We’re curious what traits and skill sets hiring managers look for in entry-level engineers, so we asked a few folks we know. This post is the first in a series.
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SparkFun’s Director of Engineering Pete Dokter has been with SparkFun for 10 and a half years. Among other things, he heads a team of six electrical engineers.
1. Does product design/fabrication take place in-house?
Yes. We do all the design in-house, besides the products we resell. The PCBs get manufactured in China, but we do the stuffing in the U.S. Right now, importing stuffed boards would be too much off of our bottom line. The engineers send designs to Gold Phoenix, which takes a while to get back, but in the meantime, our engineers are working on multiple other projects. Each engineer keeps a queue of projects going.
2. Do you work with engineers straight from college or grad school?
Yes, but not exclusively.
3. What qualities define a good entry-level engineer?
We look for the traits of a “lifer.” We don’t hire people who just want a good-paying job in engineering.
4. When hiring entry-level engineers, what skills or educational experiences do you look for in candidates?
We expect that there will be some learning curve with some of the tools. The people we hire have a portfolio of projects they’ve done. The weirder the projects are, the better. We want to hire the people who would be doing this type of work anyway and are really into it. The people we hire are not waiting around for a job before they get active in electronics.
5. Do entry-level engineers need to have a portfolio of designs or experience fabricating parts on CNC machines or 3D printers?
Some do, some don’t. It isn’t as much of a priority as experience working with circuitry.
6. What are typical job requirements for entry-level engineering positions at SparkFun?
We don’t expect people to have EAGLE experience, but most do since there is a free version out there. Ideally, the student has done a couple of layouts before they get hired. We won’t hire someone without circuit-design ability. Candidates get quickly ramped up from there.
7. What are typical tasks that entry-level engineers do?
We expect them to jump into board design/layout.
8. What kinds of training or sets of knowledge do you wish entry-level engineers had more often?
It’s not a technical skill we would be wanting them to have. We have 150 resumes for every job opening. We’re not short on people to choose from. A lot of the people have the basics. Selecting someone comes down to how well they work with other people. That is a common failing of engineering students. They come out of school with some preconceived notion of what it’s like to work in industry. They need to be able to work with a ton of different types of people like at a hackerspace. Experience at internships isn’t as valuable as hackerspace experience.
Pete’s Words of Wisdom
- If I could teach people how to be human, that would be helpful.
- You can buy skills, but you cannot buy a reasonable person to work with.
- If they joined a hackerspace and had to deal with a lot of people on a personal level, that would be a way to improve their people skills. At a hackerspace, nobody is paid to deal with you, so you have to really hone your personal skills. You’re not just hanging out with friends there, either. You’re hanging out with friends and doing work.