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“Great Time to Be an Engineering Manager”: Challenges and Opportunities for the Engineering Manager in The Emerging Technologies Space

01 Nov 2019 1:27 PM | Annmarie Uliano (Administrator)

by Woodrow W. Winchester, III, PhD, CPEM

As an engineering management educator, I echo President Simon Philbin’s sentiment, expressed during his closing remarks at the ASEM 2019 International Annual Conference (IAC) banquet, that this is a great time to be an engineering manager.  This statement, for me, is affirmed in my work that promotes the use of more inclusive approaches in the design and management of emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) products and systems.  And, while the promises of these technologies are great - as witnessed in AI’s growing pervasiveness; the perils - as outcomes of often “unchecked” designs and deployments - can be even greater.

“We are in a diversity crisis,” states a recent MIT Technology Review article that examines the existence and propagation of biases in AI systems.  Recent Congressional hearings on the topic of inclusion in technology have called for “the tech sector to be more proactive in developing means that reduce, or better yet, eliminate bias from newer and emerging technologies”.  As I reflect on my ASEM 2019 IAC experiences, it is my belief that engineering managers can provide both thought and practice leadership in meeting this challenge. In that regard, I offer some pathways forward:  

  1. Champion inclusive design and engineering thinking.  Too often considerations of diversity and inclusion are cast simply as workforce composition concerns. However, the need to think and act more inclusively in the development and deployment of technologies is equally of import in offering more inclusive technologies.  Engineering managers, as technology project and product leaders within the organization, can champion and take leadership in ensuring that considerations of diversity and inclusion are appropriately interjected within the technological design life cycle.

  2. Engage with methods, tools and techniques that support more inclusive design and engineering decision making:  There are a growing number of practitioner-oriented aids to support more inclusive design and engineering.  Engineering managers, as often process and practice leaders, can be active proponents in the engagement and promotion of these more inclusive approaches.  Some exemplar resources are offered by Microsoft, Google, and the Inclusive Design Group at the University of Cambridge.  Additionally, in the full paper that I presented at ASEM 2019 IAC, I explore the visual arts as a means to help engineers think more inclusively and consequentially in technological design.  

  3. Advocate for the development of specific engineering management diversity and inclusion practice competencies The societal stakes are high in regard to the design and management of emerging technologies.  I feel that we, as an engineering management community, are at a point where more explicit and poignant conversations and efforts around diversity and inclusion within our practices are needed (the positive reception of Thomas Edwards’ keynote on neurodiversity provides some indication of the desire for these types of conversations).  By supporting these sorts of efforts, the catalyzation and articulation of engineering management competences around diversity and inclusion can be had. 

Truly, this is a great time to be an engineering manager.  Adequately grappling with notions of diversity and inclusion in technological design is truly both complex and multilayered.  More inclusive technological design and management practices are truly needed. It is my belief that engineering managers are well positioned to offer the needed thought and practice leadership in finally moving the needle.

About the Author

Woodrow W. Winchester, III, PhD, CPEM is the Director, Engineering Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His teaching and scholarly activities are centered on advocating for more humanity-centered approaches to the design and management of technological systems. Winchester is a Certified Professional in Engineering Management (CPEM) with over ten (10) years of industry experiences. Active in also advancing engineering management as a practice, Winchester is currently the Co-Director, Professional Development & Continuing Education for the American Society for Engineering Management (ASEM). Woodrow is also under contract with the CRC Press to write Inclusion by Design: Future Thinking Approaches to New Product Development (ISBN: 978-0-367-41687-4); co-authored with Frances Alston, PhD, CHMM, CPEM and slated for a late 2020 release.

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