The Happy Engineer Podcast

085: Career Success Toolkit – Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You with Mark Herschberg | CTO | Author | MIT Instructor

In this episode, we cover the essential skills for success that no one taught you.

Meet Mark Herschberg, a software engineering and cryptography expert, author, career builder, entrepreneur, and instructor for MIT’s “career success accelerator.”

The truth is that your engineering degree was not designed with success at work in mind. Colleges and universities have tried to address the problem, but the root causes go too deep. And frankly, it’s not their job to help you succeed at work. That’s YOUR job.

You must develop these skills, and even more importantly PRACTICE them, if you want to accelerate your career!

We cover the best way to do that in this conversation. If you’ll implement what Mark and I share, you’ll see change and growth faster than you can imagine.

So press play and let’s chat… it’s time to optimize your career & life for what really matters!

Join us in a live webinar for deeper training, career Q&A, and FREE stuff!  HAPPY HOUR! Live with Zach

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The Happy Engineer Podcast





084: My Top 3 Books on Habits & Biggest Insights for Personal Change with Zach White | World’s Best Lifestyle Engineer




Let me tell you a quick story about a decision that I made early in my engineering career back at Whirlpool that made all the sense in the world at the time that I made it, and looking back went terribly wrong. 

I was young in my career. I was a project engineer there at Whirlpool Corporation and I was designing components and parts for oven doors.

I was the door module owner and I thought that was the coolest thing. 

I had all these different projects, a couple of really big projects for new oven door designs, for freestanding ranges, and it was a lot of fun. 

Well, I had an opportunity come my way. I got pulled into a small conference room and one of the other managers in the cooking department told me that there was an opportunity that was going to come up to take over the project technical leader role, which was a role that I really wanted to do next for another program that I currently didn’t have any involvement with because the tech lead was putting in his two weeks notice the following.

This manager had an inside awareness because that engineering leader had already told the person that they would be quitting. So I got an early heads up that this opportunity was coming up and this manager wanted to know was I interested in taking the role. 

And he basically said, “Look, if you want that job, you’re the first in line. You’re the person we would choose. We want you to go home and think about it. Come back on Monday and let me know.” 

And at the time, I didn’t even really know what kinds of questions to ask, so I said, “Man, I’m really interested. This does sound great.” 

And he told me then, “Well, look, the project has been in a tough spot. This is the second. Technical leader who’s left in a really short amount of time. So it’s gonna be a tough challenge, but I think if you can deliver on this, it will be an easy thing for me to go and get you your senior engineer promotion.” 

And those were the magic words. I went home that weekend and told my wife at the time, look, here’s an opportunity. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. I need to be able to take advantage of this. Things like this don’t come your way every day, and it’s an obvious yes. I’m gonna be taking this role and guess what? I’m going to get the senior engineer promotion that I’ve been wanting, the bigger paycheck that I’ve been wanting, and this makes perfect sense.

So I went back to work on Monday, told the manager “I’m in, let’s make it happen.” 

And I began to transition into that project and into that new role right away. I spent those two weeks, the last two weeks of the other engineers’ time shadowing them, basically learning the job, learning the product, and I had this crash course into what would be a defining season of my career, but not in a good way.

You see that project was terribly behind the project. Really not been well taken care of by either of the last two leaders to the level it needed. Not by their own lack of effort, but simply an understaffing situation. A lot of challenges that didn’t get resolved and for me to come in with no background whatsoever on the project and to pick it up this late in the game, we were very near our production pilot runs, and there were still significant design issues in meeting requirements that had to be fixed and resolved and all of this piled up with incredible pressure on those deadlines, and I ended up working insane hours. 

And some of you have been there. You may be there right now. And I want to let you know my heart is with you. I understand sometimes things outside our control put us in those situations, and other times, just like this one, we put ourselves into those situations thinking that that’s what we want.

Well, in the end, I did deliver on that project. I did get that senior engineer promotion, and in many ways I was given significant accolades and recognition within the company for the work that I delivered. 

But guess what else? I was coming back from one of my work trips working on that program when I found a note at home from my wife that she felt our marriage couldn’t be saved and it was time to get divorced.

Now, there was no possible outcome in my adult life that could have been worse than that. And it began a downward spiral into a time of rock bottom burnout in my life and in my career. That really changed everything for me, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It was a depressing time. It was a discouraging time. I was embarrassed. I was angry. A lot of things went wrong in my life at that time. 

Now, looking back, it’s easy to see. That decision was made in a very isolated, very narrow lens that did not take into account my whole life. 

And if you back up to the conversation I just had with Mark, right at the end, might have been one of the most important things that was brought up in the entire chat, and it was to optimize for life happiness, not for job title.

Optimize for the bigger picture of what you will love and what will make you happy in your life, not around titles and money. And I fell for that trap. I was young in my career. I really wanted promotions and money and the title and the significance of moving up and the fact that this opportunity opened when it did with that chance to prove myself and to get that promotion and get the paycheck, it was a no-brainer.

But in the end, it got me nowhere when it came to life happiness. In fact, it put me into a tailspin of things getting worse and worse from that point on. And I made many more mistakes after that initial decision because I was too afraid and didn’t have the courage to lead and speak up when I needed to, about what was really going on for that project.

And I just stayed up till midnight, 1, 2, 3 am night after night, after night after night, and traveled as much as it took to get the job done. And you know, there’s a lot of places where I can look back and say “If things had been different with my own courage and leadership and ability to navigate my career, it didn’t have to end in my ultimate burnout and divorce.” but more of that another day.

What I want you to know right now is that as you’re pursuing success in your career, remember that it is part of the bigger picture of your life. It’s not work-life balance. It’s not work on one side and your life on the other. Your life is the whole picture. Work is one part of that. But there are many other things in your life that also matter.

And we want to optimize for life happiness, not just for work success. 

And I wanna give you a quick exercise that may help you in understanding what that optimization would look like. 

As engineering leaders, we’re familiar with the five whys. Asking why over and over again when you face a problem in your engineering design or in manufacturing, or any of the work we do in process development.

And we ask why again and againto dig into the root cause of our problems. Do we really understand what’s going on? And the five whys is a great tool. 

Ask yourself the five whats. 

But I want to challenge you to ask yourself the five whats. 

Ask yourself, what do I want? What do I want? What is your desire? 

And write down the first thing that comes to mind. 

Now imagine that I could snap my fingers and you have it. It’s done. You already have that thing.

Now what else do you want? Answer the question again. As though that thing you wrote down has already happened. 

Well imagine, again, you already have it. I’m giving it to you. It’s done. What else do you want? And so on and so forth. Imagine every time you answer the question that you already then have immediately that thing, well, what else do you want?

Keep asking and see where it takes you. 

So for example, let me go back to my story. What I wanted at the time was a promotion to senior engineer. What I wanted was the recognition and the paychecks that came with that promotion. And when the manager told me I had a chance to get that promotion, if I would take this challenging assignment, it was a no-brainer and I optimized around that.

Well, if I could go back and say, well, what do I want? It would’ve been a promotion to senior engineer. 

Well, imagine if I already had that. What else did I want? Well, really I wanted to work on bigger projects. I wanted the opportunity to be challenged at a higher level. 

Imagine I already had that. Then what did I want? Well, I remember one of the things that mattered at the time was to be able to pick my own team. I wanted to be able to have influence over the people I was working with and pick my own team. Well, what if that was already done? Then what? Well, I guess at the end of the day, I really wanted to love my job even more, to do work that I felt great about.

Well, what else did I want at this point? I mean, if I was loving my work and picking my team and on the projects I wanted, I didn’t really want anything else at work. So at the end of the day, if I was being honest, what I wanted was a healthier marriage, and what I wanted was to travel more. And what I wanted was to get back in shape, to get back to the gym and to work out.

When I got below the surface of what I want at work, if those things had been taken care of, the truth started to come out that what I really also wanted were these other things in life that were not working, and the question to challenge yourself with as you go deeper and deeper and deeper.

When you imagine having all of the things you want, you’ll also start to see that what you want comes down to the experience, the feeling of happiness, the joy, the love, the connection, the memory. And then here’s what I wanna challenge you to do.

How can you bring more of those things that are at the bottom of the list as you finish the five whats? 

And it may take seven. It may take 10. Do as many as you want. But ask yourself, how can I bring more of these things that are lower down my list, but might be deeper in my heart, into my life right now?

How can I optimize around this entirely? And not wait until one day when I have that senior engineer promotion, one day when I have that director promotion, that vice president promotion. How can I optimize more around these deeper things that I want beginning right now? And the truth is, I could have begun working on my marriage.

Right in the moment before I took this opportunity, if I had known and been honest with myself that what I really wanted was to travel more and to work out more and to fix these broken relationships, taking a role just for a job title that ultimately took me away from home, kept me working insane hours and for.

A title and a paycheck that I ultimately would’ve given back in a heartbeat to avoid burnout and a rock bottom experience. So how can you begin optimizing around those deeper things? Play with the five whats exercise. 

What do I want? You have it. What else do you want? You have it, what else do you want?

If you want to unpack this together, then I’d encourage you to join us at Happy Hour. That’s exactly what it’s for. We want to provide you with more resources and a conversation. So if instead of only listening to this, you’d like to ask questions and really engage in how this can come to life for you, then join us at Happy Hour.

We do it every month and I’d love to see you there. But the main thing is take action in your own life, not just to accelerate your career. But to optimize around the big picture of all of what you ultimately want. Let’s do this.





Mark Herschberg is the author of The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You and creator of the Brain Bump app. From tracking criminals and terrorists on the dark web to creating marketplaces and new authentication systems, Mark has spent his career launching and developing new ventures at startups and Fortune 500s and in academia, with over a dozen patents to his name.

He helped to start the Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program, dubbed MIT’s “career success accelerator,” where he teaches annually. At MIT, he received a B.S. in physics, a B.S. in electrical engineering & computer science, and a M.Eng. in electrical engineering & computer science, focusing on cryptography. At Harvard Business School, Mark helped create a platform used to teach finance at prominent business schools.

He also works with many non-profits, currently serving on the board of Plant A Million Corals. He was one of the top-ranked ballroom dancers in the country and now lives in New York City, where he is known for his social gatherings, including his annual Halloween party, as well as his diverse cufflink collection.


Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: Mark, awesome to connect with you. Welcome to the Happy Engineer Podcast, man. 

[00:00:05] Mark Herschberg: Thanks for having me on the show. It’s my pleasure to be here.

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:07] Zach White: Mark, we’re gonna talk about a lot of really important career topics today. You have a tremendous book, the Career Toolkit. I found a thousand questions that we could ask and explore today, and I’m pumped to dig into it.

[00:00:20] in the process of exploring you, there was something that I could not resist. Starting with today, and to take you there, I want you to go back with me to 2005. This is my personal story here, 2005. I am in Columbus, Ohio at an event known as the Ohio Star Ball, competing in ballroom dance with my partner from Purdue University and.

[00:00:48] toe to toe, literally on the dance floor with some amazing dancers from all over the country and world, and it was the first time I had ever made it to the final round of six in the silver level, syllabus there at the Ohio Star Ball and really excited. Did my final rounds and placed well, but never first because there was a couple from m I T that swept first place in every dance at that event.

[00:01:21] Zach White: And as I was looking at your background, I couldn’t help but see ballroom dance and I went looking and I was like, no way. Mark was an M I T ballroom dancer, I think at a different time. But I want you to tell me about your dance days because. This is so rare that somebody has the same background in collegiate competitive dance that I have.

[00:01:41] So how did that begin? How far did you take it? What was your favorite dance like? Just talk to us about Ballroom for a minute. 

[00:01:49] you know, ballroom actually is very appealing to engineers because it is a very structured dance. Yeah. Left foot forward on one three quarter turn clockwise on two it, it’s so structured.

[00:02:04] Mark Herschberg: I think that’s why it appeals to lots of engineers. Obviously at M I T, most of us were engineers or scientists, but even in our peer schools at Harvard, at Brown, I saw a lot of engineer. We’re on the ballroom team. and now most people don’t know this. M i t has, or at least back then had arguably one of the top, if not the top ballroom dance team in the country.

[00:02:30] Yep. It’s non M C A A sports, so there wasn’t exactly a head-to-head, but we produced a lot of. Great dancers and some national champions. 

[00:02:38] Zach White: Yeah, that’s super true. Purdue was always, like that was the school we wanted to beat. Anytime we would go to an event, m i t, was the bar set in terms of who really, really competed well, so was this like all four years of your undergrad you were a dancer or tell us a little bit about.

[00:02:56] Mark Herschberg: The short version of how I got into it was senior year. A friend of mine set me up with a girl for one of our semi formals, okay. , and we had a good date and I thought, okay, well now we’re gonna do things. It was MIT’s intercession. After that, we got set up at the end of the semester, MIT’s January intercession thought, okay, what’s a fun thing for us to do?

[00:03:19] And here’s this activity. During the intercession, there’s a whole bunch of things that go on, including ballroom dance lessons. I thought, here’s a great activity. It’s boys and girls. It’s on campus. It’s close. It was pretty cheap, important back then. So we did the ballroom dancing. We only did it a few weeks.

[00:03:37] We’re still friends, but I got hooked. I got into it, and so I started going regular. I didn’t join the team until two years later, so I stayed for my master’s degree at M I T. Oh, okay. I didn’t join the team until my then girlfriend, I got her into ballroom and she decided she wanted to join the team, which apparently meant I had also made the decision and because it’s not an M C A A.

[00:04:05] it was open to students, grad students, faculty, staff, right. Alumni. I was able to stay with it. In fact, I was last Ohio Star Ball I think in 2003. So 

[00:04:17] Zach White: we may have, okay, 

[00:04:19] Mark Herschberg: we missed, overlapped a little in kind of my last year or so when I moved to New York. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a partner and I just retired from 

[00:04:29] Zach White: competitions.

[00:04:30] Oh man, that’s amazing. Well, my first Ohio Star ball was 2004, so we just missed in, in competitive dance. But I, I love the story and mine is very similar. The reason I got into ballroom was a girl named Monica. We weren’t even dating, but I just was like walking down the Corridors at Purdue with a group of friends.

[00:04:49] Monica was one of them, and we passed a sign that said, ballroom dance, call out. And she was like, oh, we gotta go do this. And of course everybody said Sure, sure, sure. And then in the end, it ended up being only me and Monica who showed up for the call out. And next thing you know, I’m a competitive dancer who saw that coming, too funny.

[00:05:06] What was your favorite dance mark? do you have one that really stood out? , American Fox 

[00:05:11] Mark Herschberg: Trot. Ooh. And I have to say, the first time I ever took first place, it was at the Brown competition, my second year of dancing as a silver level dancer. And I remember we were doing well, and right before the finals, one of the coaches said, Hey, this move you’re doing, you can’t do it because in borrowing out you have bronze, silver, gold, and there are certain steps you’re allowed at.

[00:05:33] We said, no, Arthur Murray told us this is an allowed silver step. You’re like, no, I know they’re syllabus. You’re not allowed. And so we had to scrap our routine and just do the basic step, the one basic step over and over. I remember being so pissed, but somehow that anger energy went into doing the basic and we took first.

[00:05:55] And that really ignore me. And that’s actually a good lesson that sometimes I was so angry, like, this is gonna kill it, and oh, you’re ruining my, my competition. But what might feel like a setback? Can turn into a benefit and don’t let your emotions or anger take you over. You don’t know the outcome. Yes.

[00:06:16] Until you’ve gone through it. Yes. And so I learned from that, you know, I’m gonna have these setbacks, whether it’s difficult customers, or here’s a new constraint thrown on the project. Okay, let’s deal with it. Because I could still wind up with a positive outcome at the. 

[00:06:31] Zach White: It’s a great lesson and there’s so many amazing parallels between dance and engineering, dance and career, dance and life that we could pull.

[00:06:40] Maybe another one of those metaphors will tease out here in our, in our chat. But so Mark, you, you get out of m i t you have this incredible engineering pedigree and at some point in the journey, you know, you got into this idea, Hey, I need to pull this all together. A concise body of knowledge around career success that isn’t taught in school.

[00:07:00] And I wanna actually pick your brain first on why do you think that is? why is it that the things we need beyond our engineering degree to actually create a successful career isn’t really taught anywhere? You 

[00:07:16] Mark Herschberg: have to look at the evolution of education high school, educat. and really primary and secondary education came out of moving us from the farms into the factories because when you go back 200 years, well boys learn what their dads did on the farm, and girls learn what their moms did.

[00:07:36] And yes, that’s very sexist, but that’s what the world was like 200 years ago. He just learned from your. Yeah, but when we moved into the factories, we needed reading, writing, and arithmetic. You had to read the sign saying do not touch the spinning saw. You had to know how to count how many screws you have in the box.

[00:07:54] So we had to create a basic level of education for people to function in the more modern industrial society. And that’s what. Primary and secondary school is designed for. Now we’ve added in, oh, you should learn a language and you should learn some history and some other things. But it’s just there for that function.

[00:08:13] Now, higher education actually goes back about 900 years. That’s the university system, okay? And the university system, it’s run by a bunch of professors. Very nice people don’t always know much about the world, . If you think about your professors, your professor had a PhD in mechanical engineering and he could explain the heat cycle of all sorts of different processes, and that’s what he’s an expert in.

[00:08:38] In fact, to get that role, he became more and more narrow. Yes. The further he went, and what they’ve said. These experts in mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, whatever. They said, well, if you wanna be an engineer, you need to take these classes. Some introductory ones, we’ll throw in some math, some science, some intermediate.

[00:08:57] If you take all these classes, we’re gonna give you a piece of paper saying you have an understanding of engineering. Yes. We’re not saying you’re a good engineer. We’re certainly not saying you’re a good employee. We’re just saying you have this know. And when you go back to mid 20th century, that was sufficient because we sat there and was told, make this wheel fit in this box.

[00:09:21] Yes. Okay. Work it out. Here you go, sir. What next? Oh, make that triangle fit in the box. Okay. We didn’t have to worry about all these other people, the accountants, and the salespeople and all these people we have to talk with. Nowadays you have people, you have people like me as a ct, and I’m saying, Hey, we need to integrate with this new social media tool that I hadn’t heard of until last week, but you, the 23 year old, have been using it for the past two years.

[00:09:49] You know more than I do about this problem. And so it’s a different set of skills instead of, I command you to solve some problems in that hierarchy, it’s, we need to come together to solve new types of problems. And that’s a different type of skillset yes. Than what we’ve done in the past and our education system hasn’t caught up to 

[00:10:09] Zach White: it.

[00:10:09] Really good perspective. Mark. I, I wanna highlight what you just said a moment ago that I agree with a thousand percent that the original design of the. You know, mine and mechanical engineering, you have what I mean a hundred degrees. My what? Physics and electrical and computer science and all the things that you’ve done.

[00:10:26] There was never an intent for that piece of paper to represent. You will be a fantastically successful engineer in a company in your career. It represents a level of, validation that you have mastered a body of knowledge That’s what it is. And this idea that having a 4.0 at Purdue is going to automatically translate to fantastic performance at Whirlpool Corporation in my career.

[00:10:54] Like where did we come up with that notion? And even more so, I see a lot of my clients who are struggling with their career, mark, they’re, they’re at a certain level and they can’t seem to break. To the next level, and their default answer to that is to go back to school and get a master’s degree in engineering.

[00:11:11] And it’s like, wait a minute. It’s a complete backward mindset that the knowledge of that wasn’t ever intended to help you become a senior manager or a director. It’s not about breaking through to that next level. So I guess from your experience with this, what is it that needs to change in the mindset of an individual?

[00:11:34] To get onto the path of my career, success takes a different skillset than my engineering skillset or knowledge. Where does that shift begin? 

[00:11:43] Mark Herschberg: Yeah. Say there’s two basic. Categories or maybe three. Let’s start with two. The first, if you think about how we’re taught in school, the professor says, here’s a problem set, or here’s a test.

[00:11:57] Mm-hmm. , there’s a bunch of questions. Now. First, you know, everything you need to answer. The question is in there. They didn’t forget to tell you. What’s the angle of the incline plane? Like the angle’s? 42. Okay, great. I needed to know that to calculate the velocity of the bomb of the. , they tell you everything you need to know, and then your job is to apply what you’ve learned.

[00:12:18] Hint, it’s what you did in class last week or last month. . Yes. And then put the answer in that little box. And if you put more right answers and more boxes and the other person, you’re a better student. The real world’s not like that. Your boss doesn’t say, here’s everything you need to know about the problem.

[00:12:37] Now you just sit there and do the. You know the one I taught you last week and put the answer in the box. Your boss says, Hey, we got this need. Solve 

[00:12:47] Zach White: it. 

[00:12:47] Mark Herschberg: Go figure it out. You don’t necessarily have all the information. You don’t know what the right model is or formula you need to use. and there’s not a clear box is the answer.

[00:13:00] 42 or is the answer, here’s a PowerPoint presentation, or is it Now we have to go convince the finance department this project should be funded. Those are different answers that need to be presented to different ways, and we never do that type of problem solving. when we learn in school, we finally in school, only just recently started to say, Hey, you’re gonna do collaborative projects, cuz it turns out you don’t engineer alone.

[00:13:23] Mark Herschberg: So work with other people. Okay, good. But there’s so much more. That’s the first, yeah. Mental shift. It’s not putting answers in boxes, which is how we teach the other. Is that there is a common set of skills that we see over and over, and we see it in surveys that M I T and other universities have done of employers.

[00:13:45] We see it in surveys that companies like McKinsey and other places do of companies as well. And we see these 10 skills keep coming up. Skills you’ve heard of, networking, negotiating, leadership, team building, communication. If you think about it, networking. You’ve heard this before. You’ve heard it many times.

[00:14:03] I was hearing it as a kid. Everyone, my teachers, my parents networking’s so important. When did anyone actually teach me how to network? You kept saying important. No one stopped to teach me. Yeah. Yeah. So we’ve known what’s important. We just didn’t emphasize it. 

[00:14:19] Zach White: I know today we’re not gonna get. , all 10 of those are so much of the content in your book.

[00:14:25] I do wanna pause and just encourage you the happy engineer out there listening. go grab a copy of the Career toolkit. There’ll be a link in the show notes. Mark’s book is fantastic, but Mark, knowing where we’re at right now in history, maybe to pull this into what people are experiencing in their careers here, we’re recording in December of 2020.

[00:14:44] Uh, we just spent the last, two, three years in this Covid 19 era, and now we’re staring down the barrel of what some people would consider a, a pretty potentially deep recessionary pressure. We’ll see what ends up actually happening, but a lot of announcements have happened in the last couple of months around big organizations, cutting down the workforce.

[00:15:04] A lot of engineers have been furloughed or laid off recently. So what would you say if you were gonna pick the skillsets that matter the most? in career success right now in the face of a recessionary pressure or things going on in the world, they different than other times? Are they the same? 

[00:15:22] What would you point someone to, if you’re only gonna focus on growth in one or two areas, where would you encourage people to aim that energy? 

[00:15:31] Mark Herschberg: I gotta push back a little. I don’t think there is a major recession coming. Maybe a minor one, but in fact if you look at the numbers and in a recent blog post, so when you go to my website, you can read blog posts.

[00:15:43] A recent one I said, don’t worry about this cuz even though we’ve seen the headlines in my field and software, Facebook’s laying off and Twitter’s la laying off. Yes, when you actually look at the numbers, we’re really not that different from other years. It’s just that we’re so not used to seeing big tech do layoffs that it’s made headline news.

[00:16:03] Yeah, but when you actually crunch, the numbers we’re pretty typical compared to most years. Yeah. Maybe a little more layoffs this year than some other, but we are so close to the mean, we’re not even one sigma out, let alone two. 

[00:16:17] Zach White: Sure. So that’s really good. Good data. I’m glad you shared that. And I guess taking the traditional definition of GDP contraction, We might use that data as one point, but this is a really important data set too, to look at actual job creation or elimination versus prior years.

[00:16:33] I love that. So thank you. I love a good encouraging message that, hey, don’t forget all models are, uh, wrong, right? Some are useful. So , that’s a really good reminder. So, so that context said, continue 

[00:16:47] Mark Herschberg: in terms of the skills. I wouldn’t say any one is particularly stronger than another. Perhaps as your job is searching, networking is going to be slightly more useful in the short term.

[00:16:59] Yeah, but lemme give you, here’s some basic math to help you understand the importance of these skills. And this is one, I, I always do this. I worry well, am I doing too much math for people, but not with this group. Oh, 

[00:17:12] Zach White: you can go as as nerdy as you want with the math mark. let’s go deep, man. If, if there’s calculus, I might be a little rusty.

[00:17:18] It’s been a few minutes, but let’s do 

[00:17:20] Mark Herschberg: it. we’re gonna do basic, basic addition. Maybe a little compounding here. Okay. We can handle it. Imagine you are a 25 year old engineer and you’ve got a job offer for 80,000. But instead of taking a job as it is, you’ve learned to negotiate. Maybe you learned it from my book, maybe you learned in a different book.

[00:17:41] Online class doesn’t matter. You spent little time you learned to negotiate. You’re not the world’s best negotiator, but you’re a little betterer than you were. So instead of just taking the job at 80,000, you negotiate for a thousand dollars more. 81,000. . that’s doable. That takes five, 10 minutes of speaking on the phone or a couple emails if you do nothing else in your career.

[00:18:07] If you stay in that job for 40 more years until you retire, 10 minutes of effort, just got you a thousand dollars more for 40 years, you made $40,000 with 10 minutes of. , but of course you’re saying there’s no way I’m sticking that job for 40 years. You have other promotions and raises in other jobs, you’ll negotiate those.

[00:18:30] Yes, you’ll get more than that thousand dollars if you get just a little bit better at negotiating. You can imagine adding tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars to your lifetime earning. Now, of course, it’s not just about money. It’s not just about negotiating with our jobs, we negotiate with customers and suppliers.

[00:18:50] We negotiate with our coworkers, with our spouses and children. All of these have better outcomes. So if you get just a little bit better at negotiating, you get huge compounding returns. Yep. And now I use negotiations because we can do the math really easily if you got a little bit better at leading.

[00:19:10] It’s not that someone says, oh, you’re a slightly bearer leader. Here’s a thousand dollars, but you’re going to stand out on projects. You’re going to get promoted faster. You’ll get the job over other candidates, and you’ll again, get the compounding interest slightly. Bearer network brings more opportunities, slightly bearer communicator stand out in different ways.

[00:19:29] So really, with any and all of these skills, getting just slightly better leads to a compounding effect throughout your. 

[00:19:38] Zach White: Yeah, couldn’t agree more. when you take the long game lens, you know, it really is a power law situation. You need to think long term to understand the benefit. Tell me, you know, we just pulled a couple examples, networking and, and negotiation.

[00:19:53] We could start with those, but it really doesn’t matter. What I’d love to hear you talk about is what is the, process of that slightly better. Improvement versus the process of learning in an academic context. As an engineer, you know, we’re very good at open the textbook, read, do some sample problems, learn, in the lecture hall setting.

[00:20:18] But when you start to talk about networking or negotiation, it may not look the same. So how do we actually. Take these skills and build that, 1% improvement and that mastery over time. What does that look like in comparison to our academic, book smart 

[00:20:36] Mark Herschberg: days? Great question because is a very different approach.

[00:20:41] How we have traditionally learned is memorization. Here’s a formula, here’s a Quadra equation. Write it down, try it out. Great. I always know when to use a Quadra equation. It’s very easy to spot. I don’t know when I’m going to use this leadership skill or when networking will come into effect. It’s subtle.

[00:21:03] It’s unclear, and so the way we need to learn this, it’s not the way we’ve learned in school. It’s more akin to how you would learn sports or music. Yes. We would never say to someone, Hey, we’re gonna recruit you for our N B A team. Congratulations. You’re on the team. I’m gonna send you off to a two day basketball clinic.

[00:21:24] Okay, great. We got two days there. You’re done for the season. You can go play every game. Nothing more for you to learn. That would be insane. What do we say? You have to practice with a team. You do drills, you do scrimmage. We’re gonna watch the tape. We’re gonna reflect, we’re gonna review. That’s how we make you a better athlete.

[00:21:42] This is how we make you a better leader, a better communicator, a better negotiator, because there is no formula for leadership. There’s no three bullet points for communication. So here is how you can get better. And when I say you, I mean your peers, your team, your organiz. Create peer learning groups within your organization.

[00:22:06] I recommend groups of about six to eight people, but there’s ways you can scale it up, create these groups, and there’s some subtleties about you don’t want people of different levels coming in, but you do want people from different departments. I’ve got this all written up on my website that you can download for free to create these peer learning groups.

[00:22:24] Then you’re going to take some content. and discuss it. So you’ll read a couple pages from my book? Yes, you can use my book, but if you don’t wanna use my book, read some pages from a different book, read some online articles. Listen to a great podcast episode like this one. So you’re all listening to some of these podcast episodes.

[00:22:42] Exactly. And now you come together to talk about, say, well, this was about leader. , here’s what I took from that show or that chapter. Mm-hmm. . And then you are gonna share your perspective, which is slightly different because these skills are subtle and situation we’re all gonna get gonna say, oh, I never thought of it that way.

[00:23:02] And I don’t necessarily agree with your model. Like, I don’t like your model, but it’s useful to know that’s not how I’m gonna lead. But I might recognize other people might be leading that way, and that’s helpful to think of. That’s why they’re thinking of it that way. Then we’re going to do things like, Hey, here’s a leadership challenge I have, or Here’s a negotiation challenge I have, and this is how we can scrimmage say, what do you guys think?

[00:23:23] Yes, you get to practice because I can’t go to my team and say, Hey, I’m gonna try leading differently this week, and when it’s a complete disaster halfway through, I go, Nope, time out. That doesn’t count. Forget everything I said this. , there’s no do-overs, but in this group we can do these hypotheticals. You can even bring in case studies.

[00:23:43] They say, oh, let’s go through this case study together. Let’s practice it. Negotiations, lots of role playing. Yes. That we’re gonna try negotiating. 

[00:23:50] Zach White: Yeah. Let me build on this really quick mark, because the, I say this all the time, and I just wanna highlight sports metaphor is really powerful. But the one thing that’s so different about our career versus being an athlete is when you’re an athlete, you spend 90% of your time in practice, right?

[00:24:06] In scrimmage in the gym with your trainers, and 10% of your. In the game when it actually counts. Playing this finite game that has a start and an end, a winner, and a loser right there in that moment. And then you come into your career and there’s no practice at all. Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll have a 10% time with, you know, your team or your boss or doing some training where you do get to practice.

[00:24:30] But 90% of the time, up to a hundred percent of the time is game time. And by the way, there’s no official starter end. It’s just this infinite game as Simon Sinek so eloquently talks about. the idea of intentionally carving out time to scrimmage. I love that word, a role play. Practice, whatever. Word connects.

[00:24:48] I love this and I’m a big, big proponent for people who make time for this. Even if it’s just a fraction of your week, have a massive advantage over people who are just constantly in the rat race of execution, never intentionally carving out. To learn and practice and discuss like this. So I love the model.

[00:25:08] Keep going. I just wanted to kind of double down on how important that is, and I see it with my clients. It’s such a great discipline. I’m kind of feeling convicted myself right now. I need to continue in my own business to make that time and practice.

[00:25:21] But, peer groups read, discuss scrimmage. What else is part of that learning? . 

[00:25:28] Mark Herschberg: We can talk about other situations we’ve been in. I can say, Hey, here’s something I had a couple years ago, and we can reflect. That’s watching the tape, that’s going back and looking at what worked, what didn’t. Now we can do this.

[00:25:41] I’d recommend every two to four weeks, so an hour or two a month, and you’re coming back Do doing this. This. Now notice there’s no real cost to this. You’re investing some time. And yes, if you use a book, fine, you all bought the book. But again, doesn’t cost anything to listen to these great podcast episodes or read some of the articles online, right?

[00:26:02] So there’s little or no cost by doing this with your whole team. But of course you don’t wanna do this as a single team. You wanna mix it up with other teams by getting your whole team to do this with others, you have a number of benefit. First, you’re upskilling your team. Great. Second, you’re increasing engagement in what we’ve seen the past few years.

[00:26:26] Employees don’t just want salary, don’t just wanna be paid. They wanna know you care about them. You’re helping them. This is gonna increase your engagement and your retention. Third, you’re fostering internal networks. I’ve been so many companies where someone doesn’t know what that coworker 30 feet at away does.

[00:26:45] I don’t even know his name. He’s in a different department. I don’t need to know him. So you’re creating internal networks, which is really important for understanding the business and creating value. And fourth, you are creating a common framework. So if you’ve read a book like Good to Great and you’ve all read it, you can say Hedgehog.

[00:27:04] Oh, I know exactly what you mean. You’re right. Hedgehog model. Got it. So you get these four benefits all for free. And by the way, this technique, I didn’t just make this up out of whole cloth, this is how we’ve been teaching students at M I T for over two decades. This is how top business schools teach their students.

[00:27:23] This is a proven method Yeah. That you can implement in your organization. And if your organization doesn’t wanna do, Again, you can download all this or free off my website. There’s really no cost to implement. If they don’t wanna do this, go create a local meetup group, get people from different companies.

[00:27:39] No one says you all have to be at the same company and you can get the same 

[00:27:43] Zach White: benefits. I love that comment and just a reminder. Don’t let your organization be the barrier to your growth. If your leadership or your peer group does not wanna participate in this, then go make it happen. Get resourceful, find people.

[00:27:57] But you know what I’ve found, mark? Man, I’m sure you’ve probably seen the same thing. It’s like, Once you start doing this, people are attracted to it. They want to be a part of it. Because of all the benefits you just described, it’s usually getting over the hump to simply commit the time and energy, that first month or two, building the habit, creating space.

[00:28:16] You’re making it a priority when you already have 40, 50, 60 plus hours. At the office and you’re saying, Zack, you’re telling me to create two more hours for this. How is that ever gonna happen? And that’s where the most resistance typically ha is found. But once you see the benefits, it becomes really easy to want to carve out more time.

[00:28:39] Mark Herschberg: But it, it’s that compound interest. It’s that, oh, you’re asking me to set aside $10 a week. But we know what happens when you do that over a life. 

[00:28:48] Zach White: Yes, mark, I want to pull your expertise in one other area before we run out of time today related to the skills. So we just presented a really powerful end to your point, proven, not just pulled out of the thin air model for how to apply this into your career right now.

[00:29:06] But one of the things that also comes up a lot with engineering leaders who I engage with and who reach out for coaching is the question about career planning. Do I need a career plan? What is a career plan? My company has this. template we need to fill out called a career compass or a career blueprint or career planning document or whatever.

[00:29:27] Is that what it is or is it something else? And a lot of people feel confused then you go ask mentors or you listen to people tell their career. Story. Some of them will tell you they planned the whole thing and others will tell you they never planned anything. And both of them made it to C T O and it leaves us wondering, well what should I do?

[00:29:46] could you address the question of, you know, what is a career plan? Who’s it for? Where does that fit into our thinking about career 

[00:29:53] Mark Herschberg: success? Our audience actually knows the answer to this, and it’s true. Some people have a plan and got to success and some people got. So let’s ask the same question.

[00:30:03] Imagine your c e o comes to you and says, here is a really key project. You have to design this new product for us, and you’ve got a year. So you say, okay, great, I’ll see you in a year. Just, just gonna go lock myself in a room. I’m gonna wing it. See you in a year. Let’s hope we get there. That would be insane.

[00:30:25] could you do it? Yeah, you could. But your odds of success go up so much if you actually have a plan. Hmm? You create a project plan. Now here’s the thing we know about that project plan first. You know it’s gonna get fuzzy. You might know what you’re doing the first 30 days. , do you have any idea what you’re doing on day 272 when you’re starting?

[00:30:48] Of course not. You’re not gonna try to plan that detail. You’ll say, well look, we know we have to do integrations around month 10, so we can do testing in month 11. And so you come with this general plan, you should have a clear idea what you’re doing the next three weeks, six weeks, whatever, right? It’s fuzzer as you go out.

[00:31:07] Second, you’re certain whatever you put down on paper is not how it’s going to work out. It’s going to change. You’re going to find this was easier or harder, usually harder. You’re going to have your CEO say, oh, by the way, change a plan six months in, and you have to add this constraint or do that. We know that happens, but we don’t say, well, since it’s gonna change, let’s not bother creating a plan.

[00:31:30] We create a plan that’s clearer upfront, fuzzier further out, and then we adjust as we go. Now, if you can’t achieve a 12 month project without a plan, How the heck are you gonna deal with a 20, 30, 40 year career without a plan? Well, so, and while you can be successful, your odds go up greatly by having a plan.

[00:31:54] So it’s the same thing. Think about for me, what I says. I wanna be a cto. I knew that early on, and I’m here and there’s a skills gap. No one is going to let me run a team of 200 people if I’ve never managed anyone before. You can run a team of 200 people. , you should be running a team of a hundred, 150 people.

[00:32:14] before you can do that, you should be running a team of 60, 80 people. Yeah. Yeah. And you can imagine these rungs, and you can backtrack. Now, I gave size as an example. It’s quantitative. We can do it, but it’s all these other skill sets. Yes, absolutely. And so think about, I wanna be here just like in our projects, I wanna deliver.

[00:32:34] Mark Herschberg: and 365 days, where do I need to be at these checkpoints along the way and create the plan, and then what do I need to do to hit each of those milestones? It’s something you’ve done before. Just apply those same skills to creating your career. . 

[00:32:51] Zach White: Mm-hmm. . I know it’s gonna stir up a lot of questions for folks, but it, it’s a really, really simple way to describe it, and I love that.

[00:32:59] Mark. I knew there’s a reason I connected with you right away. I, I would’ve given the exact same answer. And the thing that I will add to that is sometimes I feel like we forget. A, we have this incredible set of skills as engineering leaders that help us at work, and many of them, when you take them and apply them into your life, like this example, building a career plan can be extremely useful and.

[00:33:27] I see a lot of times where somebody’s dealing with this gap or this problem in some area of their life and it’s like, Hey, what if you simply took the thing you’re great at doing over here and just move it into this other domain and apply it? It might be really helpful. So I think it’s an important thing for all of us to remember, it’s kind of the, the cross-functional skill set at work.

[00:33:47] Well, you’re a cross-functional individual in your own life, and you can apply these things across different questions and domains, but on top of. Sometimes we, get stuck in career planning. because you, create your own pressure for a necessary outcome by a certain timeline, and we beat ourselves up about, oh, my career plan was to be a director by now, and I haven’t made my director promotion, and that makes me a bad engineer and I’m a.

[00:34:14] worthless person and I’m not as good as so-and-so, and I’m comparing myself to everybody else who’s had these results that I didn’t keep to my plan. And that self-esteem gets hit and their confidence gets hit and they take it on personally, because you didn’t hit the plan. It’s like, hold on a second, , that wasn’t the purpose of the plan to create this massive wave of, guilt and condemnation on you for missing a particular milestone.

[00:34:40] Zach White: And I’m just curious for you as, as you work with leaders and you see folks create plans, but maybe they miss the goals they set for themselves, what would you give someone as encouragement if they struggle with that kind of a. I’d say 

[00:34:53] Mark Herschberg: two things. First, let’s go back to our projects. How often does a project wind up exactly as you planned it on day one?

[00:35:02] Near zero. 

[00:35:03] Zach White: Zero times for B mark, zero times . 

[00:35:06] Mark Herschberg: And often it’s not the business saying, sometimes they say, oh, you missed a deadline. This is terrible. But often it’s like, well, halfway through you changed the project. I’ve been at companies that have done a. . So we totally missed that original goal because we don’t even care about anymore.

[00:35:23] Yes. But the company is better off in this new direction. The project’s better off in this new direction. We consciously made the choices to head in a different direction and we’re happy with that. So if you said, I hope to be at this title at this time, you may have made choices where he said, you know, to do that, I would’ve had to.

[00:35:46] Kiss the ring of this really annoying boss for three years and I would not have been happy with myself. It was not worth it. I’ll get promoted in four years instead of three. I’ll take a different path, but I will be happier. Hmm. The other thing to remember, Is you might be on a project and the company might even cancel your whole project, not because your project’s not working, but the company’s larger goals say better ROI somewhere else.

[00:36:13] Good job. But we wanna focus somewhere else. When I help people with career planning and chapter one, my book and these questions are free on the website as well. I start with a series about 20 questions. Very few of them are, how many hours a week do you wanna work? Or what is that you like to do? Many of the others are, how much time do you wanna spend with your family?

[00:36:36] Where do you wanna live? What type of impact do you wanna have in the world? Because your career is not something you do in isolation. It’s part of your life and you’re optimizing for happiness in. Yes, probably as an engineer you’re getting some happiness and satisfaction from your job and the money helps, but you wanna be happy in life.

[00:36:59] And if hitting some arbitrary career goal makes you miserable in life, but oh, you got that director title, is that a worthwhile trade off? Instead, you might have said, I want more time with my family. I want these other. And I don’t care about the title as much. So Optimize for Life Happiness, not job titles.

[00:37:20] Zach White: Woo. Mark, you’re speaking my language now. that’s why this is the Happy Engineer podcast. And you and I have engineering degrees, my mechanical engineering, but now what I tell people is I’m focused on lifestyle engineering, and that’s the name of our, coaching program is Lifestyle Engineering Blueprint.

[00:37:37] And just focusing on exactly what you said, you. Achieve your goals at work and have the extraordinary success and impact that you want as an engineering leader without having to hate the journey . And in fact, it’s not really what you want to hate the journey and get to a title. You might think that’s what you want , but if it isn’t, and I, I really, really love that idea of optimize around life happiness.

[00:38:03] Paychecks titles certain thing in the career domain. That’s, that’s really powerful. E 

[00:38:07] Mark Herschberg: even just use another analogy. We have the project triangle, cost, time, scope. Yeah. And of course we can throw in quality or risk or other things. Well, you’ve got time, you’ve got scope might be the goal. Getting the certain set of skills to get that title.

[00:38:26] Cost is how much you’re willing to spend, whether it’s dollars for an mba. Time learning, but it’s more than those three. We can put in that risk. We can put in that quality of life. Not of work product. So recognize you’re doing lots of different trade-offs and that scope, that job title is one that you’re good at understanding.

[00:38:47] How do you wanna trade this off against the others And it’s okay to make this trade-offs. . 

[00:38:51] Zach White: I love it. Mark, where can the happy engineers out there go get a copy of your book and follow your amazing work? I know people are gonna wanna explore deeper. Tell us how we can connect with you. You 

[00:39:05] Mark Herschberg: can go to my website, the career toolkit

[00:39:09] There you can see where to buy the book, Amazon elsewhere. Follow me on social media, reach out with questions. I have a blog, so every week there’s new articles, including the one I mentioned on. Yeah, why you shouldn’t be worried about the layoffs. There’s a whole page of free resources that includes the very first download on the resources page is how to create this peer learning program download for free.

[00:39:31] I don’t even ask for your email. There’s a bunch of other free downloads. There’s other books I recommend. , and then there’s the Free Companion app. And so we create an app called Brain Bump. It’s laying from the website, but you can go to brain bump And this has the key tips from the book, as well as lots of other books, career books, leadership books, networking books, all this other content, because we know this isn’t one and done.

[00:39:57] You don’t learn it once and that’s it. Yes, yes. And so the. Lets you either pull up information right as you need it. Oh, I need those networking tips right before I walk into the conference. Or it can be set so you get a daily reminder without even opening the app, and that’s gonna help you retain what you read.

[00:40:13] So it’s a companion to the book. Brain bump is where we can download the free app and the career toolkit. is where you can learn more about 

[00:40:22] Zach White: the. Brilliant. And write in the show notes. We’ll have links to get to everything that Mark just mentioned.

[00:40:28] So go click there and check it out. I’ve seen everything that you talked about Mark, in preparation for meeting you today. And, and I’ll just, Acknowledge some fantastic work, brilliant ideas, brilliant innovations, and so useful to compliment. Yeah, we invested a lot to get our engineering degrees, and if you want to get their ROI on that, you need to invest this time and energy into the career success toolkit and skill sets and mindsets to actually go and have the impact that you want.

[00:40:56] The return in both compensation, but also return on and happiness for the career that you wanna experience. And so I really, really love everything that you’re doing. Mark, let’s, wrap it up You know this as well as anybody as a world-class engineering leader, as a cto, and in the coaching that you do and the work that you do as an author, questions lead, the answers follow.

[00:41:19] And if the happy engineer wants better answers in their life, what would be the question that you would lead them with today?

[00:41:28] Mark Herschberg: I would think back to something I learned in chess camp. . Years ago, I was a competitive chess player before I was a ballroom dancer. Nice. And I used to go to chess camp, got strong nerd cred, , and I remember one day we’re sitting in the room and the instructors giving us a position to look at and saying, what should White do in this position?

[00:41:52] We’re all just looking, it wasn’t clear. And he said, play a little fantasy chess. If you could change the board somehow, what would you. and we all said, oh, move the night on E seven, make that night disappear. And it would be very easy to check me. The opponent said, okay, well now let’s think about if our goal is to move the night, what do we need to do to do it?

[00:42:18] And then took us four or five moves. But now we are a little more focused as, as a board, we wanna checkmate the king. And I don’t know, there’s so many ways to go, but there’s all these problem. and one of the things I learned to do was to ask if I could just make some change, just snap my fingers.

[00:42:35] Something changes. What would change to make things better? Doesn’t matter if it’s realistic or not, but once you get to that, you look at the world differently because so often we’re looking forward while I’m. If it’s in chess, well, I can do these moves and then my opponent something, and then here’s my second set of moves I can do.

[00:42:56] And so I’m looking forward. But of course, there’s so many possibilities. It’s hard to focus. And so by looking backwards by saying, if I could make that change, , how do I work backwards to get there? Or in my career, given that I want to be a C T O, how do I work backwards to get the skills to get there? So ask yourself sometimes, forget about constraints.

[00:43:18] Engineers, were always focused on the constraints. But if I had no constraints, if I could just make something change to make my life better, career, family, whatever, what would change? And then start working backwards from there. 

[00:43:30] Zach White: I. I love it. If I could just snap my fingers and make that change, what would it be?

[00:43:38] Mark, thank you so much for your generosity today. Just bring in so much wisdom and your story and the work that you’re doing. Again, I wanna acknowledge you. I, I love the book. I love where you’ve taken it with all the tools to support career engineering professionals, as well as any professional. your work is great for anyone, so you don’t have to be in engineering.

[00:43:56] But thanks again for being here, and this has been tremendous. . Thanks 

[00:44:00] Mark Herschberg: for having me on the show,