An Engineering Student's Guide to Marketing
Written by Johnson Hu Edited by Joe Dakin
The summer after I graduated from my bachelor’s degree turned out to be one of the most eventful summers of my life. My internship at SMT research played big a part in that. Not only was it my first introduction to the world of sales and marketing, but also an introduction to the AEC world outside of civil engineering consulting. As I was about to dive into a Master’s of Engineering degree (Structural and Earthquake Engineering) starting September, I felt this was an appropriate time to step outside of my comfort zone and gain some valuable work experience.
My main sales and marketing task consisted of creating two presentations on the State of the Mass Timber Construction Industry and Engineering Considerations of Mass Timber Construction. As these two presentations took up about half of the internship, I spent a great deal of time researching the drivers and restrainers of the mass timber construction industry. While this type of work was still in an office environment where I was already comfortable, it required me to use a different part of my brain.
In the past, my internships consisted of AutoCAD drawings and Excel Spreadsheets. At SMT, I found myself reading business reports, diving into research papers, and creating presentations. I was used to engineering meetings where the topics were project based and revolved around construction methods, design ideas, and budget overruns. At SMT, I was in conversations that involved market outreach, product launch strategy, and funding opportunities. While at first I felt confused and detached, I eventually realized these conversations were about the same projects I had been working on, just from another perspective. I already had experience in the engineering design side of AEC projects; my role at SMT was just in the sale and marketing side. Upon understanding this, I was able to connect the dots between how this role would benefit me in my career in the future. It was essentially forcing myself to focus on my weaknesses.
This gave me a valuable opportunity to develop the skills that I admittedly had been lacking. It’s often acknowledged that engineers tend to be quiet and introverted while possessing strong analytical and problem solving skills. My time at SMT allowed me to work on skills that I otherwise would not have spent time on. The range of useful experiences ranged from office small talk to business meetings with external Senior Managers. These experiences occur quite often in engineering offices too, but I admittedly was not competent in them, nor did I have the opportunity to practice them. Although there are still things I need to work on, my time at SMT has definitely given me a push in the right direction.
When Johnson joined us, we knew that his role would be primarily marketing - and while this wasn’t in his background - I was confident he would pick things up. From a marketing perspective, it was amazing to have someone so technically adept who could just understand the technical nomenclature of the industry. Marketing has a reputation for being hyperbolic, at worst we are branded a bunch of snake-oil salesmen, but there truly is no place for that kind of nonsense in design and construction because we are all only as good as our reputations - at a certain point we just need to be able to do what we say we can do. Considering the unique marketing environment of this industry, having an engineer conduct market research and put together content was actually a very good fit.
As disciplines, marketing and engineering are not so very far apart; in fact, I think they intersect with the advent of careers such as User Experience or User Interface design. In both engineering and marketing you must be able to read and digest large amounts of information, see through noise and static, and diagnose a problem. SMT’s approach to marketing is all about diagnosing the pain points in our industry, and educating our audience - these are skills that any engineer would benefit from as much as a communications major.
I was delighted by how Johnson threw himself into learning new skills, and it was a joy to see him improve how he presented his findings over his time at SMT. The AEC industry is one of spreadsheets, detailed drawings, and data; when you are in the midst of all that information it can sometimes be hard even to know which way is up. Learning to communicate the most important and actionable information in a way that key decision makers can digest it is at the core of marketing, and thus gaining skills in this discipline can help even the most dyed-in-the-wool engineer to further their career goals.