A GOLDen Way to Jump-Start Your Career

How can being involved in IEEE's GOLD group help you get ahead?

6 November 2009

In these tough times, seasoned engineers aren’t the only ones struggling to get ahead or even just keep their job. As you might expect, recent engineering grads are also having a difficult time. But becoming active in the IEEE Graduates of the Last Decade (GOLD) group can help. Graduates who become members of IEEE within 10 years of receiving their first professional degrees are automatically enrolled in the GOLD program.

From volunteering opportunities, to networking events, and career and tech seminars, GOLD can give budding engineers the tools they need to gain a competitive edge and advance their careers. Here’s how GOLD has helped several IEEE members.

VOLUNTEERING BENEFITS
When you’re going after the same job as more experienced engineers, it’s important to have the right set of skills to be a competitive candidate. This includes skills in leadership, public speaking, managing people, communicating effectively, and others that most students don’t pick up in school. According to several members, the best way to gain these skills is to take on volunteer responsibilities for GOLD.

When IEEE Member Gim Soon Wan graduated in 2000 from Merrimack College, North Andover, Mass., he already knew a thing or two about leadership, thanks to his role as the school’s student branch president. But he wanted more experience so he could land a senior-level job.

“That’s when I discovered volunteering for IEEE GOLD would give me the opportunity and environment to improve my leadership skills,” he says. In 2000 Wan established and then went on to lead the Boston IEEE GOLD affinity group, and in 2006 he became the GOLD coordinator for Region 1. He was chair of the IEEE Member and Geographic Activities GOLD Committee from 2007 to 2008. “Through these roles I learned about project management, budget and proposal planning, training others, making presentations, and how to negotiate,” he says. In 2004, Wan got the high-level position he was aiming for—senior design engineer at Vicor Corp., Andover, where he develops high-power-density DC/DC power converters. “I lead many key projects in my company with a group of engineers and technicians,” Wan says.

Volunteering for GOLD also helped IEEE Member Ashan Upal move up the career ladder. He was founding chair in 2002 of the South Saskatchewan (Canada) GOLD affinity group. “My volunteer work impressed job interviewers and employers,” he says. “As a result, I’ve been promoted to more senior positions much faster than my peers.” Upal is an energy management specialist for Enbridge Pipelines, in Edmonton, Alta., Canada, where he manages the company’s utility contracts and oversees Canada’s high-voltage infrastructure.

In his role as chair, Upal learned presentation skills he says he never could have picked up elsewhere. For example, at the 2005 IEEE Sections Congress, in Tampa, Fla., he gave a presentation on the public relations and marketing strategies his affinity group employed to get the word out about the group. “Presenting in front of an international audience was a great learning experience,” he says.

READY-MADE NETWORKING
It’s no secret that it’s easier to find a job when you’ve got a professional network of people to call on. Think of GOLD as that network, says IEEE Member Megha Joshi, who was the 2006 GOLD representative to the IEEE Student Activities Committee. She got the chance to network with other volunteers by attending IEEE GOLD meetings held locally and around the world.

“I’ve had the opportunity to connect with fellow GOLDies, mentors, and experts who helped me become the professional I am today,” Joshi says. She is a project leader in the business intelligence domain of Tata Consultancy Services, Noida, India.

IEEE Member Dan Coode has made more than just professional contacts; he’s also made good friends through his role as this year’s Region 7 GOLD coordinator.

“I’ve networked with many people from industry and have developed great friendships with peers who I can bounce ideas off,” he says. “I’ve also built an excellent network of senior professionals who have been instrumental in helping me land jobs for my company and have given me valuable advice on work projects when no one in my company could help.” Coode is a manager of marketing and business development for SED Systems, a developer and integrator of systems, products, and services used in communications, as well as test and control applications, in Saskatoon, Sask., Canada.

CAREER AND TECH TIPS, TOO
Local GOLD groups also regularly hold career and tech seminars featuring presentations by leading experts. For example, the North Saskatchewan Section GOLD group holds a “mentorship night” every few months in which senior executives discuss their careers and offer members advice. “The advice I’ve received from these mentors has really helped guide my career,” Coode says.

The same group also held a professional development seminar on project management. “When I was asked to do project management work for a former employer I used some of what I learned at that seminar to help me,” Coode says.

Adrian Pais, 2009 chair of GOLD, also found career-related seminars helpful. He has attended other GOLD seminars on intellectual property rights and leadership training. Pais is a telecommunications consultant for TNO Information & Communication Technology, in Delft, Netherlands.

“I was able to apply the skills I picked up at those seminars at work,” Pais says.

GOLD also offers seminars on technical topics. Upal attended one seminar in 2008 on arc flash safety, organized by the Northern Canada GOLD affinity group. An arc flash occurs when the insulation or isolation between electrified conductors is no longer sufficient to withstand the voltage between them, and an electric current arcs from one conductor to the next or from a conductor to ground. The flash, seemingly instantaneous and often accompanied by a thunderous noise, can cause concussion, blindness, deafness, and severe damage to the lungs, skin, and other tissues of anyone nearby.

“I need to stay informed on the latest in arc flash safety as part of my job overseeing Canada’s high-voltage infrastructure, so this seminar was very helpful,” Upal says.

Joshi believes such seminars are invaluable for new engineers. “Recent graduates need to pick up as many skills as they can to be competitive,” she says. “GOLD provides them opportunities to stay on top of the latest advances in their field, and more.”

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