Originally published in CMO.com
I often get double-takes when I reveal to other CMOs that I was a biomedical engineer in my previous life. After almost a decade as an engineer, I grew restless. I went back to school to earn my MBA and discovered there was a lot more to marketing than what influencers had told me. I reinvented my career and worked my way through almost every part of marketing: product management, product marketing, campaign management, social strategy, branding and communications and now am a CMO at a growing SaaS company.
It’s been a long time since I was a practicing engineer so they get over the shock quickly. But I surprise them even more when I let them know that I am still an engineer in many ways.
Ten years ago my two careers may not have meshed as well as they do today. What’s changed? Back then, marketing was more an art. Today, it is predominantly science. The experts who make the biggest impact for their organizations are the ones who may not be formally trained as an engineer like me, but who possess and use key skills that are needed by both engineers and marketers.
Here are the 7 characteristics of engineers that make for amazing marketers
1. Engineers love to problem solve!
That’s why we became engineers! We wanted to solve problems! Build products that do amazing things! We are passionate about that and it is the #1 skill set I look for when hiring a marketer. There are no cut and dry job descriptions anymore in marketing. Marketers need to be able to find a problem or area for improvement and go find a way to make it better.
2. Engineers have been taught the right approach to problem solving.
Engineering education is about learning an approach to solving a problem and the tools needed. In actual practice, you then go back to the process, the guiding materials and come up with a solution to the problem. We’re not taught memorization, but rather method. That is because there isn’t always a “right” answer in engineering. This is exactly how marketing needs to approach problems. There is no one right way to do things. There are infinite possibilities so it takes a person who can approach a new problem with a method to work through it and have the confidence to see where it takes you without knowing your final destination.
3. Engineers love data!
As an engineer I once worked on a data set in Excel for 3 weeks. I was relentless in my pursuit of finding answers. This skill has served me well in what is now likely the most data-driven career path available. Data scientists work in marketing, how crazy is that? If you are good at math, statistics and are a killer “Googler” because you understand Boolean logic, then marketing is definitely for you.
4. Engineers are bi-lingual.
This one is for all of the companies out there with complex products. You have high-tech talent in your product and sales organizations. Engineers turned marketer speak the language of business and tech. Your engineering degree will not only get you instant respect with product and sales, it will allow you to turn marketing into terms they understand – making you a key player in marketing alignment with product and sales.
5. Engineers love trying out new technology!
Did you know there are almost 1,900 marketing technology vendors who are constantly pushing the boundaries of what marketing can do? Scott Brinker’s Chief Marketing Technologist Blog shows all of these vendors in a marketing technology landscape chart that is positively overwhelming! Marketing has the daunting (but fun) task of vetting these technologies and how they will work for our organization. There is no end in sight to marketing being exposed to new tech!
6. Engineers are pragmatic.
This isn’t the Mad Men era of marketing. The sexiest, coolest idea is not always the best. Engineers are fundamentally pragmatic about decision making. We look at things from all angles. We make pros/cons lists, we mitigate our risks, we create exit plans. These are all phenomenal skills for today’s marketer to have. Because there are still CEOs out there that get swept away by a “cool idea”, we need marketers who can take those cool ideas, break them down and make them high performing!
7. Engineers like building things.
So much of marketing’s digital transformation is about building new processes and integrating technology to build a model that works for your organization. There is a never-ending project list for great marketers to make amazing things happen with technology. I’ve seen ridiculous amounts of innovation in my career and can’t wait to see what new technology or process will come about next!
I’m not saying every engineer should make the transition to marketing. Do what you are passionate about. But here are key takeaways for readers:
- For marketers today, think about these skills and if you don’t have them, think about ways to develop them. If your company has online training, take a course in problem solving or decision making. I guarantee it will help your career.
- For marketing leaders looking at job candidates, make sure you consider these skills and characteristics in hiring. Someone with these skills can demonstrably help drive change and growth.
- And certainly, if you are an engineer and are thinking about a career change, I definitely recommend taking a look at marketing!