I recognize that some of the concepts presented in the previous blog entry may seem somewhat abstract, so here is an example of how a fictional student, let’s call him Bob, put this plan into action.
Bob is an average college student studying civil engineering at Cal Poly. He is graduating next year and knows that the job market will be extremely tough. He needs an edge; something that will set him apart. His friends are no help – they are discouraging and complain about how hard it is to just find Summer employment, much less a meaningful career. Some of them are talking about going to graduate school until the economy improves. Bob doesn’t want to be a victim of his present circumstance. He hears a great talk by a tall guy at an ASCE meeting and commits to stop viewing his career path as someone else’s responsibility. Instead, he chooses to run it as he would his own small business. As CEO of Bob, Inc., he is determined to become an engipreneur.
Bob knows that he is competing not only with his fellow students for the few jobs that are out there, but also with seasoned engineers who have a ton of practical experience. Bob has no experience. He realizes that the odds are stacked against him and this drives him to identify something – anything – that he can offer to potential employers that his competition can’t.
Bob starts doing some research. He quickly realizes that while a huge amount of his college coursework has been focused largely on structural engineering, most civil engineers are not actually employed in this field. There are not a whole lot of new bridges, skyscrapers, and dams being designed these days. His research shows him that most of the civil engineering firms out there are focused either on land development, public works, or some combination of both. He also learns that most of these firms use AutoCAD software as their primary design tool. Bob starts wondering why he hasn’t been required to take more AutoCAD classes in school.
Bob reconnects on Facebook with an old friend from High School whose dad, Leo, happens to be a civil engineer. It turns out Leo was laid off from his job 8 months ago, but he agrees to take time out from his job search effort to meet Bob for lunch. Leo tells Bob that he has been trying to get up to speed with AutoCAD Civil 3D, Autodesk’s latest design software that is replacing their old Land Desktop software. Bob does some additional research and learns that many civil engineering firms have not yet made the transition to Civil 3D, either due to staffing issues or because the transition training is too expensive. Most of these firms are on a subscription plan, so while they have Civil 3D sitting in a box in their office, they’re stuck using the old, inefficient software because they have never invested in the transition setup and training. Bob has successfully identified his target market and a big pain point!
Bob spends the next 4 months learning everything he can about Civil 3D and, more specifically, the steps involved in transitioning from Land Desktop. He’s able to purchase a student version of the software pretty cheap and he spends 3 hours every morning before class, plus weekends, sharpening his skills. He scrapes together some extra cash and manages to attend Autodesk University in Las Vegas, where he meets other Civil 3D transition experts who turn him onto some great resources. In 6 months, he has developed his own 6-step program for transitioning from Land Desktop to Civil 3D – a unique service offering indeed.
For his senior project, Bob writes a white paper that details out his 6-step approach to the Civil 3D transition process. He teams up with a local engineering firm that agrees to let him volunteer to work with their CAD Manager to assist in their own software transition. He uses this experience to develop a case study for his senior project. He also receives very nice written recommendations from the CAD Manager and the owner of the firm. He uploads these, along with other templates and tools that he has developed onto a web site: civil3dbob.com. He adds a guarantee: “I’ll help you transition to Civil 3D in 3 months or it’s free.”
Bob tells everyone he meets about his new passion. His family and friends think he’s nuts. He practices his sales pitch until it practically rolls off his tongue. Bob is ready to go public.
In order to generate leads, Bob starts calling several contacts he met at Autodesk University who actually sell the software. Some of them don’t want to share any information about their customers with Bob, but others view it as a great way of helping their customers take their business to the next level. Bob ends up with a sizeable list of key contacts at engineering companies who are still bogged down with using Land Desktop. He meets several more at a local chapter meeting for the American Council of Engineering Companies. He follows up each new introduction with an invitation to connect on LinkedIn. His network steadily grows.
On his web site, Bob starts blogging about the transition to Civil 3D and why it’s good for business. Every time he posts a new blog, he Tweets about it and sends a brief email to his contact list with a personal note and a link to his web site. Finally, on a Friday morning in late Spring, Bob rents a small conference room in Orange County and offers a Free Course on “Transitioning to Civil 3D.” His network helps him promote the event and about 20 people show up. One of the people in the audience is a local business owner who invites Bob to dinner. By the following Monday, he has sent Bob an offer of employment.
In the weeks that follow, Bob receives several other job offers, all from companies hungry not only for his unique Civil 3D skill set, but for his entrepreneurial drive, self-motivation, and unwavering determination to succeed. As it turns out, these qualities are in even higher demand than good CAD skills! Go figure.
Does Bob’s story represent reality? While many of the details are made up, I believe there is enough truth represented here to provide a realistic glimpse into what is possible when one applies the principles of good business to their career pursuits. The workplace has changed. Much of what worked in the past to help us land secure, high-paying jobs right out of college is no longer valid. It’s time for students to stop relying on career counselors and HR departments to define their professional paths. It’s time to start thinking like engipreneurs.
A.J. Whitaker, PE, PLS
More blogs on www.engipreneur.com