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By Dr. Harry Tennant

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by Harry Tennant
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Entries with keyword: STEM
Posts 1 - 5 of 5

Monday, March 14, 2011

What STEM professionals say about their careers: Steve Krueger

A lot of attention is currently being given to encourage more students into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses and careers. I have spent my career in the STEM domain and so have many of my best friends. I asked them, after decades working in STEM fields, what are the best and worst about it?

Steve Krueger
Education: SB, MIT, Electrical Engineering; SM, MIT, Computer Science
Steve is currently a Distinguished Member of Technical Staff at Texas Instruments

I like engineering because I like to build things.  I like engineering because I am fascinated by how things work and sometimes I know I can make them work better.

Building is helping make the world a better place.  It embraces the philosophy that you can change the world for the better.  It is about imagining and then making what you imagine into something real.  It can be about helping others, solving a need or just because.  And when you've built something, it is immensely satisfying to look at this new thing and think, "I did that!  I made the world a little bit better."

It is fascinating to figure out how something works.  I'm not really OK with using a tool or even watching a magic trick that I don't understand. I want to know how, or rather, I need to know how.   And, as you study how things work, you come to see that some things work much better than others, and maybe you'll begin to figure out why.

Then you are ready to move on to the next step, to improving the world around you.   You can start by improving something simple.  Maybe you have a rake that needs a special place to hang in the garage.  Maybe you are short and need a step stool to reach a high cabinet.  Maybe it would help your mother to find a bell she can ring to call the family to dinner.  These are the beginnings of a life of making the world a better place by building, designing, creating, engineer

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Keywords: STEM

 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

STEM professionals and their careers: Wealth

I have known a number of tech colleagues who have become wealthy. The ones who have become the wealthiest are those who started their own technology businesses which experienced fast growth and then either went public (sold stock) or were bought by an existing big business. This often results in a big payout for the founders, in the millions or tens of millions of dollars, even up to the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The founders and their early investors make the most money when a fast growth company goes public. However, other key tech people can also make a lot of money this way. I have known many programmers who were able to retire quite comfortably after working just a few years for a fast growth company that "cashed out". So, the financial benefits to a STEM career are not limited to the ease of getting a job fresh out of college. In high tech companies, the tech folks are critical to creating the new product, so are essential to the success of the startup company. As a result, they are often offered stock options to sign on with the startup and stay with it through the early years. While the stock options are worthless when the startup is formed, if the company does experience fast growth, those once-worthless stock options can become worth millions.

Fast growth startup companies are risky endeavors. The majority of attempts to build fast growth tech companies fail. One friend, for example, was a software developer who believed in the prospects for the startup. He chose to get paid nearly entirely in stock instead of salary. He lived very frugally in hope of getting a bigger payout later. It worked. When the startup went public, his stock was worth about $50 million. I've had other friends who went with startups which went out of business. They were left with no big payout, but typically they were able to go back to the kind of tech jobs they had before the startup. I have known colleages on both sides of that approach: some who were lucky and became very wealthy and some who spent years and have nothing to show for it.

So, is a STEM career a path to wealth? It can be. But if it's wealth you're after, you need to be ready to take some risks and be aware that in most cases, you will not become wealthy.

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Keywords: STEM

 

Monday, February 28, 2011

What STEM professionals say about their careers: Harry Tennant

A lot of attention is currently being given to encourage more students into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses and careers. I have spent my career in the STEM domain and so have many of my best friends. I asked them, after decades working in STEM fields, what are the best and worst about it? Here are my own thoughts.

Harry Tennant
Education: BS Information Engineering and Computer Science, MS Computer Science, PhD Computer Science
Career: AI research, research management, technology management, Internet consulting, Internet entreprenuer

Three best things about a STEM career

  1. My parents predicted I would be an engineer when I was small because I was always building with Lincoln Logs, blocks, TinkerToys, models and Erector sets (LEGOs didn't exist). In addition, I frequently disassembled gadgets around the house and less frequently reassembled them. My parents were right. I still derive great satisfaction knowing that I can make things, especially that I can make things that others find useful. If you have an interest in making things and knowing how they work, STEM is the right place for you.
  2. My childhood heroes were scientists and inventors who changed the world. At that time I assumed it was always for the good, but later learned that it's more complicated than that. I wanted to be part of the march of history fueled by science and technology. And a big part of that is learning to think like a scientist: What's the evidence? What can be quantified? How can we organize what we know?
  3. At college graduation there were competing chants between the college of liberal arts and sciences on one side of the Assembly Hall and engineers on the other. One side chanted, "L-A-S L-A-S," but soon shifted to "We're not nerds. We're not nerds." To which the engineering side came back with, "We've got jobs. How about you? We've got jobs. How about you?" Jobs tend to be plentiful for new STEM graduates. However, it's a short-lived advantage. Although the engineers tend to find jobs before the liberal arts students, the LAS students typically find jobs pretty soon. So, it's an advantage to engineers that lasts a few months at most. On the other hand, the engineers may be nerds for the rest of their lives.

    You can do no better than spending your career doing what you love to do. While there are practical considerations like finding a way to make some money, you will be more satisfied doing what you love, or at least attempting to do what you love and failing, than selecting a career only for the money. But what if the only things you love to do are watching TV or going to parties? It means you are stuck thinking only of yourself. Spend time thinking what you can do for others that you will love.

Three worst things about a STEM career

  1. New engineers tend to think that technology is the essence of a new tech business. It may be necessary but it's not sufficient. It's at least as important for engineers to understand business, sales and working with people. That is to say, even if you're an engineer, don't be a nerd for the rest of your life.
  2. Technical knowledge is fleeting, quickly overtaken by new technical knowledge. If you love the challenge of learning new technology, this is fun. If not, your knowledge may soon become obsolete.
  3. If you choose a STEM career just because of the out-of-college employment advantage, you're unlikely to be happy in the long term. Technical work is typically mentally challenging. If you thrive on the challenge, you'll love it. If you don't, you'll hate it.

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Keywords: STEM

 

Friday, February 25, 2011

What STEM professionals say about their careers: Robert Jorczak

A lot of attention is currently being given to encourage more students into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses and careers. I have spent my career in the STEM domain and so have many of my best friends. I asked them, after decades working in STEM fields, what are the best and worst about it?

Robert Jorczak
Education: BS, MS, PhD

My formal education has been in physical and behavioral science, education, and computer "science".  I have been involved in STEM as a middle/high school science teacher and as a designer of (primarily computer-delivered) training and instruction.  Given my science and technical background, I was often involved in the development of technical training (for various adult audiences, including salesmen).

The worst thing about being technically knowledgeable is that you can be pigeonholed as the "nerd" or "geek" who has difficulty dealing or communicating with people and/or lacks leadership potential.  This stereotype may have some truth in it, like many stereotypes, but it an be frustrating if one is not satisfied with simply doing what other people tell you to do.  Often, those who can actually DO a  technical task (e.g., programming), rather than talk about it, are limited to that task so the unskilled have something to do (i.e., design or manage).

Another issue is that science and especially technology changes rapidly compared to other knowledge, so what you work hard to know often becomes obsolete and you are repeatedly faced with a similar new learning task.  That gets tiresome as one ages.

Technical employment, which used to sort of guarantee a job, is now sent to other countries so that technical jobs are suffering the same fate and manufacturing jobs.

The best thing is that you get to understand some science or technology, which can be awe inspiring and can provide a peek into the nature of the universe.  What is better than that?  You also, sometimes get to see the cutting edge of science or technology if you are lucky.  You may get to play with advanced fun toys.

I strongly believe we cannot promote science and technology enrollment or performance by pretending it is entertainment or fun for general audiences.  I support a dual approach which treats those with STEM ability and/or interest differently than those who have little interest or scientific reasoning ability.  The latter would be trained more about what science has discovered (and about appreciating science) and the latter would be taught how to do science. Finally, we will get both better STEM enrollment and performance if our culture demonstrates a higher esteem for it.

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Keywords: STEM

 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What STEM professionals say about their careers: Dan Donahue

A lot of attention is currently being given to encourage more students into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses and careers. I have spent my career in the STEM domain and so have many of my best friends. I asked them, after decades working in STEM fields, what are the best and worst about it?

Dan Donahue
Education:  BS Astrophysics, MS Computer Science
Career:  AI researcher, Healthcare web software architect, Game producer, programmer, Consultant, Enterprise SW designer/developer, Video Producer

Three best things about a STEM education/career
  1)    You usually get a pretty good salary
  2)    You get to work in a safe, healthy (if not boring) environment with flexible hours (if you are lucky)
  3)    Your co-workers are often multi-generational, multi-cultural and open-minded

Three worst things
  1)   You'll never get wealthy - that is for the salesmen or business-savvy entrepreneurs
  2)   You're always at risk for losing your job: tech and marketing professionals are always the first to go
  3)    You will never be able to keep up - the new, inexpensive college grads will always know the latest trends and technologies.

Personally, I tell my kids that if you want to make a tangible contribution to the world study science and math or engineering. But don't expect a rewarding career ("STEM" is not generally valued by our society in the way that personality and image are. Anti-intellectualism is rampant and shows no signs of decreasing) - when you have a job it is usually a fair salary, but don't count on having it forever.
If you want to make "big" money or be your own boss, study business and sales.

If I had to do it all over - I'd get a degree in something I enjoyed.

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Keywords: STEM

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