I spent my elementary and middle school years in the suburbs around Atlanta. It was fun and free, our backyards were forests with creeks and snakes and other quaint artifacts of homespun American childhood. I was many things – a musician, an athlete, a comedian, a poet – but never good enough in any of those pursuits to make it a living. I wouldn’t have had it any other way – I continue to remain a generalist to this day. I had a strict upbringing, although I didn’t realize it then. It was a challenge for my Indian parents to balance traditional Indian values alongside the (sometimes conflicting) American values I was learning from school and greater society. I think my family’s values of have a lot to do with my relative success in this country, and why I’ve come to believe that parenting is the most important (though not necessarily most difficult) task a person can do.
Since high school, I’ve lived around California, which despite all its glaring flaws, I am happy to call home. Here I could develop my interest in technology. I learned how to program in C and wrote a code to fill up hard drives and crash school computers. I learned how to make websites and used it to distribute music and video games. I went from Legos to Rube Goldberg machines, and finally to a BS in engineering (with all associated honors) at Harvey Mudd, and a MS in electrical engineering from UC Berkeley. GPAs 3.72/3.91 for BS/MS.
I have two types of clients: 1) start-up founders needing electronics experience for product design or prototype research 2) well-heeled medical researchers needing electronics experience for their advanced experiments. Due to my prior connections in the medical device community, most of my work is in that [medical] field, ranging from exercise monitoring to surgical robotics.
If I were to hire someone soon, I would Google / Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn this person and ensure to the best of my ability that this person is not a drunk or a terrorist. Ideally I would want to find maximal professional information – this indicates to me a candidate is interested in presenting a focused image, which is necessary when you are your business. I also give high marks for cogent personal thoughts. Status updates about how bored you are? Minus points. Vaguebook? Double minus points. Blog posts about your political stance? Plus points if it’s well argued. I’m looking for evidence of intelligence and empathy. With work [expanding business and building clients], it’s also more important now than ever to be aware of differing cultures, and to really be able to empathize with different cultural norms.
As for the recession… What recession? The tech industry has barely skipped a beat out here; start-ups and large companies alike are humming along. I also occupy a niche in consulting; most EEs work in-house with their respective employers. When companies suddenly find out that (gasp) professional skills are required to make professional products, they need my experience. Furthermore, if this business ever tanks, I have acquired more experience in my one year of operation than an engineer in a large company acquires in five years, and I am qualified for positions far above what I could have gotten with just a degree.
Neel Shah is an electrical engineer and independent contractor for electronics design. He holds a B.S. in engineering from Harvey Mudd College, and a Masters in Engineering from U.C. Berkeley. For more about Neel, visit his website at http://neelfirst.com/