Want to lead engineers? You’d better know your stuff

Career advice from Raytheon Technologies CTO Mark E. Russell


Here, Russell offers advice to both new and rising engineers on how to advance in their own careers.

Pay attention to the details. Make sure your work is flawless, down to the smallest item. Decimal points and correct units matter, especially when you’re dealing with objects moving at supersonic speeds over great distances. I’m talking about logistical details as well – meet your deadlines and deliver work on time. When you have a good command of the details, you have credibility. You can explain and defend your work and how you arrived at your conclusions. That’s how you earn the trust of colleagues, leaders and customers who are counting on you to know your stuff and deliver a good product.

Gain “domain knowledge.” The key to delivering innovative solutions is knowing what makes them work, from the beginning to the end, and knowing what problems can occur. This is captured in something called the product lifecycle development V. It’s a very handy visualization of how engineering works, and it’s literally shaped like the letter V. At the top left you have your customer requirements, then along the lines you have the various steps of the process, with the space between representing multiple rounds of feedback, verification and cycles of learning. You learn by doing the work. Work on knowing your customer. Write a proposal. Work on the hardware. Work on the software. Test it. Sell off system requirements. Through these experiences, you gain a deep understanding for all lifecycle development areas. You close skills gaps, and you acquire the valuable experience you’ll need for future leadership positions.

Exercise good judgment. The only way to do that is to master the first two items. Once you know the details and build domain knowledge, you get what I call good judgment – and that’s where you can start to lead. It takes time to become competent as engineer. Once you are competent – and that is my highest kind of praise – people will follow you.

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