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Moving Upward and Onward With Continuing Education

By Priscilla Richardson

Now that you're five, ten, or more years out of school, do you aim for the executive suite? Engineers already have the background needed for corporate leadership, since all businesses today are either tech focused or tech dependent in some way. But you probably lack the business skills needed for a move into management. You can do the engineering, but you face roadblocks. You get to technical manager, but no further.

While learning on the job over the years used to prevail, nowadays engineers -- and their employers -- prefer more time-efficient advanced schooling. Responding to this need, at the University of Pennsylvania, the engineering school has joined forces with the Wharton School, the university's business school, to cater to the special needs of executive-suite-bound engineers. MIT and other programs do the same.

What's the difference between these programs just for engineers and a plain MBA? From Penn Engineering and Wharton's Executive Masters in Technology Management (EMTM) program, you get a Master's of Science in Engineering in the Management of Technology. You take courses in different kinds of technology not so you can do engineering, but so you understand a variety of technologies well enough to manage them. These courses come in addition to the leadership and management skills courses you would expect from a business program.

Because of the combination of business with technology, the ability to make sound technology business decisions is vital. So engineers, already in technology, can appreciate the benefits of joining tech with business training. Engineers then get a solid appreciation of what it takes to run a business profitably. Why not try for a masters degree, or even doctorate, in one kind of engineering? That will qualify you deeply in one engineering speciality. You can teach, perhaps, or do research, but normally not take over as CEO.

When you're considering one of these advanced degrees, it helps if your employer is willing at least to give you the necessary time off. For example, the MIT program requires a year's residency. Penn lets you take a two-year full-time course by going Fridays or Saturdays twice a month, with some Saturdays mandatory, or a part-time version just going on Saturdays over four years. With that weekend scheduling, students normally commute to campus and stay in housing there, to encourage teamwork and networking. Employers often recognize talent they want to encourage and pay the program fees, too. So this is not just a decision you make on your own.

One recent graduate of the EMTM program, Tina Schechter, a software engineer and director of quality, ethics, and mission success for Lockheed-Martin in Moorestown, New Jersey, cautions other engineers. You need not only "have a clear understanding of your career expectations and opportunities" but also "coordinate this with your management and HR department. This is how you can most benefit your career aspirations."

She found the EMTM program useful right from the start, giving her the "tools used to make high-level business decisions." Also, "some students in the program were already executives and brought additional insight into the learning process. Seminars, which included time to interface during a social hour and dinner," put her in touch with executives "from across the business world." In addition to excellent courses and professors, she got the opportunity "to work on projects with other students of very high caliber." She likes the forward outlook of the program, with its willingness "to continually take feedback and improve." But most of all, for her personal future ­ and she has gained major promotions ­ she got an "opportunity to learn how to link technology decisions to business needs." This included learning "how to ensure your business doesn't miss key indicators of when and how to change."

But what if you want to be an entrepreneur? You still need business skills and an overview of all the technologies used today. John Bowers, an inventor with several patents to his name in electronic printing for floor coverings, runs a one-person consulting business called Teknokon in Clarksburg, New Jersey. However, he started out on the corporate track. He found "at Penn, you learn about corporate culture." Along the way, "it became clear to me I don't fit in as a full-time corporate employee." Instead, he discovered "my best way of maximizing myself would be as a one-man show" as a consultant. In consulting, he goes to "where there is a clear match between what I have to offer and what a company needs."

Because of the "huge gaps of understanding between business people and technology people," Bowers feels those gaps "limit your capabilities." Therefore, the Penn program " is excellent at bridging that gulf. You get the whole picture." As a side benefit, he "met interesting people whose minds were working. It was very gratifying and valuable to make friends and network." Bowers does warn those who enter a program like this that they must "open their mindset. Give up their cultural bias. If you want to, you'll come out a changed person, in a much better position to carry out what you want."

OK, it all sounds good but you aren't sure if it's what you want or if you want to take the time and effort for a full-fledged degree. There are other ways to get advanced training and ways to dip your toes in the water to check things out. For example, the College of Engineering at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte has an Engineering Management Program under the direction of Dr. Gary Teng. Currently they offer non-credit programs for engineers with some management-related topics to select from. They also are working on a management certificate program and a mid-management program, again as non-credit programs.

Just investigate any school in your area that offers business and engineering work. You probably can find relevant courses, frequently ones from satellite campuses to cut down on your travel time. If the corporate world is calling you, investing the time and effort in technical management education can pay off handsomely.

Based in Cloverdale, Virginia, Priscilla Richardson is a professional speaker and seminar leader helping engineers write and speak for success. For her secrets of communication success, visit

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