Ethical Issues in My Profession
One of the biggest ethical problems that our group witnessed firsthand in China was how businesses treat the environment. Especially around the Beijing area, a combination of manufacturing centers, fossil fuel based power plants, deforestation, and poor infrastructure have combined into a perfect storm (often literally) of smog and pollution. While the public values clean air and water, each business is not inherently provided with incentives to protect these resources. Fortunately, as an increasing number of people have realized the seriousness of this problem, more businesses have taken the message of environmental stewardship to heart. As we saw in Dupont, a business can take steps to power its offices with solar energy and use recycled materials in new products. Even the shipping industry, one of the biggest polluters, can find ways to more efficiently ship goods with algorithms to designate container routes.
Educational Breadth as Professional Development
Even if an engineer is extremely talented in their design, they are of no use to society if they cannot communicate their ideas effectively. This becomes especially true when conducting engineering on a global scale. Traveling to China as a purely English speaker was an extremely humbling experience. I could barely ask for the price of a trinket while on this trip, let alone try and communicate a new idea for a circuit design. It made clear how useful adding another language to my repertoire could be. I also have gained greater appreciation for how history and culture tie into product design. Before coming to china, I never would have guessed that e-commerce would be such a huge part of everyday life, but after learning about the more recent rise of china’s middle class, it is easy to see how something like WeChat’s digital hóngbāo (red envelope) would be a very popular application.
Lifelong Learning, Continuing Education as Professional Development
Continuing to learn and adapt is essential to businesses involved in the smartphone market. Consumer tastes are notoriously fickle, and technological advancements quickly render previous tech giants obsolete. In our lecture at Donghua University, we were told the tale of Xiaomi, a smartphone company who rose quickly to become the leading smartphone vendor in the country in 2014. However, other Chinese companies began to adapt and deploy new methods, such as Oppo and Vivo using intensive marketing and celebrity endorsements. Today, Xiaomi is not even in the top 5 producers list. In our company visits, we have seen multiple companies attempt to combat this by investing heavily in research and development. Dupont is a great example of this innovation. Over the course of two centuries, it has remained a leader in its industry by shifting focus to new products instead of clinging on to previous best-sellers.
The Social Environment of Professional Life
While our visits were short, I think we were able to get a feel for a variety of different workplace cultures during our time in China. Cheetah Mobile definitely felt the most progressive, and its office building was a direct emulation of Silicon Valley culture. Employees were free to use the expansive facilities, including a rock climbing wall, gym, and garden rooftop, in order to boost their creativity and productivity. Microsoft and Dupont felt more conservative, yet it was still apparent in their showrooms that they valued innovative spirit. On the other hand, TE Connectivity felt very much like a typical office place, with rows of cubicles and a focus on production and efficiency. Personally, I believe that businesses that focus on providing a comfortable environment for employees to engage and collaborate with each other will prove to have the most effective workforce in the long run.
Functioning on Multidisciplinary Teams
I thought one of the most striking examples of business and engineering working together was through the supply chain. I was reminded that while engineers are responsible for designing a product, it takes a full supply chain to bring that idea to life. We saw many parts of this process, from the prototypes of electronics at Microsoft, to production facilities at TE connectivity, to the trans-pacific shipping industry that provided these items to American consumers. I also began to understand the importance of public and government relations teams, especially in countries with large bureaucracies. I also was excited by some of the more traditional business challenges that engineering is revolutionizing. I can easily see algorithms and robots taking control of many more aspects of the shipping industry, which is essentially one large optimization problem. Lastly, I really enjoyed being able to collaborate and learn about the interests of the business students in our group. It was great to hear other perspectives as we learned more about the smartphone industry, and I think it is these diverse perspectives which drives the innovation of a team.