Alum Advice During COVID-19: Richard Brehove ’80

Dear Seaver Students,

Congratulations on your graduation! I am an EE grad from the class of 1980. Most of us start our careers with excitement and dreams and apparently nothing holding us back. However, in a year or two or three we hit our first disappointments – the job changes, goes away, bad office politics, whatever. All of you graduating now are starting off with a huge disappointment – not able to celebrate a graduation. First of all – I hope that the celebration is simply delayed, not cancelled, even if you have to schedule your own graduation celebration with your class separately after the pandemic is over.

Now that you know what professional disappointment feels like, don’t forget it. Prepare for it, because you will feel it again. I worked for months on a product that failed because I couldn’t design it in a way that it would dissipate enough heat, so it was never put into production. Another product came back to my lab with the internal power cables charred black due to overcurrent. That must have been some smoke. Every engineer or scientist can list failures and disappointments – after sometimes years of work.

The goal should not be to avoid disappointments and failures. Sure, I could have lobbied my supervisors to let me modify my design more drastically so that I could meet the heat requirements, but we had certain limitations we could not get around. The goal is actually to prepare for the failures and disappointments. Plan for them.

You will not be judged on how many accomplishments vs. failures you had. Although that is a tempting metric, it turns out that that is only the first page of your resume. People that know you better – like your co workers and supervisors during your career – will be judging you on how you handle your failures. Everyone up and down your company knows about failures. They know that there will always be failures. But how do you handle yours? What is your attitude when you are faced with a disappointment? Are you quick to blame others? Do you simply give up and go on to something else? Do you acknowledge the failure and not try to rationalize it? Are you the one to come up with possible solutions? Are you the inspiration to finally get your team to an acceptable solution? You don’t have to be a team lead to do any of this. It does not matter if the disappointments are within your control or not. If you can be trusted to take the situation that is given to you and make it better, you will be endeared to your company and your coworkers. It will also be the way you are judged as an individual. If you want the exciting tasks in whatever company you land at, the best way to make yourself known is to be able to handle failures.

I myself have been able to avoid several mass-layoffs in my company over my 38 year career simply because I could be trusted to get the task done. When push comes to shove you keep what you value and let the less valuable go. It is the same in life. You value what you keep when you can’t keep everything.

So, a conventional graduation has been taken from you. How are you going to react?

Good luck in your career.

-Richard Brehove ’80