Alum Advice During COVID-19: Eric Fleming ’12

Enterprising Young Students of Seaver College,

Being a student of your discipline requires blunt and accurate truths of problems in order to implement proper solutions. People in the workforce are getting laid off, taking pay cuts, or drastically shifting roles within existing organizations. A big problem I see in your world is the uncertainty in the future. Will I get a job when I graduate? What am I going to do? While I’ve asked myself these questions while a student at LMU, I’m sure these questions weigh significantly more for you.

I wasn’t the best Mechanical Engineering student (Dr. Siniawski can attest). I had no conscious idea of what I was truly soul-deep good at until my graduate studies in a course called “New Product Design & Development” (For MBA’s, it was Entrepreneurialship). While there were true tests of competence in that class, what I learned about myself was simple and came as an epiphany: I can do anything with the right amount of focus and failure. I was best in confidence of resolve. I believe anybody can obtain this confidence but the path differs on the circumstances of the individual.

Currently as a product manager working on restaurant focused computer hardware and software, the most difficult questions we have to answer are those of prioritization. We don’t ask ourselves ‘can we do this?’, instead we ask ‘is this the right thing to do?’. You’d be surprised how much experience in failure assists with answering with the latter type of question. Six or so years ago I was the product manager of a risky $300,000 project that never went to market. What we learned from that failure allowed us to iterate more effectively on a later project which increased our startup’s valuation by tens of millions of dollars.

In my engineer’s opinion, a lot of people in the workforce are useless (albeit necessary). Most follow strict processes and cant think outside the box, yet are complacent with their positions. They are literally incapable of helping themselves in the larger sense lacking a ‘Systems’ mindset. Engineers get outside the box and find solutions. Engineers accept the unknowns and figure them out. Engineers are resourceful for almost any problem. While an HR department would consider it a misuse of resources, I’d have confidence in having engineers conduct marketing campaigns or even performing sales. I would be more confidant about the quality of a customer with an engineer’s sale over a traditional salesperson’s because engineers are proficient with setting expectations.

The dawn of the next industrial revolution is upon us and a lot of you are going to find yourselves stuck in the middle of it. Companies are automating millions of blue collar jobs away. I just lost three software developers to a corporate initiative that automates a payroll system for truck drivers using data obtained from IoT devices. I know it may initially sound diabolical, but this sixth month project with five or so people will render ~400 employees useless… Let that sink in… Cars will eventually drive without a human operator. 6-DOF robotic arms will flip burgers and make pizzas with Terminator style machine vision. Python scripts will calculate and execute payroll deposits in seconds instead of hours. Humanity yearns for new sources of energy and to explore the Solar System. The future has come and you will be amongst the arbiters of its manifestation. The world is relying on you.

Ultimately, all I can advise is to keep learning especially outside of your core discipline. As a mechanical engineer I was surprised how co-dependent we are with electrical engineers in reality. If you want to build an R/C car or weather balloon then learn C++. If you’re good with MATLAB give Python a try. If you like the idea of internet money learn how blockchains and public/private key encryption work. If you’re good at physics or just plain interested in space then study orbital dynamics. If you want to monetize things you build learn about the concept of zero to one (or one of hundreds of other product development concepts). Bottom line is to never stop learning. If you want to build something then build it. Have no fear in learning how along the way as it’s the best way to learn. You might just be surprised about what you’re capable of.

Siempre Alelante,

Eric Fleming