As you’ve read in my previous post, I learned so much over the seven year journey of becoming an Engineering Subject Matter Expert. While there is no clear cut path, and every career is different, some of the tips below will help you minimize the detours along the way!
Tip #1 – Find your niche
It was important during my first couple of co-op terms to get exposure to lots of different career options. However, to make a big impact quickly it is important for you to focus your time and energy. If I had tried to be everything to everyone, I would not have been successful. Instead, I was able to be THE go-to for cycle chemistry issues at the station, and then in the region as an SME.
Tip #2 – Adopt an attitude of learning
Continuous learning and skill development are essential for improving your career quickly. Especially in an ever-changing engineering environment. If you are not willing to invest your time and energy in learning, you will not be successful. Sometimes it might be through taking a class. Sometimes it might be through a discussion with operators or users of your designs. Sometimes it might be through experiences, like taking on an extra project or helping with equipment inspections.
Tip #3 – Collaborate with established SMEs
Part of learning more, is making sure that you surround yourself with knowledgeable people. I was lucky to work for several SMEs while in college, be mentored by an SME as lab supervisor, and network with other SMEs when I stepped into the SME role myself. There is a saying that you are an average of the 5 people that you surround yourself with most. By being exposed to and collaborating with established experts, you will make your process of learning that much smoother!
Tip #4 – Learn the tools and technology
When interviewing for the cycle chemistry SME role, one skill that set me apart from other potential candidates was my knowledge of Excel and Access which were heavily used for the cycle chemistry reporting. It allowed me to step into the role day one and make an impact. In fact, the improvement I made to automate the reporting tools, because of my programming and macro skills, is one of the most significant accomplishments during my two year term as SME.
Again, if you can be the go-to from something that makes others’ jobs easier and stressful, it establishes your authority and position as an expert. So don’t let the tools and technology be an obstacle for you becoming an SME.
Tip #5 – Know what you don’t know
The pressure of being an EXPERT when that is, in fact, your title can be overwhelming. Some advice that a fellow SME, whose focus was turbines, shared with me was really helpful. He said, “Really, I like to think of myself as a Subject Matter Learner. I don’t know everything about turbines, but a spend a lot of time every day learning more and more. And when a station has an issue that I don’t know the answer to, I go to more industry experts for help in resolving it.”
Whew! What a relief! It is important to know where to go to get the right answers, but you do not have to know everything. So, know what you know. Know what you don’t know. And have really good resources for figuring things out!
Tip #6 – Share your knowledge
With the heart of a teacher, it was always in my nature to help others learn. This set me apart at times among SMEs. Some SMEs thought their knowledge was so valuable that they should hoard it. I do not recommend this. It is not a good look.
By sharing your knowledge, whether through article publications, presentations, or one-on-one mentoring, you are really demonstrating that you are a resource and authority on the topic. It also forces you to evaluate how well you really know something. For me, my understanding on a topic is solidified when I teach it to others.
The more you share, the more likely someone is to come to you as the go-to for that subject. And once you’ve established your expertise, the SME role will follow.
So there you have it folks. These are my six tips for becoming an engineering subject matter expert!
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