Terrence Dove reviews Don’t Let Engineering Ruin Your Life: A Non-Technical Memoir Guide for Men of Color in the Technical Arena
Engineering students have a great deal to learn when it comes to the curriculum courses and knowledge needed for their careers.
However, there are certain realities that no syllabus or college organization can prepare students for, and that’s where Dusty Walker, Jr.’s memoir, Don’t Let Engineering Ruin Your Life! A Non-Technical Memoir Guide for Men of Color in the Technical Arena attempts to help Black men in the engineering space.
‘Kitchen table talk’
Many readers will be familiar with the phrase “kitchen table talk.”
For the uninitiated, kitchen table talk consists of the conversations spoken around the table among close family confidants.
The topics are very real, harshly truthful conversations meant only for select ears or groups of people that other cultures or groups might not understand or may deem offensive. Walker’s book is just that; it is the “real talk” regarding the social and cultural realities of the engineering profession as the author experienced them.
And, it begins with a very sincere but raw caveat: though many professionals may glean nuggets of wisdom from its pages, this book is definitely not for everyone.
“The career advice I give is open to anyone dealing with the struggles of racial and cultural bias in the workplace,” Walker explained, “but I wanted to provide a roadmap particularly to young black men coming behind me who have aspirations in the field of technology. There are also very real issues that women face in the workplace, but I’m not a woman, so I didn’t feel it was fair to present that perspective.”
The book chronicles Walker’s lifetime of choices, from an adolescent to a professional, and opportunities presented to him that helped him learn the ins and outs of who he was and who he set himself up to be.
Influenced primarily by his father, who was an avionics technician in the Navy, Walker’s love for airplanes directed his professional intentions through grade school, high school and his college tenure at Tennessee State University.
He explains and gives nuggets of wisdom throughout the book, including the importance of mentors, time and stress management skills, determining the right internships, and maintaining professional decorum on all levels, just to name a few.
‘Lifetime of Choices’
What Walker does well with this book is explain to the would-be engineer the corporate and cultural politics he may experience during his professional journey. The author details the difference between “paying dues” tasks as a new engineer and unreasonable work demands, and how to navigate those situations.
He outlines the pros and cons of congeniality in the workplace and socio-professional relationships. Finding the balance between these situations is not something generally taught in college curriculums, and this is where Walker’s insight shines.
Walker also notes the experiential differences between working with direct supervisors who share the same racial identity and those who don’t. He does a great job of presenting realistic expectations from positive and negative paradigms of these experiences, and he is careful to point out that both experiences have the potential to be great or challenging for new engineers.
‘Resource for budding engineers’
Walker’s in-your-face descriptions and categorizations of managers, co-workers, and social/professional situations read like a conversation with a close friend or older mentor. However, that is a double-edged sword for a book that has the potential to be a very great resource for budding engineers.
What Walker considers honest, “cut to the chase” thoughts and verbiage can read as jaded, hyper-generalized and extremely offensive opinions from a biased and, perhaps, discouraged professional.
And, while many adults and college alumni may be able to relate to coming-of-age anecdotes regarding Walker’s college experiences, his use of explicit language felt unnecessary for the book’s message and intended audience.
Those blemishes aside, Dusty Walker’s book does provide sound considerations for aspiring engineers that could indeed help provide some insight into lifestyle and career pitfalls that most learn by unfortunate experience. While many may not experience college and engineering tenures exactly as he does, Walker’s life observations have merit for the “real” circumstances that freshman engineers should examine as (and before) they begin their careers.
“I hope my book speaks two things to young men,” Walker said. “First, you have to look out for yourself, and you have to stay sharp. If you don’t do those two things, you’re going to let other people dictate your path, and they may not have your best interests at heart. No one is going to look out for your career like you do.”
The book is available on Amazon. For autographed copies or speaking engagements readers, click here to visit the author’s website.