Do What You Do Best

I like to challenge myself.

January 04, 2016

I like to learn something every day. I enjoy taking the hard road if it means I will be more successful and be noticed.

I’m a young electrical engineer (EE) that started working for Corning, Inc. back in July, and today I had my first managerial review. It was quick and dirty, what did I expect? With just under six months of contribution, there wasn’t much to glean on. The gist of it was, “You’re completing your tasks and there haven’t been any complaints, so good job…” Which was fine. I understand. But there came a point in our conversation that I wanted to talk to my manager about.

You see, I’m an EE by trade. That’s what my diploma, resume, LinkedIn and any other thing listing anything I have accomplished says (which isn’t much). When I got to college, I wanted to, very generically, “build electronics.” I came from a small rural town, and it’s safe to say I had no idea what I was getting into. I figured I am good at math, yada yada science, yada yada physics… typical freshman engineering fluff, so why not? It was shortly after I arrived at college that I was introduced to programming. It was love at first sight. I was fortunate enough to be in the same dorm as a guy that would let me watch him program. I would sit for hours and watch him (looking back, he was much more of a phenomenal coder than I ever will be). It inspired me, it made me want to solve any and every problem that was thrown at me.

But I was torn. I wanted to “build electronics,” remember? That was my desire since I was a little kid. I couldn’t go back on that. So I decided that I would force my EE electives to focus in computer engineering courses and computer science courses. I was excelling and dominating in my operating systems, artificial intelligence, programming for engineers (C/C++), and computer architecture (VHDL on an FPGA) classes, all while fumbling through my core classes of electronics, circuits and analog filter design. This path was very satisfying, yet disappointing at the same time. I was pursuing my passion and neglecting my calling.

I graduated with a degree in electrical engineering, but I was really a computer engineer. I decided to call myself a firmware engineer because that is what I really was, an engineering mutt of sorts. Turns out the combination of programming and electrical engineering is somewhat of a niche area of expertise, and I was pretty decent at it. The branch of Corning that I work for has several mechanical engineers, several optical engineers, and one electro-optical engineer, who happens to be my boss! He’s a mutt too, which is why I fit very well under his wing. He’s an amazing engineer/mentor with loads of experience, but that’s not what this story is about. This is about doing what I do best.

It came to the point in my review where I wanted to bring up something. It was the fact that I wasn’t being challenged as an EE. My soul has been telling me I want to grow as a hardware designer, not continue as a mutt. All of the tasks I had been given revolved around software and firmware, but I had yet to touch any PCB design or circuit design. I told him “Don’t get me wrong, I love what I am doing, but I haven’t been doing any hardware design.” In reality I was saying, “I’m not getting any chance to do my calling… ‘building electronics’”. He responded by saying “Yeah that’s something we could look into…”, I kinda just stopped listening at that point. But then he said, “Isn’t that one project you’re working on involving hardware?” Yeah, technically it is. But it’s hardly EE worthy to string together off the shelf sensors, controllers and APIs. I told him it was, and he responded by saying this,

“Making all of those pieces fit together isn’t easy, and it is electrical engineering.”

I didn’t think anything of it. I responded with a shrug, and so ended the meeting.

Later on in the evening I was reading some medium posts, and the quote “do what you’re good at” kept coming up. I usually never think about it. It’s somewhat of a ‘duh’ statement for me. But then it hit me.

I’m doing what I’m good at. It’s not my calling, it’s not my pure passion, but it is truly what I am good at. All of my life leading up to this moment has pointed me to be this niche firmware EE computer engineering mutt that happens to fit perfectly where I am. You see, what might be easy for me is hard for some, and what might be hard for me may be easy for some. I might stare at and admire a “pure” electrical engineer working his/her craft. But that’s not me, and that’s not what I am good at.

Appreciate what you’re good at, and foster it. Don’t ever get tired of doing it. Don’t let your childhood dreams keep you from doing it. Just do what you do best, and all the rest will work out.