Learn People Skills for Business with a Masters in Engineering Management
Shawn Wasserman posted on April 22, 2014 |

Name: Henri Begin

School: University of Colorado at Boulder

Degree: Masters of Engineering in Engineering Management

Undergrad: Bachelor of Engineering in Computer Engineering - University of Colorado at Boulder

Job Title: Software Architecture Engineer / Manager

Company: Qualcomm, Inc.

Industry: Telecommunications

Location: Greater Denver Area

Compensation: Cannot disclose

 

What led you towards a MEM?

Henri Begin didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do when he was going to graduate other than be a direct line manager. But eventually, this Masters of Engineering in Engineering Management (MEM) graduate ended up at Qualcomm working both the software architecture needed to keep smart phones running and line management needed to keep his team in check.

“I knew that at some point I didn’t want to work on code development for the rest of my career,” said Begin. “I wanted to go down the business path at some point. I then spent about a year helping my dad’s business and … learned a full business career wasn’t for me either. I wanted to be in a technical environment AND work on the business side.”

This push towards the technical industries led Begin away from traditional MBAs: “I checked MBAs out at local universities, their focus on the finance and real estate side didn’t interest me at all. This led me to the engineering management. It was a way to keep technical and get some of the business skills along the way.”

Does your job require a Masters in Engineering Management?

Begin explains that the degree probably helped get his foot in the door at Qualcomm, but it was likely his people skills that helped him get the position. Certain abilities, like how to coordinate the interactions of various teams, are very important to the job though.

“Software architecture is the division I work in. We work on the system wide software that goes on your mobile devices. Qualcomm actually sells platforms, SOCs, and code for your smartphones,” explains Begin. “We interact a lot with the hardware division when we are working with a new feature. Hardware might want to save a penny with a decision but if it cost the software millions then maybe it is best not to save that penny at this time.” While making such negotiations is definitely not taught in the engineering world, it is the bread and butter of engineering management.

Begin continues, “The software architecture role is predominately representing business aspects and pulling teams together for company direction. When you are developing code with your nose close to the grindstone the architecture role helps direct those teams to see what is better for the company as opposed to the individual technology.”

In other words, all-encompassing teamwork between sub-teams is important when working with graphics, cellular modems, Bluetooth and other technologies with system wide software. As an example, a Skype function on your phone would require the architect team to bridge the gap between the camera team, the wireless data team and the graphics team.

Begin mentions that if you already have the people skills and the technical skills then you can do the architecture role that accounts for 70% of his time. However, for a line manager, which makes up the remaining 30%, you need the business sense to know how to read the markets and industry. You need to be able to explain to a team what it means to be in a pull back or growth period, let alone know how to recognize one. It would be hard to learn that without a masters in engineering management.

However, the line management duties are broken up with technical work, helping Begin stay close to the technology as he moves up the ladder. This is a big benefit for anyone that craves more technical work above his or her typical management duties.

What are the best skills you learned in your MEM?

“People skills is the biggest. The two most important classes I took during my MEM was the required leadership class and the ethical decisions making elective. They had the most ‘soft skills’ and were the ones a typical engineering curriculum will not have… I never got that soft skills along the way in my undergrad,” joked Begin.

He also mentioned that the business and financial accounting type skills were the second most important things taught during his masters. Looking at balance sheets and business budgets are very different than coding after all, and vital in a managerial role.

What were the Benefits and Drawbacks to taking your Masters Online?

“I took most of my courses online,” said Begin. “Fortunately, I was also a half hour drive from campus so I could come in if I had questions. This and the fact I did my undergrad at Colorado-Boulder were major factors in my decision.”

Begin adds, “The company I was working at before, needed long distance travel overseas so I needed to ensure I could still finish the class work. I didn’t get to go overseas but it came in handy anyway when my wife and I had our first child. I encourage others to sign up as a remote student as well.”

However, working online isn’t always easy. Begin explains that the hardest part of working online was working in groups that included members from across the country. This can become a scheduling nightmare, with work and time zones butting heads. However, he adds that this is not that different from the normal business environment and should therefore be good practice. So while it wouldn’t happen if everyone were on campus, learning this skill early on does have its merits.

Do you like your job?

“Line management is one of my favourite things to do,” expressed Begin. “Many of the people under me are quite young and they ask me questions I haven’t thought of in 10 years or so. I will want to go up the ladder again eventually but I think I have a lot to learn in this role for the time being. I have been a line manager for a little over one years now.”

Moving to management has led Begin to build a more manageable lifestyle. “There is more travel in my life these days as I work at a remote site. There are also more meetings but I work on my own schedule. Additionally, I don’t miss working in a lab coding until 3 am.”

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