Engineering a Knowledge Transfer

From Inside USD -- There’s no substitute for experience. There was plenty of wisdom to be extracted for students who attended last Thursday’s Knowledge Transfer, a once-a-semester networking/panel event hosted by the University of San Diego at its Manchester Conference Center.

A four-person panel’s focus this time was on engineering. Participants offering their perspectives were USD alumni (Lauren Cronin ‘10, Rasheed Behrooznia ‘02), a former USD parent and parent board president (Bob Barry, P ‘08) and an industry veteran (Luis De Taboada). They shared experiences, observations and skills that contribute to their success. They also answered questions, first from moderator Chell Roberts, the founding dean of the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering, and then from the audience. Topics from the latter included mentorship, how to build a career and what they looked for in a candidate.

“Don’t come across as knowing it all, that closes me off right away,” said De Taboada, vice president of engineering for Banyan Biomarkers. “You need to learn to get along with people. Engineers, while generally thought to be smarter than most, should carry themselves without arrogance. Keep learning and be adaptable to disciplines that are to come.”

Cronin, an Industrial and Systems Engineering graduate, has often gone above and beyond. Currently a systems engineer for BAE Systems Intelligence and Security, Cronin appreciated her college internships with Hamilton Sundstrand and Raytheon and research projects that diversified her skill set. Once she graduated she found a leadership and development program that enabled her to get a master’s degree at BAE’s expense and offered her the chance to rotate through different areas of the engineering field and a chance to do it outside of her hometown. Her experiences have been built on seeking networking opportunities, a willingness to “work anywhere but San Diego” after her USD graduation, and volunteering herself for tasks such as public speaking to make her a well-rounded engineering professional.

“I had to network to create my own career and do so many different things,” she said. “You can open up doors of opportunity through networking, being mobile and being able to communicate, really putting yourself out there.”

Behrooznia, an Electrical Engineering alumnus, is a senior principal software engineer for Cubic Transportation Systems (CTS). His current company provides San Diego’s trolley system with its ticket machines, but a desire to get involved and beyond the norm has led to great opportunities. Behrooznia did college internships, first with a small defense company in Orange County working on its non-lethal weapons programs, then a few summers for the CIA, He worked for a small company, Orincon, that was bought up by defense giant Lockheed Martin. At the latter, Behrooznia dabbled in many areas to expand his skills and knowledge. Now doing commercial engineering with CTS, he’s still utilizing software engineering skills gained at Lockheed Martin in projects with the Air Force and Army and it’s a for good reason — the future.

“The software spectrum is growing,” he said. “It used to be all hardware and software was one percent, very small. Now things are so integrated. There’s more software that interacts with the hardware, instead of the hardware doing all the heavy lifting.”

Cronin echoed Behrooznia’s assessment and Roberts said software engineering is an area he plans to strengthen in the curriculum to give USD engineering students more experience.

While Barry and De Taboada touted “process improvement” and “program management,” respectively, as prime engineering job opportunities, some skills never change just to be employed.

The co-creator of USD’s Knowledge Transfer, Barry, president of John Barry and Associates and a consultant for many manufacturing and service industries, said he focuses on people skills when hiring.

“I look at candidates on the basis of how will they communicate with a client? How will they represent us? How will they interact with a client or other team members? Communication and attention to detail are critical. Are they organized? Computer skills are critical and they have to have the science. But I’ll pick art over science anytime. If you’re super heavy on the science side and haven’t had the experience through an internship where you’re doing a lot of interacting, I’d strongly encourage that. People who grow and blossom have what these people have,” he said.

De Taboada and Behrooznia are big on first impressions, those with soft skills and who’ve done sufficient preparation. “What do you know about the company? How will this person get along with the rest of the team?” De Taboada said.

Behrooznia added that when he asks a problem-solving question, it’s done with a purpose. “I want to see an ability to show me how they’re thinking. Don’t just regurgitate an answer that you might have read in a book. Can you think through the kind of problem I’m throwing at you? I care less if the answer’s right; I’d rather they communicate what they’re thinking or how they go about solving the problem.”

Cronin hasn’t been a hiring manager, but has been part of a hiring committee panel. She suggested something that she’s done herself: “Study for the interview, really prepare, but also ask what opportunities the company has so you can continue to learn and grow. I think it impresses people that you have the motivation to grow.”

All panelists championed the use of mentors. Whether through professional society chapters, their workplace, or when flying on a plane, such as Barry discovered when he was flying from Chicago to Orange County and struck up a conversation with another passenger.

“Mentors are everywhere. Mine is 82. I met him on a flight … and he has the energy of someone your age,” he said as he pointed to the audience. “Mentors love to share their wisdom with you. We meet once a month. I’m going to be 60 and yes, I still have a mentor. It’s great.”

— Ryan T. Blystone