Cover Stories June 2016 Special Section

Millenial Engineers Make Great Entrepreneurs

Written By: Erin Winick

Engineering is a field that has struggled with public perception. Stereotypes of the traditional engineer have haunted it for years. Despite efforts to change perception of the eld, engineers are still commonly imagined by the public as socially inept, overly technical, backroom designers or coders stuck at their desk.

Being a current engineering student myself, I do see some people sticking to these stereotypical characteristics, but more often I see a group with an increasingly diverse skill set. I credit a large portion of this change to the characteristics of the millennial generation moving into engineering roles. With this I see an even greater shift happening in engineering—one that poises millennial engineers to conquer the entrepreneurial world.

Engineers have already been a major force in entrepreneurship for years. In a 2012 study by Identifed, it was found that CEOs with only undergraduate degrees are equally likely to be from engineering and business backgrounds, and CEOs with advanced degrees are more likely to have an engineering background. A big part of this can be credited to the fact that engineers are trained to solve problems.

Now, though, millennial engineers are being educated in more than just technical problem solving. Many large companies are no longer accepting new graduates who only have fantastic technical skills, but are severely lacking in communication abilities, leadership, and teamwork. When I am speaking
to interviewers for internships and full time positions, my knowledge of differential equations has never come up. My knowledge of teamwork, business, and verbal communication has come up more times than I can count.

Engineering programs are making a shift to match this philosophy. They are working to create engineers that are not only technologically savvy, but also ready to tackle the responsibilities of leading teams, generating groundbreaking ideas, skillfully presenting ideas and dreaming big.

The University of Florida College of Engineering recently received a large donation, creating the newly named Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. This gift of $50 million to transform the college is focused on creating the “New Engineer”. This is someone who is a leader, ethical and principled, creative, grounded in a human-centered approach, focused on innovation and discovery, and more. This realignment of values is creating a new generation of Gator Engineers with new and more holistic skillsets. In my classes at the University of Florida I have learned about the dynamics and mechanics of materials, but I have also learned about investing, leading a team, intellectual property, and innovation.

I truly believe that as these are changes created to match the new corporate culture, engineering students will be more inclined towards entrepreneurship than ever before. Ideas are important to entrepreneurship, but the thing that makes a fantastic entrepreneur is execution of these ideas. This execution requires the ability to sell yourself and your ideas in a simple and convincing manner, and the ability to both recruit and lead a team while not being daunted by the countless problems you will face along the way.

Millennial engineers are poised to succeed more than any previous class of engineers because of their new training added on to their previously existing problem solving skills. Furthermore, they are eager to apply these skills. According to the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, half to two- thirds of millennials are interested in entrepreneurship and in 2011, they were responsible for approximately 160,000 start-ups created each month. As the industry becomes inundated with millennial engineers graduating from college, millennials will not just be taking entry level positions, they will be running companies of their own creation.

With this push, maybe, just maybe, the backroom “bro-grammer” stereotype of engineers will evolve into a more accurate image. A picture reflective of societal changes. A picture of a team leader ready to pitch the next great creative problem solving solution. A picture of the new entrepreneurial engineer.

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