by Lauren Gill, Venture for America Recruitment Manager
What makes engineers so desirable to virtually all companies, from the smallest startups to giants like GE and Proctor and Gamble?
Engineers are more than just analytical, mathematically-gifted problem solvers. In the words of Scott Lowe, 2012 Venture for America Fellow, "engineers are the bridge between idea and reality." They are in the unique position, at the intersection of science and math, to create or improve things; whether it's an industrial engineer restructuring a warehouse's logistics, an aerospace engineer creating a ship that will carry men to mars, or an electrical engineer designing new microprocessors for our smartphones, engineers do what their less technical peers cannot. And that’s exactly why Venture for America recruits them.
VFA is a two-year fellowship that places talented graduates at emerging start-ups and early-stage companies in lower-cost cities (e.g. New Orleans). Modeled after Teach for America, the program provides training, ongoing support, and a path to entrepreneurship for college grads who want to learn how to build companies.
Though traditional positions for engineers in industry, like working on engines, bridges, or computers, offer skill development and stability, they may lack the value-creation and focus on the common good that Venture for America provides.
Tim Dingman, 2012 VFA Fellow and current employee of Accio Energy, shares his perspective on the advantages of VFA as an alternate path for engineers:
When I accepted my offer from VFA, I also had a standing offer from an energy efficiency consultancy. Here are the advantages to my current position as I see it:
1. My company has more potential. I strongly believe in the benefits of increased energy efficiency, and I would have been happy to work in that field. However, efficiency upgrades are relatively mundane and have an evolutionary character. Accio's technology is revolutionary, and will be a major step in the transition to sustainable energy if the company succeeds. The motivation of such revolutionary potential cannot be overstated.
2. My contributions and input matter. My work at any company would have mattered to some degree, but in such a small company (9 people) my work matters a lot. In fact, our next prototype will be primarily my design, the result of my modeling work, analysis, and creativity. There is no bureaucracy here, and the technical direction of the company can completely change in the span of a one hour meeting.
3. My understanding of the company is complete. In a large company, engineers tend to end up pigeonholed, forced into a highly specific role with limited scope. In a startup, the engineer has the chance to expand into many facets of the organization, learning as he does. Due to my affiliation with VFA, I have a unique position in the company. My primary role is technical, but it is not my only focus. For instance, my direct supervisor is the COO/CFO, not the CTO; merely by having my cubicle next to his, I gain a wider understanding of what it means to operate a startup. The company leadership is transparent and open to my questions, so I have a better mental model of the various pressures we face, be they technological, financial, legal, and so on.
In sum, VFA presents engineers the unique opportunity to build and improve not just products and processes, but entire businesses.
For more information about how to become a Venture for America Fellow, visit www.ventureforamerica.org or email the Recruitment Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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