An interview with the host of a new engineering podcast
Podcasts are extremely popular. This comes as little surprise, because podcasts provide all kinds of information in a direct and entertaining way. They can also be listened to virtually any time and any place. Having already provided ten mechanical engineering podcast tips and published episode #1 of the item podcast (in German), we’d now like to introduce the host of an exciting podcast relating to our industry. Lennard Hermann is studying for a PhD in the Production Engineering Cluster at RWTH Aachen University and has spent a number of years looking at how mechanical engineering students and engineers can optimise their performance. His German-language RocketEngineers podcast focuses on how engineers can achieve their career goals, and in the following interview, he provides some practical tips for engineers starting out on their careers.
Absolute favourite topic – the journey so far
Mr. Hermann, you’ve written two books for mechanical engineering students and now host your own podcast called RocketEngineers. How did this come about?
My student days didn’t get off to a very promising start, but I then really applied myself and obtained a distinction in my Master’s degree. The main reason for this improvement was that I devoted a great deal of attention to study performance, asking how exactly the methodology of learning works and what you need to do. I then looked into this in greater depth in my study guide “Erfolgreich studieren Maschinenbau” (Study for success in mechanical engineering), which I followed up with a general guide covering all engineering courses. That was the first time I hit on the idea of working independently alongside my normal engineering career – becoming what they call a “solopreneur”. This also led me to podcasting.
What is it that you like about sharing your knowledge?
The concept of community is what I like most. You come into contact with people who are also looking to learn. They want to further their education, achieve something and make things happen. Quite simply, I enjoy communicating with people like that. Young students looking for tips are also always getting in touch. I naturally appreciate this kind of feedback, so I’m more than happy to reply to questions, even though I obviously don’t always have the answer.
The podcast with managers offering engineers their career tips
What exactly does the RocketEngineers podcast cover?
My podcast offers career tips and hacks from experienced engineers that can help others get ahead in their engineering careers. I always interview experienced engineers in managerial positions who are in charge of other employees, the kind of people who run a department, plant or division. I ask them questions about their professional lives, such as: “How do you manage staff? What is important to you? What characteristics must employees have if you are to help them advance their career? What characteristics irritate you? What are your specific goals? How do you organise yourself? And how do you reply to emails?” So the focus is on everyday behaviour at work that will help you shape your career in the way you want at a typical company.
Is having your own podcast a logical step for you?
Yes, it is. Even when I was studying for my degree, I was very interested in what engineers need, besides purely technical knowledge, to be successful and perform well. It all started when I was looking for a podcast on the subject and couldn’t find one, so I decided to create my own. The institute where I work provides an excellent alumni network. These engineers took up managerial positions in the industry after obtaining their doctorates and we maintain close links with them. In many cases, you wouldn’t otherwise get your foot in the door.
Soft skills are also vital
In your opinion, what are the particular challenges facing engineers who are starting out on their careers?
As I see it, there’s one key challenge – you normally don’t learn any soft skills when studying engineering. Such skills are incredibly important for a career in engineering, though, because you can’t solve problems on your own. They’re too complex and you always need to work in teams. What’s more, engineers often move into managerial positions after a few years of professional experience. They are then required to manage staff, which is something they have never learned to do.
Personnel management is something that has to be learned, too. Staff are often given a managerial role on the basis of their good technical performance, but management calls for different strengths. It’s always difficult to make the transition and delegate tasks. Acquiring managerial skills also represents a big challenge. Most of the people I’ve interviewed in my podcast say a strategic approach is required. You need to get to grips with the topic, read guides and attend seminars. It’s difficult to learn something like that without actively taking the initiative.
Career development on the radar from an early stage
What advice would you give to engineers starting out on their careers?
I would definitely recommend keeping career development in mind. It’s something that shouldn’t be neglected. The following aspects should be considered early on: “What is my goal? Why do I want to achieve it? How can I achieve it? And who can help me do so?”
One question about item to finish with – how did you come across our podcast?
I found the post with the ten mechanical engineering podcasts on the item blog during my research. I listened to all the podcasts and also subscribed to a few of them. Needless to say, I’m delighted that episode #1 of the item podcast is about the career-related topic of starting out in mechanical engineering, the exact same focus as RocketEngineers. There’s a great deal in other podcasts about technical issues and project management, all of which is very important, but my podcast takes a different approach. After all, I’m in the same position as my audience. I don’t actually impart knowledge – I simply acquire it and share my journey in the podcast.
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