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December 18, 2015

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Even though your blog is titled "Engineered" I think you might be teaching more management & finance classes than straight engineering so what I say below may not apply as much to your students. Nevertheless, as an engineer with more years than I care to recall in the field, I have a few comments about college vs the "real world" at least as regards technical subjects.

For starters, I'd disagree that someone smart enough to get A's is de facto capable of succeeding in the workforce. Would you say the same if they were considering acting? Basketball? Teaching? My point is that different careers require different skills and often temperaments than that required to be an A college student. The workforce requires "soft" people skills that are not required or selected for as an engineering student. They can no more acquire these skills by dint of having recognized them as necessary than they can speedily acquire the skills to act, teach, play professional sports.

Next I'd say that many of the important skills on the job often have little to do with what is taught & valued in engineering schooling. Students spend a lot of time studying low-level details and laboriously solving equations. A EE becomes familiar with using Laplace transforms, transistor amplifiers, state machines reduced by hand, carry-lookahead adders, etc. On the job there are software tools to automate all of these. The skills needed in the workforce are higher-order *applications* using these blocks. A dozen lines of Verilog may imply more flops and combinational logic than the student had created by hand in all her/his years of schooling.

Lastly, I'd add that in the workforce new students have to make an unexpected leap from the concrete and understood to the abstract and vague. There may be nobody at a Google or Broadcomm that understand a given product from the lowest level to the highest. A good engineer has to give up a love for total understanding, ironically an understanding that is tested for and rewarded on small blocks of knowledge in college, and replace it with a gestalt that captures what the product does and needs. Then, and only then, can they apply their skills to the particular piece they are assigned without getting trapped in a local optima. This is where I bet many of your underperformers lie trapped. They know a lot about how to do their specific assignment but aren't capable of doing more than asked; they are trapped in entry-level assignments forever.

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