Advice & insights: masterclasses from industry leaders

Zach White’s Blueprint for Engineering Success

Zach White

Zach White

Career Coach for Engineers

Key Takeaways

  • Shift Perspective on Stress: Focus on self-improvement by viewing challenges as opportunities. Enhance well-being through sleep, exercise, and nutrition to better manage stress.
  • Avoid Burnout with Routine: Use rest, recovery, and enjoyable activities to prevent burnout. Stay connected with loved ones and pursue hobbies for energy renewal amidst deadlines.
  • Grow with Clarity and Self-Knowledge: Advance in your career by defining your aspirations clearly and seeking coaching to reach your goals.
  • Balance Life with Planning: Use a balanced life “Playbook,” evaluate with the Wheel of Life, and plan for a harmonious life. Rely on your community and coaching for guidance and accountability.
  • Use Networking for Career Moves: Leverage networking for successful career changes. Connect with accomplished professionals and use platforms like LinkedIn for insights and opportunities.
  • Learn by Doing: Commit to active learning and mentorship for specific skills growth. Adopt a leadership approach that values practical knowledge application for both career and personal progress.

Overcoming Common Career Challenges in Engineering

In the fast-paced world of engineering, tackling career obstacles, managing stress effectively, and unlocking new opportunities can seem overwhelming. These challenges are compounded by the relentless pressure of the industry and the quest to maintain a healthy work-life balance while climbing the career ladder. That’s where our upcoming Q&A session with Zach White, a celebrated Engineering Career Coach, comes into play. Zach is set to offer his insights on shifting your mindset towards stress, establishing routines to fend off burnout, and leveraging clarity and networking for career progress. Moreover, he’ll share his wisdom on achieving a harmonious work-life balance and underscore the importance of ongoing learning and mentorship for a rewarding engineering career. Get ready to turn those career challenges into opportunities for growth with Zach’s seasoned advice.

“Start with a mindset shift around stress.  Stop trying to manage the stress.  You don’t manage the stress, you manage YOURSELF.  Stop fearing stress and making it the enemy.  If you want to grow, you must be willing to face challenges and pressure outside your comfort zone.  That means you will experience stress.  So if you completely eliminate stress, you eliminate growth. 

Once you make that mindset shift, we can take action.  Too much stress is very disruptive and unhealthy.  When it gets out of control, stress impacts both your mind and your body.  The easiest way to eliminate stress (while increasing your stress tolerance) is how you take care of your body.  Become an SME… instead of “subject matter expert” it’s a leader who “sleeps, moves, and eats” in a healthy way.  Make quality sleep a priority every night.  Exercise regularly in a way that challenges your fitness.  Eat well and drink plenty of water.  Look, it’s not sexy, but success in your work is built on the fundamentals of your LIFESTYLE.  If you are getting all those things right, and excessive stress is still an issue, then it’s time to work with a professional who can help you level up your mental game.”

“To avoid burnout you need to get clear on two truths about burnout:

  • Burnout is not the moment you hit rock bottom.  Burnout begins the moment you burn fuel faster than you’re filling the tank. You may already be in burnout, and not feel it yet.
  • Burnout is not caused by what you ARE doing, it’s caused by what you are NOT doing.

The simplest habit you can build to avoid burnout is prioritizing actions that lead to rest, recovery, recreation, and renewal of your energy.  You know what they are, and they are the first things we all stop doing when work gets tough and long hours creep in.  We stop visiting friends and family.  We stop investing time in our favorite hobbies.  We stop exercising, sleeping, and taking time for meal prep and healthy lifestyle choices.  Ask yourself what you would do if you had 2 hours today magically appear as free time?  Leave work at 5pm instead of 7pm and DO IT.

“But Zach, I’ve got a deadline.”  Look, I get it, I’ve been there.  It takes courage to say “no” to another hour of work when you are already behind on the deadlines, in favor of recharging your batteries.  The truth is, work will always be there tomorrow.  There is always another deadline.  A hard conversation now is much better than burnout later.”

“Get crystal clear in your vision.  Clarity is power, and most engineering leaders do not know what they really want.  “Promotion,” or a “new role,” is not good enough.  “Anything but this,” is not an answer.

What do you want to be doing every day?  What kind of impact do you want to make?  What kind of money do you want to make?  Where do you want to be?  Who do you want to work with?  Why does it matter?  What is your passion?  Then boil it all down to a goal you wake up excited about every day. 

The truth is, when I hear someone say they are stuck and stagnant in their career, I hear them saying they don’t have a clear goal.  And if you think you do have a clear goal, and still feel stagnant, then you lack understanding of yourself and how to grow.  In either case, working with a great coach is like magic to accelerate those next steps.”

“I focus with my clients on maintaining whole-life balance by installing a new operating system in their daily, weekly, quarterly, and yearly life.  We call this your Playbook.  How often are you looking at your goals?  How are you choosing your priorities?  When are you planning what actions to take next?  Do you reflect on your progress and learn from mistakes?  

For example, every quarter we look at the Wheel of Life.  It’s a simple tool that helps us to assess how we are doing across every aspect of our life that really matters.  Then we use the Whole Life Balance Action Planner™️ to get clear on what steps we need to take next quarter to keep our life in balance.  I created a free training on my podcast with a workbook you can download free if you want to check it out.

Bottom line is that maintaining balance is simple, but not easy.  The tools and systems are not rocket science, but human nature and our nervous system works against us.  That’s why it’s such a problem in engineering today.  That’s why we need a coach and community of peers to keep us accountable along the way.  If it were easy, everyone would be balanced and happy.  They aren’t.”

Career Transition Strategies for Engineers




Look, I know there is more to the story than networking.  But the truth is that all your questions about what you need to do to make that transition quickly and effectively will be answered by another engineer who has already done what you want to do.  Do you need another degree or certification?  Do you need to skill up in an area required for that career path?  Your network can answer those questions for you.  What are the best companies to consider?  What level could you enter that new industry at without being in over your head?  What aspects of your experience should you emphasize on your resume so that you are selected for interviews?  Your network can help you, so stop being a lone wolf.”

“I’ll play my engineer card here and say it depends.  One area you need to consider that is often overlooked, however, is your online reputation and digital footprint.  Have a really sharp LinkedIn profile, and post content in articles or in a portfolio that demonstrates your genius.  You only get one chance at a first impression, and in today’s world that first impression is almost always happening online.”

“Invest 30 minutes on LinkedIn a week.

  • 10 minutes looking for new leaders to connect with, and send them a customized, thoughtful connection request.
  • 10 minutes to direct message people already in your 1st degree network to check in, add value, ask questions, and stay in touch.
  • 10 minutes to browse the newsfeed or groups you are a part of and comment with value-added insights and perspective.

It’s totally free, and you have access to millions of leaders around the world.  Get out there and engage!”

“The key to dealing with uncertainty is to focus on the next right action. It’s not the reality of uncertainty that cripples us, it’s the emotion of uncertainty.  The truth is that very little about your future is certain, you just feel certain.  Begin with your vision and goal, break it down into smaller objectives you can tackle, then get crystal clear on your next action. Feeling stuck and uncertain again?  Sit down and decide your next action, then do it.”

Creating a Fulfilling Career Path in Engineering

“Day one out of college you don’t know enough to pick a straight line to the career of your dreams. Experiences create contrast, and contrast creates clarity. So the practical step to take early in your career is to gain as many different experiences as you can, as quickly as you reasonably can.  Widen the aperture, then you will have the awareness to make better decisions for your long term career path.  Watch out for repeating the same thing over and over.  There is a difference between 5 years of experience and 1 year of experience 5 times.”

“There’s two kinds of work you need to do.  First is the work IN your career. This is your job description, what you get paid to do.  The second is working ON your career.  This is where you develop yourself as a leader, add new skills, and prepare for the next level before you get stuck, and so on.  If you don’t know the difference, or simply don’t know what actions to take in career development, then get a mentor or coach to help you.  There is no point re-inventing the wheel, and time is your most precious asset.  

The fastest way to get the answer is from someone who has already done it.  Don’t rely on AI or go alone.  ChatGPT does not work at your company, have your lifetime of experiences, or have influence on the power dynamics where you want to grow… so you need to talk to people and network anyway.”

In what ways can engineers contribute to their field or community outside of their day-to-day work to enhance career fulfillment?

“This is the wrong question to ask yourself.  The reason to contribute to your field or community is because that action itself is fulfilling and meaningful for you!  

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can enhance or “compensate” for a poor work situation (or even average) by doing something altruistic to give back.  Enhance your career by working on improving your career.  Enhance your career by tapping into your values and purpose at your day job.  It’s not success to dislike your job but at least you look forward to your volunteer efforts.  Success is loving your job, AND loving your contribution outside day-to-day work.”

Finally, as engineers aim for long-term career satisfaction, what are effective ways to continue learning and growing in their field? Do you have any specific resources you can share with us?

“For engineering domain-specific growth, the best way to create your development plan is to sit down with a person 2-5 years ahead of you in their career journey, who has the role you want, and ask them for insight on their continued education journey and resources.  The number of specialties and skills out there is so large, there is no one specific answer.

I will remind you that all leaders are readers, but not all readers are leaders.  The biggest difference is true leaders recognize that knowledge is NOT power.  That’s only half the story.  The truth is, only knowledge you implement, knowledge you act on, creates power to advance your career and life.  So read less, and practice more.  Study less, and test more.  Gain knowledge through action, not just passive listening.

If you do need a leadership and engineering career development reading list, I’ve put 90+ of my favorite books into a list you can get for free.”

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