STAYING ON TOP
por Manuel Cereijo
Ten years ago-no, make that five years ago-the kind of engineers a company would have looked for would be different than who it would want today. Back then, the ideal candidate would have a good solid engineering background. There would be several areas of expertise that the engineering candidate would not have to bother with. Customer preferences, marketing strategies, new products initiatives would have been left to the marketing whizzes.
Candidates today at least have to be familiar with the overall business and be conversant in the business language. The reason is, of course, the boom in e-commerce. The Internet has changed everything in business, including the roles engineers play within the corporate world. Technical skills, such as programming languages and creating databases, are already part of the computer engineering curriculum.
Just about every engineering school in the country is reassessing how to prepare their students for the Internet economy. Many of these changes involve melding management courses into traditional engineering curricula, and the changes are being made because of the new way that companies are doing business in the e-commerce world. With increasing frequency, businesses are demanding that their new employees have expertise in both the hard sciences and business applications.
U.S. consumers will spend $39 billion online purchases this year. By 2004, that figure could rise to $185 billion or 8% of all retail sales. Software spending by U.S. companies could grow from $3.1 billion in 1999 to $14.5 billion in 2003. To thrive in these competitive arenas, firms will need software tools to promote brands, analyze trends, and capture market share, as well as the support tools to retain buyers.. All of which will require a reliable, high performance software infrastructure.
The market is really looking for engineering students who have some understanding of the business model of the organization they will be working for. They want solid engineering students, students who are well versed in technology. But the marketplace is also seeking students who have business savvy, students with a broader understanding of the big picture.
We shouldn’t get confused here though. The marketplace doesn’t want engineers to be strictly marketers, but they need engineers to know about challenges of marketing and finance and legal issues and not ignore them. The Internet has pushed technology and business closer together-it is unlike anything we have ever seen before. We have to know the soft skills, the ability to negotiate, the ability to synthesize tangible and intangible data. Given that e-commerce is where business management and technology come together, we need hybrid degrees or course work that combines engineering and management degrees.
The problem for engineering schools is that for every new business course added to curriculum, something must give. The issue is that a qualified engineering graduate is being called upon to do and know more. But nothing is being replaced in terms of curriculum. It is something the academic community really has to think about. More and more engineering students are taking these courses because they feel they need to, not because they need the course to graduate.
There are going to be some trade-offs. Science and technological innovations are inextricably linked with the marketplace. The driving force in the new economy will be e-commerce, a place where engineering graduates will have the most impact. I know it will enhance students’ chances for success, because knowledge is power.