Renaissance Engineering: broadening your perspective to stay on top

Philip Carmack, an alumnus of the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology, has spent his career on the front lines of a rapidly evolving industry. At Thursday’s guest lecture, he taught students that it is their perspective – as much as their technical abilities – that will lead them to greatness.

“Technology is changing. Progress is through the roof,” Carmack said. “Sometimes you have to start over with a whole new perspective.”

Starting over is something that Carmack has done multiple times throughout his career. As new opportunities arose, he never hesitated to take chances by switching firms or even specialties. He discussed some of the challenges he faced when switching into the field of graphics, something he had never worked with before.

“I thought, ‘man, I’m never going to be able to find a job in this field.’”

However, his ability to keep a fresh perspective always aided him in problem solving.

“You have to ask yourself, ‘what if I was seeing this for the first time?’ Therein lies the secret to success in this modern world.”

Students attending the lecture benefitted from Carmack’s experience.

“He didn’t just stay in one place,” said mechanical engineering student Grant Smith. “He jumped around between quite a few places. It seems like there really is a need to broaden your horizons.”

Carmack also warned against the tendency to grow “vertically” as an engineer, meaning to become over-specialized in a narrow, small field, or to gain expertise with only a single complicated piece of technology. Instead, he encouraged keeping a broad perspective and seeing how “small pieces fit into the whole.” He also advocated studying industries outside of engineering, such as economics, history and business.

“I liked his advice about going deep as well as going broad…there is a need to study lots of different fields, like economics and management,” said James Randall, a mechanical engineering major who attended the lecture.

Carmack has travelled extensively throughout his career, particularly in Asia. He briefly discussed how his international experience has affected his career and encouraged the attendees to visit the College’s International Fair, which followed the lecture.

Summarizing what he learned at the lecture, electrical engineering student Spencer Montgomery said, “I felt like the theme was ‘be great at whatever field you decide to be in. Don’t settle for mediocrity.’”

Carmack, this year's Ira A. Fulton Honored Alumnus, currently works for NVIDIA, where he leads the company's mobile business unit.

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