, it makes you more approachable and agreeable in times both frustrating and beneficial.
  • Networking: Friends, family, college peers, current and past co-workers. You don’t have to suck up to those that are above you, but maintain positive ties that you feel strongly about. While building a web of social fulfillment, one never knows what opportunities will arise from these bonds. Hopefully the best of friends will still be there for you in times of need. When I broke my shoulder, it definitely split my real friends from the “poser.”

The final topic that I wanted to pick out from this book is on “knowing thyself.” Multiple chapters approach the reader on how well you know what you want, and how badly you want it. This spans across topics including what company environment you want to work in, what positions match your skill set, and how to know when it’s time to change your current projection (and how to do so without burning too many bridges).

The largest example is an employees internal urge for “promotion.” Typically this is found up the management ladder track. However, those individual are more fond of the pay and privilege bestowed on these titles, but they don’t necessarily enjoy (or even acknowledge) the required tasks of higher-level management. The positions require losing all of your time to meetings and paperwork, switching from technical problems to inter-personal conflicts, and having to bestow independence of work to your employees (not micro-manage them).

Personally, I’m taking a lot of advice from this book during my current career hunt for a more technology-driven career path. Since mid-January, I’ve had a few phone interviews and now have an on-site interview planned for later this month. If I do have a few offers, I’ll have to choose carefully based on what personal goals I want to fulfill. This includes:

  • Involved in a technology that I can “own” inside the company
  • Having access to nice “toys,” like an SEM
  • Working for a supportive manager that appreciates my time while acting as a technical mentor
  • I don’t plan on acquiring a management role, but I do find my organizational skill set a possible strength for such a position. It’s a idea that I won’t fight for, but I will take it a managerial position if the need arises. At least I’ll know what I’m getting myself into
  • Oh, and no more customers. That would be REALLY NICE. I’d rather talk to suppliers, the kind that don’t take you out golfing.

 

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