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ENE Memo: March 19, 2012

From the Head: 3/19

Agile Careers in “Permanent Beta

As a pioneering school in a new discipline, there is considerable uncertainty about how our chosen field will develop and what career opportunities will emerge. Unlike established disciplines, we do not have 50 or 100 years of history to examine as we think about and plan our future – individually or collectively – nor even exemplars or role models to emulate. But given the current level of volatility in many established industries and professions, maybe there is a distinct advantage to being in a new and emergent discipline. Many traditional assumptions about career paths no longer hold; jobs for life and earnestly climbing the corporate ladder are things of the past. Even in the relatively stable world of higher education, many long-held assumptions are being questioned, and traditional ways of operating may be subject to disruptive change. 

Reid Hoffman, co-founder and CEO of LinkedIn and member of the “PayPal mafia,” has co-authored a book on career planning for these uncertain times and unpredictable job prospects. Drawing parallels between entrepreneurial ventures and individual careers, he argues that as we plan for possible futures we should be prepared to be in permanent beta mode, much as products from technology companies are always in a state of continuous development, never quite finished. In a discussion with Tom Friedman on the book, Hoffman states that “for entrepreneurs finished is an F-word,” and just as great companies are always evolving, so will future careers, and thus “finished ought to be an F-word for all of us.”

He argues that there are three factors that comprise our individual competitive advantage as we each craft a career in volatile times: our assets, our aspirations and the market realities. We each have two kinds of assets, soft and hard, and it is our soft assets in which we should invest strategically. Our aspirations are our interests, passions, desires, and values. But just having excellent assets and clear aspirations is not sufficient; these have to be operationalized in the prevailing “market realities,” which can either limit or enhance our career plans.

Rather than having a rigid, long-term plan that you play out, Hoffman argues that future career success depends on being "both persistent and flexible"; i.e. be short-term and long-term in your thinking. He introduces the idea of ABZ planning. Plan A is what you are doing now, the current implementation of your competitive advantage. Plan B is what you pivot into when Plan A is no longer working or if you find a better path towards your goal. Of course we all need a Plan Z, the lifeboat that we can revert to if things go bad; it is Plan Z that enables us to take on uncertainty in Plan A and B. This way of approaching an emergent, contingent career aligns perfectly with the thinking behind the reflexive portfolio we ask our PhD students to initiate and hopefully continue for the rest of their life as a critical navigation tool for uncertain times and places – permanent beta.  I am reminded of Lucy Suchman's book from the late 1980s, Plans and Situated Actions, and the story of the Trukese navigators.

Another interesting idea put forward by Hoffman is that of IWe - that is to say, “I” to the power “We”. As co-founder of LinkedIn, it is not surprising that he stresses the importance of professional networking. That said, the concept of IWe places the focus on “how you and your network, working together, can achieve amazing things,” not simply how you can leverage others for your personal advantage. This is worth some deeper thought.

The more alumni from our IDE program that I meet, the more impressed I am at the diverse, unpredictable yet amazing careers these people have created over the past three or four decades. Being pioneers in an out-of-the-ordinary and hard-to-explain major, they had no choice but to make their own way. They did not have a guidebook, but nevertheless they somehow figured it out for themselves and used very similar strategies to those that Hoffman has distilled. Similarly, our PhD graduates and current graduate students are embarking with agility on emergent careers that may never be quite finished, imagined through flexible persistence. Becoming a faculty member in ENE typically involved pivoting from Plan A to Plan B, which then became the new Plan A.

Reid Hoffman's book is The Start-up of You. I heard about this new release from our recent outstanding alumna, Leslie Bottorff, a venture capitalist who works in Silicon Valley and who personifies an agile career, always learning, willing to take intelligent risks and bold enough to pivot to Plan B to grasp breakout opportunities.


News and Information: 3/19

Grantsmanship Orientation # 2

The Office of the Vice President for Research will host the second in a series of workshops providing information on various resources available to Purdue researchers. The Grantsmanship Orientation Workshop #2 will be of interest to all who conduct research but is especially targeted to faculty with some previous funding experience. 

Topics to be covered include:

  • OVPR assistance in the coordination of large, interdisciplinary proposals
  • OVPR/Discovery Park services and resources
  • Global Policy Research Institute (GPRI) services and resources
  • Working with industrial partners
  • Management of intellectual property

The workshop will be held on Monday, March 26th in Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship, Room 121, from 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., with lunch provided. 

The deadline for registration is Wednesday, March 21.  For more information, contact Sue Grimes in the Office of the Vice President for Research at or Mary Ryker at

Calendar: 3/19

Spring 2012

  • Thurs, Mar. 22: ENE seminar: Dr. Louis Bucciarelli (Professor Emeritus, Engineering and Technology Studies, MIT): Liberal Studies in Engineering (for All)
  • Thurs, Mar. 29: ENE seminar: Dr. Dale Baker (Arizona State University): "A Cognitive Model for Implementing Knowledge: Moving Research into Practice Through Professional Development"
  • Fri, Mar.30: College of Engineering Faculty Awards of Excellence, 6:30pm, Mackey Arena, Spurgeon Club. Dr. Robin Adams will receive the College's Leadership Award.
  • Thurs, April 5: ENE seminar: "Online Learning Interaction: Perceptions of Experienced Online Instructors"
  • Mon/Tues, April 23-24: ENE Industrial Advisory Council (including Graduate Poster display)
  • Thurs/Sat, April 26-28: 2nd P-12 Engineering and Design Education Research

Independence and National Days around the World

  • March 3 – Bulgaria – National Day
  • March 6 – Ghana – Independence Day
  • March 12 - Mauritius – National Day
  • March 17 – Ireland – St Patrick’s Day
  • March 20 – Tunisia – Independence Day
  • March 21 – Nowruz (New Year) – Iran
  • March 21 – Namibia – Independence Day
  • March 23 – Pakistan – National Day
  • March 25 – Greece – Independence Day


Kudos: 3/19 Jim Whitford, Rick Womack, Jeff Huddleston and Paul Branham (Peer Teacher in FYE) for an excellent job in preparing and conducting tours of the i2i Learning Lab during Spring Break for two groups of visitors each of 20 or so people: the spring meeting of CDIO (Monday) and a group from King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT) on Friday. Your passion and pride in what we do in the lab were very evident, and your efforts very much appreciated by our guests. Also to Carla Zoltowski and Bill Oakes for showing these two groups of visitors the EPICS program and facilities in a very constrained time window. Monica Cox on being elected as Program Chair for the 2012 ASEE MIND (Minorities in Engineering Division) Leadership Team. Katerina Bagiati, a PhD graduate and now postdoctoral associate at MIT, on being chosen to receive one of two competitive 2012 Apprentice Educator Grants from the ASEE Women in Engineering Division.

To suggest content for future issues of ENE Memo, contact David Radcliffe or Lisa Tally by midday Friday for the following week's issue.