Today I had the privilege of interviewing yet another engineer from Yorkshire, England (lots of smart people in Yorkshire). Adam has made a name for himself in the Embedded Systems space but, in addition to that, he has his own show called The Embedded Hour where he interviews other engineers who work on Embedded Systems (this sounds familiar). Adam has had a very interesting journey on the way to engineering stardom so enjoy the interview and then check out the Top 3 Takeaways.
Top 3 Takeaways
#1: The Path To A Career Is Not Always A Straight Line
One of the many interesting things about Adam is that, unlike many of the people I’ve interviewed, engineering was not his first choice of careers. Adam says that growing up he was a “straight C student.” What’s more, when he enrolled in college it was to study History, Geography and General Studies. Well, at least that’s what he was supposed to study. Adam says, “What I really studied was alcohol.” Apparently, drinking and higher studies are common on both sides of the Atlantic. Adam spent so much time in the pub that one semester his grades consisted of “two D’s and an N; where N is ‘nice try’.”
Adam’s grades prevented him from continuing on to enroll in a university so he decided the next best thing was to join the Royal Air Force (RAF). Because with his two D’s he could actually enlist as an officer. Who knew it was that easy to become a fighter pilot? Amazingly, it was during the recruitment process that Adam, for the first time, considered the option of becoming an engineer. He not only scored high on the test for engineering candidates, but the RAF actually helped him enroll an extended engineering program at his local university.
The takeaway here is to pay attention to what is working (and not working) in your life. The fact that Adam preferred to be in the pub rather than studying History and Geography that was probably a good sign that he wasn’t meant for that. Also, he could have balked at the recruiter’s suggestion that he consider engineering given his past grades. Instead, he allowed his interest in electronics to lead him down a new road. The rest, as they say, is history.
#2: Try Something New Then Keep The Parts You Like
When Adam talks about how he got involved in writing he says he started out writing academic papers. These are the types of papers you submit to conferences and, while he found he enjoyed traveling to conferences, he didn’t like the “academic” part of it all. Then one day he sat down to write a “how-to” article and he discovered he liked writing instructional pieces rather than theoretical ones.
Sometimes in life we engage in jobs that we don’t like 100% percent so we just avoid those jobs altogether. What if, instead of just avoiding those jobs, we focus on the the parts we like and find a job where we can do more of that? Adam could have decided that he wasn’t cut out for writing but instead he figured out how to write in a way that he enjoyed.
#3: Have A Plan, Then Take A Leap
Adam says he decided to strike out on his own, quite literally, on a flight back from a conference in the United States. He says he couldn’t sleep on the flight so he began to think long and hard about what he wanted to do in life. When his plane landed, Adam says he got in his car, drove to work and promptly resigned. In the part of England where Adam lives, it’s customary to give three month’s notice (Can you imagine? We can barely hold on for two weeks in the U.S.) but Adam just told his boss, “Nope. I’m done.”
To a lot of us that sounds really scary but Adam didn’t just act on impulse without a backup plan. He says he had some money saved up and he was already working a side job which he knew could help pay the bills until he decided what his long term plan would be. And in the event that things didn’t work out, Adam said he would even be willing to go back to his employer and ask for forgiveness.
Adam is of the belief that “Every engineer at some point should work for themselves. Because it really changes your mindset.” He says you go from thinking, “I’ve written the code now and it works but I know if I just write it slightly differently, I can get slightly better results.” to “I’ve got to get it working. If I don’t get it working I don’t get to eat.”
Engineering is not so much about turning out the niftiest product but rather about producing a product that meets the customer’s needs so you can get paid. Working for someone else shields engineers from that reality. Sadly, that can lead to wasted time which equates to wasted money.
If You Want to Know More
You can find out about all the cool things Adam does at his company site: https://www.adiuvoengineering.com. Or you can watch one of his episodes of The Embedded Hour. I also recommend you check out his excellent series on how to get an engineering job with his mate (and mine) Max Maxfield.