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By: Ric Telford, PMP Adjunct Faculty
Last semester I caught up with one of my former students, Lance Co Ting Keh. Lance graduated with a Master of Engineering degree here at Pratt and is now working in Silicon Valley. I was anxious to hear how things are going for him out in the “real world.” Here is what he had to say.
Ric: Lance, you gradated in May of 2015 from the Master of Engineering Program. Tell us a little about what you are doing now.
Lance: I work at Box, a Cloud storage firm that was actually founded by a Dukie as well! The CFO is a Dukie, Dylan Smith. I do Data Engineering there. Think of Data Engineering the middle ground between Business Intelligence and Analytics. Our job is to provide the toolsets and the data sets for Business Intelligence workers who want to make business data queries. A good example of a business data query is “among all our customers, which are the best ones to upsell next?” Data is stored everywhere, and the goal is to gather all this data and join it so that it can be queried.
Ric: Are your customers primarily individuals or businesses / corporations?
Lance: Box caters to businesses. Most of our sales are to businesses. It is a very sales-driven company, focused on selling to businesses. Duke, for example, is a customer of Box.
Ric: Being in Silicon Valley, what can you tell us about the technical skill requirements of the high tech world?
Lance: Coming out of school, the big difference I see now is that people expect well-rounded employees, not just one technical expertise. These days even if you specialize in one area, it is important that you understand all parts of the technology “stack” – mobile, front-end, data, back-end technologies, etc. It is good to have a good academic foundation of the hardcore computer science skills with real-world industry skills, such as how to build a web app or how do you maintain a repository. Not all schools are there yet, but Duke is doing a better job of teaching these more practical skills.
Ric: Outside of the technical skills, what capabilities do you find most valuable in your skill set and that of your fellow engineers?
Lance: “Soft skills” are very important. It is just as important to handle yourself well in the workforce, as it is to be able to build something. There will always be personal issues that come up, there is going to be conflict. Being able to navigate that and work in a team structure, being able to talk to people and being open in how you give feedback and receive feedback are all important capabilities. As engineers we are very passionate about what we do and we want to get the job done. Sometimes you get lost in trying to build something and you forget that the folks you work with are people to. Finding that balance and being able to do that “social dance” is a very big role in the day-to-day job.
Ric: What advice would you have for the new Master of Engineering class as they work toward their degree?
Lance: I would tell them to take advantage of as many classes as they can that they can’t take outside of Duke. Separate those things you can learn on your own from that which you can only get from a big university. I started doing this during my time at Duke and it helped me a lot. Take the hard classes that you know would take a while for you to sit down and crunch through if you did it yourself – things like Machine Learning and Bayesian Statistics. You can do these things yourself or on Coursera, but it is hard without a professor or people with which to collaborate.
Ric: Finally, can I have you do a little reflection? In thinking about your time here at Duke in the MEng program, what would you say were some of the most valuable experiences?
Lance: There are two things I would mention. First was the research experience. I am an academic at heart and I was fortunate enough to be able to move around to different labs and see how they operate. That academic approach to problems shaped the way I think and I believe I still think that way in industry. Second was the project experience. I learned a lot just from building projects with my peers. There are many things I built with others, both as part of class and as a fun project. These projects taught me a lot – not just the technical skills like writing code but also working with people as well. It is a high intensity environment in college and everyone is very busy. Personal conflicts will occur and l feel I grew a lot as a person in working with other people. It is something I take with me at work.
Here is a video clip of Lance giving advice about being on the job.
Alumni Spotlight: MEMP ’12 Alumnus Muhammad Anwar Ul Haq Selected for the World Energy Council’s Future Energy Leaders’ Program
By: Christina Plante, Assistant Director of Career Services
With MEMP students representing a number of different industries, we are delighted to highlight an accomplishment of one of our alumni in the Energy sector. As a Future Energy Leader, Anwar will tackle some of the world’s most complex energy problems in a community of the next generation of energy leaders.
Anwar is currently a partner and head of renewables practice at Aequitas Pvt. Ltd., which is Pakistan’s most active financial advisory and energy project development outfit. He leads crucial business initiatives including deal sourcing, transaction advisory and execution.
He is also an Energy Risk Professional, certified by the Global Association of Risk Professionals, and brings strategic consulting, venture financing, private placement, financial advisory and project/operations management experience to the table. He has over 8 years of work experience with global organizations like Schlumberger and World Bank Group. His areas of expertise include energy modeling, technology rollout, strategy consulting, project finance, operations and risk management. He has also served as Chief Strategy Officer at Quaid-e-Azam Solar Power Pvt. Ltd., Pakistan’s first solar IPP.
While at Duke, Anwar was a Fulbright scholar and active with the Program Development Committee. He also holds a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore.
The Future Energy Leaders Program was developed by The World Energy Council, which is the principal impartial network of leaders and practitioners promoting an affordable, stable and environmentally sensitive energy system for the greatest benefit of all.
Formed in 1923, the Council is the UN-accredited global energy body, representing the entire energy spectrum, with more than 3,000 member organizations located in over 90 countries and drawn from governments, private and state corporations, academia, NGOs and energy-related stakeholders.
The World Energy Council informs global, regional and national energy strategies by hosting high- level events, publishing authoritative studies, and working through its extensive member network to facilitate the world’s energy policy dialogue.
This World Council’s community of young professionals is a network of exceptional individuals from across the globe who represent the different players the energy sectors is composed of including government, energy industry, academia, civil society and social entrepreneurs.
The program is designed to identify, encourage and inspire the next generation of energy leaders, facilitating dialogue and discussion on critical developments in the energy sector. Every year, they welcome around 35 exceptional young professionals to join the group of 100 Future Energy Leaders from over ninety different countries across the globe for on average three years.
Anwar will be able to further his experience, knowledge and skills in an energy-focused environment and contribute to the Council’s global dialogue. Helping to develop new ways of thinking and frame the future of sustainable energy, Anwar will have the unique opportunity to create his own, personal network of like-minded, equally motivated personalities of today.
Through the program, Future Energy Leaders can:
- Attend select global, regional and national events
- Attend the World Energy Congress
- Attend an exclusive, annual Future Energy Leaders’ Summit
- Create an annual FEL-100 World Energy Issues Monitor
- Contribute to special FEL-100 reports
- Access and contribute to the Council’s global studies and technical research
- Develop and share a FEL-100 vision
- Network with global energy leaders
Join us in celebrating Anwar’s accomplishment!
Last year, I was part of a leadership training workshop at work that included 13 people from across the organization. Our workforce, albeit small, is incredibly diverse so even this limited group included Americans, Canadians, Costa Ricans, Indians, a Nigerian, and a Romanian. As an exercise, we were asked to draw three circles to represent the past, the present and the future respectively. Without giving it a second thought, I drew a small circle representing the past, a bigger one around it for the present, and the biggest circle around the second one for the future (imagine a dartboard with three concentric circles).
When the group shared their drawings, I was quite surprised to find that only one other person (interestingly, an American) had drawn the same figure. Everyone else drew three circles of varying sizes not in a concentric manner but side by side in a linear fashion, starting with the smallest and ending with the biggest representing the future.
The presenter explained to us the difference between this circular/cyclic concept of time vs. the linear concept of time. In cultures that value this “linearity” of time, it is too precious of a commodity to be wasted. It moves fast and one must move with it, making use of every minute to produce value in some form or the other. This is typically an American concept of time, and also one that is greatly valued by German, Swiss, British and Scandinavian cultures (to name a few).
The “circular” concept of time, on the other hand, is one where people try to understand the linkages and connections between the past, the present, and the future. It is almost as if life controls time, rather than the other way around. Decisions are made differently with reflection on and consideration to past experiences. It should come as no surprise that this is a predominantly eastern view of time and life, notably in Chinese, Japanese and Indian subcontinent cultures.
Photo by Nitya Mallikarjun
As foreigners studying or working in the U.S, we find that time is not the only aspect of life that may be different from what we were used to back home. As the global economy grows, work becomes increasingly knowledge-based, and technology breaks down barriers to communications and collaboration, we may find ourselves in a workplace that is more diverse than ever before. Luckily, organizations the world over are quickly recognizing this diversity and cultural differences as an asset rather than a liability. This means by increasing awareness of ourselves and our surroundings, we have the ability to truly succeed in the global marketplace no matter who we are or where we are from. To explain how this cultural diversity comes into play in our workplace, I broke down the essence of “work” into three broad categories that I feel are agnostic to one’s job, company, or industry. They are more process-oriented and will most likely occur in some form or another no matter what you do.
In the knowledge economy it’s becoming clear that as important as what you think is how you think. With companies focussing on rapid problem solving, creativity and innovation, having cultural diversity in the way people think about specific problems helps in identifying solutions in a more effective manner. These cultural differences are also important because they can help avoid groupthink, minimize expert overconfidence (yes, there is such a thing!), and glean new & fresh insights as well as perspectives. Try to let go of your fear of being wrong, and don’t be afraid to bring your own unique perspectives forward. Thinking however, is not enough. We must also be able to communicate these ideas in an effective manner which becomes a challenge when working in a culturally diverse group.
When it comes to communicating in a culturally diverse setting, things can get tricky and often do. Some cultures are infamously upfront and direct, while others are more indirect and non-confrontational. It is important to understand that you do not need to become like one from another culture, you simply need to find the right balance while communicating with people. This means understanding them, understanding yourself, and finding the best way together to get the message across. As young professionals we are particularly at an advantage for this kind of learning and being able to apply it to work. Ask your friends, ask your peers, and especially ask your managers and superiors how you can find the right balance while communicating with your team.
Now that you have brought forth your unique perspectives and communicated them with those around you, it is important to be able to adapt to how your team and company works and values time within the context of work. Do you understand how work is divided within your team and why? Do you know what is expected of you and when? Do you know when you need to take initiative, and when you need to be a supportive team member? In some cultures, work is defined and we are encouraged to not question authority and “go with the flow”. Deadlines are not stringent, and focus may be on long term gains. In other cultures, especially in the U.S, you may be expected to show initiative and take on things without always being asked. Time may often be more important than money. Try to understand these expectations from the perspective of your job function and your role in the team/organization, and continuously look for feedback to grow and improve.
There is a common thread in all of the three above – relationships. It’s easy when you are friends with everyone you work with, but that is not always the case. Better relationships should mean better teams that think more creatively, communicate more effectively, and work more efficiently. But, it’s a vicious circle of sorts because these three in turn also lead to better relationships! So whether someone is from your culture or not, try to understand their perspectives and focus on building a genuine relationship based on mutual trust, respect and understanding.
By: Wesley Cohen, MEng ’16, MEngagement Career Committee Chair and Christina Plante, Assistant Director of Career Services
In an effort to maintain alumni relationships, the MEngagement Committee caught up with MEnger Kevin Seybert to learn more about his current role at General Electric.
1) Where are you today and what are you doing? (Company, Position, Responsibilities)
I am working with GE Aviation, in the Edison Engineering Development Program (EEDP). It is a three-year development program consisting of three one-year rotations, leadership training and technical education, which can include a Masters degree (though, coming from MEng, I forewent the Masters as I already had one).
My first role was in the turbine design group of the Product Engineering Center. This was a technical role largely in the military space, where I was responsible for turbine structures (casings, seals and shroud supports) for a number of engine lines spanning from turboshaft helicopter engines (CT7/T700) to turbofan military fighter engines (F414). As a hardware owner, I had responsibilities spanning from legacy engines (field support, MRB support, Component Improvement Programs for US Navy and Finnish Air Force) to development engines (engine test support for F414-INS6 Indian Air Force variant) to early-stage concept redesign (F414 Enhanced Engine for the USN).
My second, and current, role is with Flight Test Operations (FTO) in California, where we own two Boeing 747s on which we test development commercial engines such as GEnx, Passport, LEAP, and GE90. Out here, I am a flight test integration engineer, and I am currently the integration lead for the LEAP-1A (Airbus) flight test program. This is a less technical role and more of a project management position. I am the engine-to-aircraft engine focal, coordinating between Systems, flight test directors, Airbus, the engine hardware owners, Performance & Operability engineers, instrumentation, and data systems. I am essentially responsible for all ground operations, making sure everything necessary gets done to get the engine on-wing and the plane in the air on schedule (on a ridiculously fast-paced schedule set at the executive level).
2) How has the MEng program helped you in your current position?
The technical courses I took at MEng definitely helped in my first (technical) role, although since I was doing structures work and most of my coursework was in aerodynamics, it wasn’t directly applicable.
The management portion of MEng is the huge aspect that I am drawing from in my current role. The technical- and non-technical team projects helped me learn how to stick to deadlines, keep modes of communication between multidisciplinary teams, and deal with difficult/conflicting personalities.
3) What is one thing you suggest that a current MEng student takes advantage of while here?
With the assumption that most MEng’ers are looking to go into industry rather than academia, my advice would be to seek out project-based and team-based courses and try to treat them as a real-world work situation rather than something you have to do for a grade. Try to take a leadership position within a team-based course. Even if you are not an assigned leader, take initiative and show leadership qualities at team meetings. It is much more difficult to get this kind of “practice” once you enter an established technology company with senior-level engineers who have been around for 20+ years. MEng is a great opportunity to develop these leadership and interpersonal skills in a technical setting.
In conclusion of this interview, Kevin also agreed to host an industry roundtable with a small group of students to discuss his different roles further, explain industry trends, and give advice for those interested in aviation and GE. The purpose of roundtables is for students to learn more about industries of interest, build relationships with alumni, and get personal questions answered about how to be successful in that field.
Kevin discussed elements of design, development, testing, production, materials, flight test operations and meeting strict deadlines with expensive equipment in his roles. He talked about how the Edison Engineering Development Program has allowed him to gain exposure in technical and managerial roles in a short period of time. He stressed the importance of communication and building relationships with at least one point person in different teams. He also mentioned being willing to help others when they need it is crucial to team development.
The Engineering Masters Career Services Team and MEngagement Committee really appreciate Kevin’s interest and continued involvement in connecting with current Duke Students.
I am a “double Dukie” as some people would say. The 4+1 MEng Program was the perfect opportunity for me to spend one more year on a beautiful campus, earn my Master’s degree and share my alma mater with MEng peers from around the world. The Civil MEng program allowed me to take my structural engineering education to the next level while gaining an introduction to the business side of the industry. To this day when I speak to prospective Pratt students, I highlight the unique MEng program that Duke has to offer. Everything from graduate student campout to MEMP seminars enhanced my overall Duke experience.
After graduation – the second time – I began working full time for Gilbane Building Company in Durham. As a project engineer, my role was to assist with the management of a construction site where I coordinated the updating and distribution of construction drawings, tracked and resolved on-site issues, compiled subcontractor invoices and much more. I was very grateful for the MEng internship requirement that helped me gain real-world structural engineering experience that continues to help me as a construction manager. Now, I am about halfway through a two year Gilbane management rotational program where I am gaining experience with estimating, purchasing, marketing and business development in addition to many more facets of the company.
I am thankful that working at Gilbane has allowed me to continue to stay engaged with Duke and specifically with MEng and MEMP. I enjoy seeing the students at TechConnect and other industry events. The highlight so far has been working with a great group of MEMP practicum students mentored by John Nicholson. They fostered a wonderful collaboration with DiVE Director Regis Kopper and Research and Development Engineer David Zielinski. The team took on a challenging project that looked at how to bring a construction BIM model into the DiVE to allow clients and end users to virtually walk through their future space and inform early design decisions. The group took the project a step further and explored the ability to move objects in a room while standing in the DiVE. Culminating in a DiVE open house presentation, the students demonstrated their project to Duke faculty, staff and local Architects by leading live demonstrations of the virtual reality experience. Through practica, career fairs and events I look forward to engaging with future MEng and MEMP students as an alumna.
My name is Amine Bounoughaz, and I was in your shoes two years ago when I first started the MEM program. In the fall of 2013, I was fortunate to receive an offer from McKinsey & Company.
In this short article, I would like to share with you all some thoughts on what I believe were the most essential things that really made the difference in getting the job.
As MEMers, you might be feeling that you do not have an advantage in the job market, stuck between undergrads and MBA’s, especially if you don’t have a significant work experience.
This is just a mindset. The truth is: the moment you step into an interview room, people don’t care what degree you have or where you come from. It becomes about how good you are, and how much they like you. Don’t worry about titles and degrees, focus on getting good at case interviews.
2) Getting an Interview:
There are two ways to get an interview in consulting:
Through Online Applications: This is personally how I got my interview. I worked intensively with Jenny Johnson during the first weeks of the MEM program to craft my resume.
Through Networking: This is about getting someone in McKinsey to recommend you for an interview. Ideally if you know a partner/AP/EM, your life will be much easier as they can recommend you for an interview if they think you are good.
3) Preparation and Hard Work:
There is no shortcut to success, no magical formula. I was casing every single day, at least twice, for 5 weeks. I skipped going out on weekends and traveling on fall break just to focus on getting better at it.
I went through Victor Cheng’s Look Over My Shoulder at least 5 times, both written and audio recordings. I got to the point where I was dreaming about solving a case!!!!
Also, preparation does not start when you get an interview call. It starts months before applying to a position.You should be already familiar with the industry and type of interview months in advance.
4) Knowing When to Stop:
Even though I was casing every single day, I was terrible at it. I would get the structure off, the math wrong, and my recommendations were weak. I was a disaster. In fact, in all 60-70 cases I did, I screwed up in 90% of them.
It wasn’t because I didn’t know how to do cases, it was because I was making the same mistakes over and over and over again. I was stuck in a hole. Luckily for me, my roommate gave me the best advice at that time: “Dude, you are in a hole: STOP.”
So in my last week before the interview, I actually stopped casing. I didn’t do a single case and just let it all sink in. I relaxed, went out and also focused on my midterms.
5) Balancing Intellect with Personality:
During my interviews, I focused on having a great time with the interviewer and making the most out of my time there. I smiled, laughed sometimes, had conversations and genuinely enjoyed every single moment in the case.
By the end of my last interview, I had just completed three 1-hour long cases and the only thing I could think of was: I want another case!!! I didn’t force anything. I was myself and the partners just loved me.
In fact, they loved me to the extent that they didn’t even wait to call me on the phone. One of the partners came to me right after my last interview and said: “Amine, you have impressed all of us, you have a bright future ahead of you. We all loved you here: When can you start?”
Go out there and crack the case,
Victor Cheng Case Interview Secrets
Victor Cheng Look Over My Shoulder
By: La Tondra Murray, Director of Professional Masters Programs
One of the best things that you can do in any industry is to work with a good mentor. In my experience, people often underestimate the degree to which a mentor can help you learn the landscape, build relationships and manage challenges in the workplace. The search for a strong mentor, however, can be daunting at first thought.
Any approach can ultimately work if you can collaborate with a mentor who is willing to share his or her experiences while simultaneously getting to know you. Trust, honesty and vulnerability all play a role in strongest of mentor-protégé pairings.
The first step, however, is to find the right, willing candidate. As you search for and ultimately ask someone to serve as a mentor, here are a few things that you can do from the start:
- Develop clear goals for the interaction. What is it that you want to get out of a mentor-protégé relationship? Are you interested in growing your technical expertise? Do you want to learn more about the organization’s product lines? Would you like to create better strategies for work-life integration? If you give some serious thought to what you’d like to glean from your mentor upfront, you’ll be able to: 1) make a stronger case for who you specifically want to work with as well as why and 2) gain a clearer view of how you want to progress over time. You should also think about how you want to contribute as the best partnerships are mutually beneficial.
- Think beyond your immediate team. Sometimes is it helpful to get the perspective of someone who isn’t aligned with your department, business unit, or even your company. Mentors can certainly be internal to your organization, but consider the possibilities outside the realm of your employer as well. At the end of the day, mentors can often provide a unique vantage point based on their experience and knowledge. If you can look beyond the people you have access to on a daily basis anyway, you may be able to engage with someone else with surprising results.
- Be prepared to work with more than one person. Mentors can serve different purposes in your professional life, so you don’t need to have an exclusive arrangement with a single person. As I tell my own mentees, ‘we can see other people.’ While you don’t want to have so many mentors that you can’t create a quality relationship with any of them, I do think that there is value is establishing a small ‘board of directors’ that can help you flourish in the areas that are important to you. An open mindset will release you from the expectations that one individual can help you with everything.
- Choose someone who is different from you. While it is often comforting to align ourselves with a mentor who shares our gender, race, educational background, etc., we may miss out on an opportunity to leverage diversity in our favor. A mentor with a background that varies from yours can provide you with unique insight. Don’t be afraid to venture beyond your comfort zone to connect with someone different. You stand to make tremendous gains if you can broaden your horizons.
Most people will be more than willing to help, but you need to take the initial step. Figure out who you would like to learn from and reach out!
What other strategies would you suggest when it comes to finding a mentor? Leave a comment to let us know!
Dr. La Tondra Murray and her fantastic mentor of 20+ years Dr. Mary Carol Day
By Syed Ahsaan Rizvi (MEMP ’14) and Margaret Kuleshova (MEMP ’14)
One year ago, Abdul applied for the AT&T Business Sales Leadership Development Program (BSLDP) in technical sales through Duke’s E-Recruiting. A short while after, he received a call for an interview. The interview, consisting of behavioral questions, lasted 30 minutes and was conducted by the human resources (HR) department. On the same day, he had a second interview with HR, more detailed this time, regarding personality traits. No technical questions were asked. Abdul then had to deliver a presentation and recommendation on the third interview based on a case which he had four days to analyze. The fourth interview was a casual conversation between him and a line manager. At last, the fifth and final interview brought him back to HR, after which he soon got his job offer.
Abdul, a MEMP December 2012 graduate, joined AT&T in March of 2013, and now works as a Data Network Consultant. During his time at Duke, he served as the Director of the Student Recruiting Committee (SRC) on the MEMP Product Development Committee. Before coming to Duke, he worked for a year as the Director of Business Development in GSM Nation LLC, New Haven. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electric engineering from a premier technology institution in Pakistan and had comprehensive internship experiences in international tech companies, including Siemens and Nokia.
Abdul’s main role now involves consulting customers on solutions, providing technical support in product demonstration, and supporting the sales team in responding to network and service related client queries. Today, he has an interview with the Career Development & Alumni Relations Committee’s (CDAR) representative, Ahsaan.
“Good morning, Abdul. How are you?”
“Doing great. How can I help?” said Abdul.
“I was wondering if you could share some of the biggest challenges that you faced as a student entering the field of technical sales.”
“Sure. Actually, I had no experience in sales when I came in, but I did have a strong motivation to learn. One of the biggest challenges I faced was that the market is very competitive and there are loads of substitutes out there. You have to be compelling in your argument when you are selling your product to your client, which requires strong understanding, expertise in the product portfolio of the company, as well as technical knowledge needed to customize the solution to the customer’s need.”
“Great, thank you. What exactly do you do on a regular basis?”
“Some of my typical responsibilities include presenting AT&T products to the executives and IT directors of client organizations. So it’s crucial to have answers to their possible queries and be able to translate the product’s offering to their solutions. You need to have adequate technical knowledge of the product to be able to diversify its applicability.”
“I see you have a couple of certifications. Would you mind explaining how they apply to your career?”
“I did my VMWare certification while at the BSLDP, which is a sales training program designed around virtualization basics and VMWare solutions. Certifications such as these not only help expose you to practical knowledge but also add value to your resume and make you stand out in a pool of candidates. CCNA, CCNP, and CCIE are some certification programs which encompass entry level to advanced level network engineering skills that hold a high standard in the industry for a career in data networks.”
“Thanks for that! I know you took courses like Competitive Strategies and Forecasting at Duke. What skills did you find to be most valuable in your field of work that you picked up in those classes?”
“They all added value in the developmental analytical skills essential in every line of work. CompStrat helped me in building an insight of policy and strategy evaluation and gave me a high level of perspective of the company’s long-term objective. Data Mining was another course that greatly enhanced my analytical ability, but it was really the communications skills, robust negotiation, and persuasive skills that I learned while being part of multiple MEM student bodies and clubs. These skills are essential for a career in sales or jobs that involves client interaction.”
“I’m curious, what are your long-term career plans?”
“I’m currently focused on expanding my skill set, learning assorted sales practices, developing client relations, and getting promoted to the role of Senior Data Network Consultant. There are multiple roles in AT&T as it offers products and services in VoIP and VPN. That opens up a whole new dimension of clients. While these things are important, I’m also enjoying my current role.”
“Thank you, Abdul! It was a pleasure talking to you. I’m sure your insights into technology consulting will be very useful for MEM students.”
“Thank you for interviewing me. Let me know if you have any further questions!”
Yitao Zhang (MEMP ‘ 12), Design Engineer for Viridi E-Mobility, Shares His Experience in the Automobile Industry
By Zihe Meng
Copy edited by Margaret Kuleshova
Yitao did his undergraduate study at the University of Toronto, Canada, where he majored in mechanical engineering. After his bachelor’s degree, he strongly felt in need of interdisciplinary study of business and technology. The Master of Engineering Management Program at Duke became his first choice. He now works as a design engineer at Viridi E-Mobility Technology, a newly formed joint venture of Volvo and Geely dedicated to designing power train systems for hybrid vehicles.
“Hi, Yitao, this is Zihe. Thank you for taking the interview. Is now a good time to talk?”
“Sure, whenever you’re ready.”
“Great! I appreciate it. I know you attended your company’s annual party last night. How was it?”
“I had a lot of fun, thanks for asking.”
“I’m glad you enjoy your time at Viridi. Could you describe a typical day at your job as a design engineer?”
“Of course. The major part of my daily work concentrates on thermal management design of battery packs utilized by hybrid vehicles. To build a new-energy car, one of the most challenging tasks is battery design. One battery pack consists of thousands of small modules and parts, and it is extremely temperature-sensitive so we have to precisely control temperature, especially during charge and discharge. I run a lot of simulations of thermal and fluid dynamics using Cartia and FluEFD, trying to achieve efficient design. Our pilot production line will be tested in three months, so I also work with the production department using AutoCAD for layout planning.”
“Sounds intense. What skills do you think are the most valuable for this type of job?”
“There is no single skill that really dominates. First you have to be capable in terms of technical knowledge. In my job, for example, proficiency in mechanical engineering and related software is very important. But I also have to collaborate with electrical engineers and talk to suppliers. Soft skills such as communication and multi-tasking truly matter. They help you see things in multiple dimensions.”
“I believe many MEM students could relate to that. Are there any courses or electives that you found helpful for your role now? Would you like to give some advice to current students?”
“During my experience at Duke, core courses of MEM such as Marketing and Finance definitely helped me develop more business insight. With electives like Project Management I got the chance to present my work and my communication skills improved a lot. I took one elective from Economics called Intermediate Finance. It opened a door to the outside of technology and I learned about the financial market. It helped me understand my job in a different perspective such as the economic consequences of my work. My suggestion would be to explore new fields and broaden your horizon. Students can sit in classes outside of the MEM program. It really helps you see the bigger picture, especially when it comes to management.”
“That’s a good point. What about those challenges? How did you actually deal with them?”
“One of my biggest challenges was lack of experience. I came straight out of school and it could be overwhelming sometimes with so many things to learn and so many experienced people with which to work. When designing a vehicle, every little part ties together and it gives a lot of pressure. I’m glad that my company holds weekly training for us. In the one-hour session, colleagues will give presentations of their previous work, update current tasks and more importantly share their experiences. It is a good way to know others more, and to gain a clearer idea of what and how other departments are working. A new technology in one realm could be the inspiration for another. That’s what I love about it.”
“It’s very thoughtful for a company to do that. Some current students are struggling with which industry to step into. What brought you to the automobile industry in the first place?”
“To be honest, I also struggled with it once. I have tried investment banking and passed CFA Level I. I think it’s not hard to get into an industry, but it is hard to find out whether it fits. I did a one-year internship with Automation Tooling Systems, Inc. in Canada where I learned about cycle times, GD&T, and JIT production and got exposed to supply chain management. I found the year extremely helpful in identifying my passion. So I would encourage you to try whatever you find interesting, even if it turns out not so satisfying. It could still serve as your next inspiration.”
“That’s very impressive. How do you think such an interest would guide your career path in the near future?”
“I do love what I am doing now, building a new-energy car for the next generation. I’m a hands-on person. In the future, I would like to get closer to the production line as a calibration engineer or process engineer. It’s not going to be easy as front engineers require years of experience and deep insight in the industry.”
“Wonderful, and I wish you all the best. It was great talking to you, thanks again for your valuable input. I’m sure it will help a lot of students.”
“No problem. Glad I could help. Don’t hesitate to contact me again if you have further questions.”
“I really appreciate it. Thank you and have a great day!”
By Naman Garg , MEM ’13 – CDAR Director Fall 13
It is my immense pleasure and honor to write final words for activities performed by extremely talented and hardworking Career Development & Alumni Relations (CDAR) members during Fall 2013. We have worked on some amazing projects such as Internship Information sessions, Informational Interviewing, Workgroups, and the CDAR Fall 2013 Installment document. I am very hopeful that in Spring ‘14 CDAR will do more wonderful work under Osama’s leadership and Jenny Johnson and Ross Wade’s guidance.
When I joined Duke MEM program in Fall 2013, I was overwhelmed with the options and choices presented to me. Being an engineer with limited work experience, I had little idea of the professional path I wanted to follow. So I set on a quest to understand my career interests. I started by talking to a lot of people from diverse fields. This helped me to realize what I didn’t want to do in the future. Eventually I was able to figure out about my career interests.
I also learned that I was not alone in this struggle of choosing a career path. So, when I got the opportunity to work as CDAR’s director, I oversaw a highly motivated team that worked on projects aimed at helping MEM students make effective career choices. Informational Interviewing is one such project which will help students to know about day to day activities of various alumni working in diverse fields. We believe that it will definitely help students make informed choices with respect to their careers.
Internship Information sessions, lunch with professors also registered highly positive feedback from students. All the transcripts of alumni interviews, internship information sessions, and feedback from other projects have been documented in the CDAR Fall 2013 Installment.
I am sure CDAR will have much more exciting and wonderful projects for MEM students this semester. I highly recommend students to go through the CDAR Fall 2013 Installment to learn about different projects and their outcomes. We believe this will definitely help students in their Jobs/Internship search.
Finally I would like to thank Margaret, Osama, Vaishnavi, Arjun, Ajay, Samkit, Anthony, Pranav, Swathy, Zihe, Tucker, & Kavitha for their excellent work. Jenny, Ross and Bridget for their valuable guidance and Maahir & Venos for constant support.
It was a great learning experience for me personally. I would like to welcome the future team and hope they will have as much fun and wonderful experiences from this forum.