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020. Interview With Engineering Major Nick At The Purpose Summit

Kim Kelley: Hello. I'm Kim Kelley, the CEO of Pepelwerk, and we have been spending the last two days at The Purpose Summit. We met a lot of great people looking for purpose through their work, through their life activities, and a lot of employers that are working for better ways to bridge the gap to the talent that they hire. And actually, I got the lucky pleasure of meeting Nick just coincidentally, because he's here working with his dad. But he has an interesting story and perspective about his generation and getting into the working world, I guess. So if you would introduce yourself, let us know how old you are and what your interests are.
Nick: Sure. I am Nick [Zupanzic 00:01:05]. I'm 19 years old. I'm currently a student at The University of Michigan studying engineering.
Kim Kelley: Engineering?
Nick: Yes.
Kim Kelley: So how did you ... Where's photography coming in?
Nick: That's mostly-
Kim Kelley: Or videography?
Nick: That's like a hobby.
Kim Kelley: That's a really good hobby.
Nick: It is a good hobby. I do a lot of stuff with my parents when they need help videotaping whatever they need, really.
Kim Kelley: Okay.
Nick: My dad needed help today.
Kim Kelley: And so here you are.
Nick: Here I am.
Kim Kelley: Are you actually interested in doing anything with videography as a career?
Nick: Not particularly. Right now my focus is on the engineering, solely on that. But I'll stick with it as a fun thing to do.
Kim Kelley: Okay. So most people would actually consider videography or photography in itself. One of your many skills that you can use to get connected to work and working opportunities. So how is that you chose engineering?
Nick: I've always been into building things, taking things apart, figuring out how they work. So it was kind of a natural choice for me to be the person designing the things you use every day.
Kim Kelley: Okay. Do you think you could have actually gone into engineering without choosing a four-year college program?
Nick: In our current market, no. I've been told people who've been in the business for a long time that 30 years ago some of the best engineers in the world didn't have a college degree. But it is so competitive now that nobody will hire you unless you have a degree.
Kim Kelley: Really? What are your thoughts, then, about facing the working world? If that's what you've been told to make your decision to go into a four-year university before you get into the working world, what are your thoughts about getting into the working world?
Nick: Obviously, it's extremely competitive and a little bit nerve-wracking. Nowadays a lot of people have college degrees, or even if you have that it's not necessarily something that'll differentiate you. It's more of the bare minimum to get the job.
Kim Kelley: Yeah. So what do you think about companies like Google and Apple that they basically made the announcements that four-year degrees don't mean anything to them anymore?
Nick: That's great. I think it'll give access to jobs for a lot more people. For me, I still need that degree, especially. I'm going into aerospace engineering.
Kim Kelley: Oh, wow.
Nick: So that requires a lot more technical skills even than computer programming and that kind of thing that you'll see at Apple and Google. But I do think it's good that some of the larger companies are giving more access to jobs to people who might not have the opportunity to go to college.
Kim Kelley: So because you've chosen aerospace as your industry of interest, you are choosing ... What is the actual engineering types that you are focused on? Isn't there like a classification of engineering?
Nick: It'd be aerospace engineering.
Kim Kelley: Okay. So aerospace engineering. You got into that because why? What was the why behind aerospace and engineering?
Nick: The engineering part had to do with my interest in robotics and the way things work and that kind of thing. The aerospace part, I've always been into planes and rockets and things like fly. So that just kind of seemed like the right choice as well.
Kim Kelley: Okay. So do you have a dream company?
Nick: SpaceX.
Kim Kelley: Okay. I thought you was going to say that.
Nick: Yeah. They are really, they're on the cutting edge, and I want to be on the cutting edge.
Kim Kelley: Well, there's a few mega companies that have programs that are now contending with SpaceX.
Nick: Yeah. Blue Origin does.
Kim Kelley: Yes. Isn't that ... Yeah. That's [inaudible 00:04:48]-
Nick: Boeing does as well, and United Launch Alliance, they do some pretty cool rocketry as well.
Kim Kelley: So you've done your homework, clearly, on your industry. You have some sense of direction about where you're going, but you did mention the competitiveness of just the world. So who do you compete against for jobs?
Nick: Other people in the industry, other aerospace engineers and as well as mechanical engineers. They all compete for the same types of jobs in the industry, especially at the entry level. It is kind of a unique skillset, but there are still thousands of people walking away from universities with a degree, and you got to compete with all of them.
Kim Kelley: So how are you going to differentiate yourself? How are you going to stand out from the crowd, show everybody your amazing-ness?
Nick: Outside of the degree, I'm participating in research as much as possible. I also participate in some of the project teams, engineering teams available at Michigan, such as the MJET team. They do research regarding jet engines and different modifications to make them more efficient. And so that's the type of thing besides going to class, passing your tests, and getting your degree that'll set you apart having experience in the field, hands on experience.
Kim Kelley: So you're from Michigan?
Nick: Yes.
Kim Kelley: And you're going to The University of Michigan. Well, does Michigan actually have any of those companies that you're interested in working for?
Nick: Not necessarily. Not necessarily the big ones. What a lot of people don't realize is there are a lot of smaller aerospace contractors that work with the bigger companies. There are a few different companies in Michigan. I've looked at one of them. It's called Williams International. I actually did an internship there last summer, and they specialize in jet engines. They build jet engines for small business jets as well as Tomahawk cruise missiles, actually. So I got some really cool experience from that.
Kim Kelley: Because the military or government contract experience with that, which is incredibly important for the industry that you're about to go into. Okay. So you're actually more level-headed about where you want to go. You have a very clear direction. You've done a lot of research. What contributed to getting all of that done? What was the biggest contribution to you being able to do what you've been able to do?
Nick: My parents and family definitely helped. They got me to where I am today. They taught me the way I need to think about things, how I need to prepare myself for the competitiveness in the job market. I do consider myself to have a pretty strong internal drive to succeed socially, financially, and that is also a drive as well.
Kim Kelley: Okay. Well, if you have the interest and the motivation, I guess really anything is possible. So if you were going to give advice to your generation about how to ... Or actually, not even your generation. Let's do the new generation, the 17-year-olds that are trying to figure out themselves, figure out what they're going to do, what are the next steps. Because if you're if you're in the United States, your age that you're going to transition really from being an adult to a pretend adult. In other countries, some start at a younger age, and some start at an older age. But there's always this transition from adolescence into really what your next step is going to be, a transition. So what advice would you give to the up and coming generation?
Nick: Well, there is a lot. First of all, try a lot of things while you're young and if you're able to. I guess I did robotics and a variety of other STEM-related activities that led me to where I am today. But if you're not into that, do music, learn to play an instrument, do dance, try sports. [inaudible 00:08:58]. Find out what you like. That really does help set you on the right path to where you want to go. Also don't always necessarily follow where the money's at. Follow where you'll be happy. I consider myself lucky that the career path I want to take happens to be one that is relatively lucrative, but not all of them are. And you need to make sure that you're going to be happy and not just go where the money's at.
Kim Kelley: That's actually really wise, wise word from such a young, young person. But I do expect that from your generation and millennials, anybody who's coming up with the amount of information that you guys have at your fingertips is ridiculous. You actually have the same amount of information that a 50 or 60-year-old would have had in 1950, but you have it at the ages of 10 and 12 and how you have to process things. It's so amazing. Your advice to the up and coming generation is very mature. I totally agree with it, so I don't have anything to add. And I guess the best way to end the conversation is, was the computers or the future or being afraid of not having to work in the future, did any of that motivate your decisions? Did your dad say basically, "Get into computers because that's the only way you're going to have a job"?
Nick: Oh, that's a great question. I will say not necessarily from my parents, but it did cross my mind that automation, we're going to start losing jobs, the physical jobs to robots in factories, and then a lot of the customer service-related jobs are going to be lost to our artificial intelligence. So it did definitely cross my mind is that you want to be the person designing these things so that if and when the time comes that jobs start to go away, you'll still have a job, most likely.
Kim Kelley: Yeah. Well, so you have paid attention to what's going on in the world. You've done a lot of discovery about yourself just as a young adult. And you're actually finding a natural connection between the future possibilities of work in your natural interest, which is not what everybody can say, because some people just hate the idea of computers, hate the idea of even being in front of a automated machine of any type for their entire workday. But you didn't have that. And I think that's a real blessing.
Nick: It is. Absolutely.
Kim Kelley: So if mom and dad are watching, good job. And I wish you a lot of luck and great success. I don't really think you're going to need that, because your hard work, your determination, your focus is going to just take you wherever it is that you want to go. So thank you for actually attending today, being a great kid and helping your dad and actually giving us some of your time today just to tell your story to our audience and to our employers who are trying to hire your generation, just so they get a little bit of insight into the way that you think.
Nick: Awesome.
Kim Kelley: So thank you.