When in-person meetings are impossible, how can hardware engineers make the personal connections that fuel opportunities? Erin McDermott talks us through the idea behind OddEngineer.com
In 2020, I wrote about the negative impacts of losing face-to-face interactions involved in physical product development. Not long ago, shared coffees and beers led to strengthened personal connections, which in turn, fuelled all sorts of deals. Also, these meetings often involved important third parties: the widgets themselves.
What a blow it’s been to be separated from our fellow nerds and all those sprockets!
Luckily, we humans have got at least one good thing going for us: we sure know how to adapt. Let’s talk about the workarounds we’re creating.
For job seekers working on physical products, more acute help is needed. Your best shot at getting your foot in a company’s door has always been through a referral by someone ‘in the club’. It’s way better than trying to jam keywords from a job posting into your CV, so that Nancy in HR selects you when she plays her word-matching game
The most obvious new method of connecting is probably all the online conferences to spring up. Where in-person gatherings used to be, video screens replete with comments along the lines of “You’re muted!”, and “Can you hear me?”, and “Your video isn’t on” can sometimes fill in.
They don’t patch the hole completely, however. There aren’t replacements for all the gatherings I used to attend. Turnout tends to be lower. Also, there aren’t always opportunities to mingle.
While these limitations put a damper on things, online meetings can still help groups survive. For example, Silicon Valley Robotics MeetUp successfully brought its long standing ‘Bots and Beers’ event online. On the other side of the United States, the NY Hardware Start-up Meetup is expanding by including members and speakers from outside of New York.
Job hunting challenges
For job seekers working on physical products, more acute help is needed. Your best shot at getting your foot in a company’s door has always been through a referral by someone ‘in the club’. It’s way better than trying to jam keywords from a job posting into your CV, so that Nancy in HR selects you when she plays her word-matching game.
So, how can job seekers connect with hiring entities today, while also earning an insider stamp of approval? To address this need, Silicon Valley Robotics again stepped up with its monthly Online Robotics Job Fair. The Prepared newsletter is another place to find job listings, and has been for a while, but with other ways to connect with hiring managers lost, its importance is growing. With both niche organisations, just knowing about them earns you an ‘in the know’ stamp.
Others are putting effort into digital marketing and branding for the first time. Some small business owners are rethinking their offerings. They’re finding ways to apply their skills in new industries, expanding their potential client bases.
On my own journey, “How do I connect with more paying clients?” turned into, “Looks like I’m building a second business.”
Last summer, I realised the return on investment from promotional efforts isn’t high enough if they don’t include in-person meetings. Also, the ways I leveraged my network weren’t paying off, because many I worked with needed more business guidance. So, I brought everything to a halt in order to research other avenues. I seriously considered shuttering my business. The conclusions I came to were:
1. Hang on, there is still great value in my network. Tangible benefits can still be derived from us working together;
2. Freelance engineers and small businesses need more guidance than I can offer in a book;
3. A marketplace platform, designed to elevate engineers instead of forcing their wages down, could offer a solution.
Over the following months, I researched existing marketplace platforms and interviewed tech pros needing a leg-up. The grander vision I came up with is a multifaceted network where hardware engineers can get the support they need most.
However, the minimum viable product I’m testing first is much smaller. It focuses on bringing engineers publicity. It simply includes a bunch of profiles of niche physical product development experts, and the opportunity to immediately book a one-hour, paid appointment with any of them.
I built OddEngineer.com to try this idea out. One of the hardest parts was teasing out the niche specialty of each pro. Unlike a CV or LinkedIn profile, the framing is more like what you’d say to another tech pro when you refer someone to them:
“I know a thermals/injection molding/ lighting/IR sensor/IoT/wireless power/etcetera guy you should talk to for that.” Specialisation makes us special!
You can book one of the specialists on Odd Engineer yourself. Or, you can sign up on the waitlist to become one of the featured pros (pilot spaces are limited).
After the four-month pilot finishes, I plan to shut it all down. If it doesn’t show promise, it stays shut down. If it yields metrics that validate the idea, I’ll rebuild it from scratch, so that Version 2 can scale bigger and faster. Of course, I’m hoping it’s the latter!
If you have ideas for what you’d like to see in Version 2, you can submit them to me in a survey on OddEngineer.com. Your input would be most valuable! After all, I’m building this thing not just for me, but to help all of us.