Engineers and computer professionals play an integral role in the development of the complex systems that fuel today's economy. High profile consumer product advancements tend to grab the limelight in the mainstream, such as the purple sunblock introduced by Coppertone last year to make it easier to spot the missed patches of skin during application. In the high-tech industry, the benefits of the successful development of a product or system often blend into the business landscape.
A comprehensive understanding of design, production, marketing and sales along with a solid technical background and ace communication skills are the ingredients for a successful career in product development. As Alan Eng, a product line manager at Dialogic in Parsippany, N.J., points out, his career has been a three-phase process, not a linear path.
When Eng began to study computer science, he knew he would one day work in product marketing and management. "I thought I'd go directly into marketing, but I took a different route," he explains. Initially involved in software design, he learned what it takes to build a product. He then moved to a sales position where he became familiar with what the customers want and need. Now, Eng has re-entered what he characterizes as the factory in a product management position where he uses his knowledge to influence what and how new products are developed. Eng contends his varied experience has given him a well-rounded knowledge of product design, production and salesa career edge worth the effort and time it took to earn.
NAME: ALAN ENG
Title: Product Line Manager
Company: Dialogic, Parsippany, N.J.
Education: B.A. in Computer Science, University of California at Berkeley. Pursuing an MBA at Columbia University
- Strategic marketing
- Market research, which includes identifying target market segments
- Product planning
- Product definition
- Product launch, which includes packaging and training of sales staff
Current Projects: "Dialogic sells its products to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs); a lot of my work deals with them. These companies buy our products and integrate them into their existing systems. They're developing general computer telephony systems such as voice mail applications and interactive voice response applications."
"I work closely with the sales team in terms of contract definition. After a salesperson makes first contact, I go in and define what the customer wants. I act as a bridge between sales and the factory."
On Relocating from California to New Jersey: "First, I worked in software development and then I went into sales with Dialogic in Silicon Valley. People always ask me, 'Why did you leave sunny California?' It was a personal choice. I've always wanted to spend time on the East Coast and I'm a strong believer in change as a way to getting a well-rounded career. I thought it was time to finish up one segment of my career (five years in sales) and extend into a different area. Dialogic made me an offer to come to New Jersey, and after declining a few times, I decided to take the position."
Challenges He Has Faced: "In moving from software development to sales, I switched from an internally focused, defined job to an externally focused, undefined job and environment. For example, I had to field calls without really knowing anything on my first day at the West Coast Dialogic sales office. That was a challenge, but it was a great way to become a self-starter."
"Another challenge was making the move to the East Coast. The business and social cultures are a lot different. There's a different way and pace of doing business here. The Californians are indirect in their business style and the East Coast people are more direct."
Sage Career Advice: "Choose a field you really enjoy and focus on what you like to do. In the high-tech industry, especially in Silicon Valley, there's a passion for creating the next greatest thing, and unless you really enjoy it, you're not going to be able to reach that level."
Technical Skills Needed to Succeed: "You need a solid working knowledge of technology and business in order to effectively translate problems into new features and capabilities of a product. Once you have that grounding you're able to extend to the more qualitative aspects of the job, which are sales and marketing.
"You must be able to improve products at the hardware and software levels."
Biggest Work World Surprise: "The hours are long! But if you enjoy it, the hours don't feel as long, and it becomes rewarding in that respect.
"Also, I knew the diversity of the different types of skills that are needed was important, but didn't know how important or how it would come into play."
Why People Are a High-Tech Company's Most Valuable Resource: "In new technology markets that are constantly growing, companies will never find anyone who has experience in a new area because it's new! Today, employers are capitalizing on people with good core skills."
Why He Waited to Pursue an MBA: "I decided to defer an MBA until now because of the great hands-on experience I was getting with Dialogic. In my opinion, I've had experiences I couldn't get in school. I wanted to get a good grounding of how companies work and what the job market was really about so I could take that knowledge and apply it to school. Now, [MBA] programs require more years of experience because they want to create an experience-rich classroom environment where people can learn from each other."
NAME: BRETT BONNER
Title: Software Engineer
Company: Teradyne, Inc., Boston, Mass.
Education: B.S. in Computer Engineering, Tufts University
Job Description: "Teradyne's ICD division builds systems for testing mixed-signal integrated circuitsthat is, chips which contain both analog and digital circuitry. I develop software to control analog instrumentation in these test systems. This includes everything from the user interface down to driver and calibration code."
Current Projects: "I just finished work on a new Very High Frequency Arbitrary Waveform Generator, which is an analog source instrument that is used primarily for testing disk-drive and data communications components. Besides myself, the development team included one other software engineer and three hardware engineers. We worked closely together to design, build and test the instrument."
Challenges He Has Faced: "Absorbing lots of knowledge quickly has been a challenge, but I've found that the learning curve slows down the longer you're on the job. I've learned that it's O.K. to ask a lot of questions.
"Balancing work with recreation has also been a challenge. It's easy to stay at the office late and try to finish a project, but you have to be aware that work will take over if you let it. That's something I didn't expect before entering the work world. Another thing I didn't expect was having to work in an environment where there are a lot of interruptions. It's important to be able to stay productive with all the distractions around you."
Best Career Advice: "Make sure you choose a career field because you like it, not because it's something you think you should be doing. Choosing a field just because it pays a lot of money will not make you happy."
Worst Career Advice: "I was told that it doesn't matter what your first job is. I disagree because the experience you get with your first job will be a factor when you look for your second job. I think a first job should be with a company that you can see yourself staying with for the long term. If not, I don't think you're as motivated to do a good job. A company that's flexible, like Teradyne, is a good choice because you have options for developing your interests."
Technical Skills Needed to Succeed: "Programming and software design skills and an understanding of hardware principles.
Non-Technical Skills Needed to Succeed: "Attention to detail and good problem-solving skills are important. Being able to work with people of all types is necessary, as are good writing skills."
Advice for Those Who Want to Enter This Field: "For software engineers: Don't over-specialize. Technology changes rapidly so what you know quickly becomes irrelevant. Learn good engineering technique and concentrate on improving the approach you take with a project."
Biggest Work World Surprise: "I wish I'd known that the non-technical skills are just as important to success as the technical skills. That's not too clear when you're just entering the work world."
Dialogic specializes in high performance computer telephony, the technique of coordinating the actions of telephone and computer systems. Since the mid-1980s, it has been used only in niche markets like large call centers, where call volumes justified the cost of complex, custom-built systems.
Teradyne, Inc., designs and manufactures automatic test equipment for the electronics and telecommunications industries. Its products are used to test semiconductors, circuit assemblies, telephone lines, software and other electronic systems.