Passion for Solving Problems

The Exciting World of Product Development.

When it comes to the world of innovation, bringing something new to the world that didn’t exist before is both challenging and completely exhilarating. That was the basis of our conversation with UMBC’s Steve Falk, PE, of UMBC’s Graduate Certificate program in Integrated Product Development and Manufacturing (IPDM).

This is a wide-open field with so many creative and innovative opportunities for anyone seeking a career with purpose, value, and a desire to bring new ideas to the world.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and readability.

What do you find most exciting about the field of product development?

The most exciting thing about the product development field is bringing something new to the world that wasn’t here yesterday. There’s nothing better than delighting the user or the community with something that they didn’t have available to them before. It’s such a rush to see them use a new product. And what a sense of accomplishment gained when you see them light up as a result of your innovative efforts.

What do you do for GE Healthcare?

I am a chief engineer with GE Healthcare. I do a multitude of things from design reviews to mentoring engineers, as well as build technology roadmaps and advanced technology programs. I enjoy challenging my team of engineers to help them advance and grow to become even better at the business of engineering.

What are employers looking for?

Hiring managers are looking for a collaborative and confident attitude, but humble. Candidates should be great listeners and be able to bring ideas to the table. They should be able to work within a team and be extremely curious.

There’s nothing better than having a culture of curiosity on the team. That curiosity is what drives people to solve problems.

What credentials are needed?

For someone interested in entering the product development field, they would need a bachelor’s degree in engineering or science. We are engineers and we solve problems in a methodical and structured manner. So it’s important to bring that kind of mindset to the product development table.

How can someone stand out?

I recommend that when interviewing for a job, a candidate should do everything they can to stand out. Bring your best game and your curiosity and that’ll go a long way.

While you’re in school, join clubs and conduct research with professors so that you can bring that experience to the interview. My degree didn’t get me in the door of my first job. What did was working with a particular doctor that was doing some biomedical research. I started off with a low-level technician job, but listened and learned. I then brought that experience to an interview and landed my first professional job after graduation. Get as much experience as you can, so when you get out into the field, you’ll be ready to show up with solid examples that showcase your professionalism and ability.

What is a typical day-in-the-life?

Trying to understand what the needs of businesses and customers are and any particular problems that need solving will make up a large part of the day. One might expect to be involved in design, prototyping, testing, analysis, and product marketability; serviceability; and flexibility versus throwaway. All of these must factor in cost-effectiveness and desirability for the end-user. No doubt, every day will be a little different, as product development requires various stages. Most product developers I know play in every one of those stages, and it’s never a dull moment.

What Skills Are Necessary?

So, I would say that the skills that are absolutely crucial for people entering product development are foundation and engineering, and then the ability to think critically. So, when approached with a problem, no matter how big or small, can you break it down and really think critically about every single aspect of the problem so that you can effectively and efficiently come up with a solution? I think that’s what you learn in undergraduate school, and that’s what you really learn in the graduate program.

What level of education is ideal?

It’s important for career-minded professionals in the product development field to have classroom, lab, teamwork, and project experience. The courses in a graduate program will teach you how to think strategically. They will teach you how to learn, how to research, and how to solve problems. It’s very much preferred from a hiring manager standpoint.

A Growing Field

The field of product development continues to grow. There’s going to be stuff that is in product development or topics in product development that we don’t even know of today. We may not even know about such things five years from now. It’s just growing exponentially, and to be part of that is a rush.

Ready to extend beyond?

The Integrated Product Development & Manufacturing post-baccalaureate certificate at UMBC features four courses (12 credits) taught by experienced professionals in the field. A certificate is one way to get hands-on experience and position yourself to work in the industry.

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