Early Career Insights from an Ørsted Manager
Sune Grønskov has worked in every part of the value chain within power grids and offshore at Ørsted. He has been an Operations Specialist, Project Manager (PM), Team Leader, Senior Specialist, and is currently working as a Manager. Evolving from a new engineer to someone who employs and manages new engineers has given Sune insights into what works well when you start.
In this post, we’ll learn why Sune thinks you should become a specialist instead of a generalist. He will explain how you become a specialist early on in your career, and why saying ‘yes’ to everything is the right strategy in your first job.
From his story, we’ll see how specializing creates a great foundation for achieving a well-rounded career consisting of both specialist- and leader roles.
Career advice is always subjective and these choices are at their core personal preferences. However, there is still tremendous value to be found in mimicking and learning from interesting people with interesting careers – especially those whose story you can see yourself in.
Conflux Insights is a new series of articles where we learn key insights and findings from interesting Conflux mentors from the Danish STEM industries and share them with you.
Sune’s Career History
In 2006, Sune was about to graduate with a MSc degree in Electrical Engineering from DTU. He had a vague idea regarding where to work post-graduation, “but to be honest, I had no greater plan figured out. I just wanted to get a job and then the rest would be figured out from there.”
From a conversation he had with one of his professors, he ended up applying for a job at a Danish energy company, which later merged to become Ørsted.
As an Operations Specialist, Sune worked with the Danish power grid. The responsibilities were partly in maintenance but also in strategy. “I worked with strategic planning of the power grid so that it would be ready for what would come 10, 20, and 30 years down the line”. It turned out to be a great introduction job to the energy industry, as the maintenance tasks learned him about how the power-grid-world works in reality. And the strategic and analytical tasks leveraged the analytical and theoretical foundation he had built at DTU.
After 6 years as a specialist, Sune knew his domain in and out, and it was time for him to pursue new opportunities, which he found internally at Ørsted. “I had the impression that I had great growth-opportunities professionally in line-management, as I felt I could take full advantage of my skill set in that role. So I made a career plan: First, I had to become a PM, as that role would expose me to many leadership tasks. And then I would transition into line-management”.
Before officially transitioning into becoming a PM, Sune tried out the role, by saying ‘yes’ to several ‘PM-like’ tasks. He mimicked his future role. This is a great idea to dig deeper into; Yes, Sune had a plan to turn himself into a PM. But he probably didn’t know the daily challenges for that role. So by acting like he already had the role he wanted to pursue, he achieved two things:
- First, he improved his role-specific skills and allowed himself a playground where it was more allowed to make the typical early missteps.
- Second, he tested out, whether the job is the right fit for him personally. Transitioning into a new role is often a big decision, so it makes sense to perform smaller tests to figure out if this is the right transition to make – and to act like you have the role before you get the role is a great way of doing this!
As a PM, Sune’s main responsibility for the project was to define a common goal and set up and manage the process to achieve that goal. He had to lead the process for buying the right components and managing the contractors as well as his team.
Say ‘Yes’ to Everything Early On
During his career, Sune has employed and managed multiple new engineers, and he knows what works when it comes to starting your career in a great way:
“You typically want to show your worth, when you start as a newly graduated engineer – both to your new employer but also to yourself. You say yes to every opportunity and every task you can get your hands on. And this is great! This is how you learn and grow, and its a natural part of starting. But this phase typically lasts about a year before you have too much on your plate. There are two important learnings to make from this: First, you need to reach out to your manager before you burn out. And second, you must align with your manager on how to prioritize your tasks so that you can also learn how to say “no”.”
Being eager and hungry early on is a great way to find your place and figure out what you think is interesting to work with. But it is important to not be too impatient when it comes to moving on to your next project. “You should be open to the tasks that come your way – even the not-so-fun tasks. When you build up your expertise in an area, people will start to come to you for your help, and this will greatly improve your reach and growth opportunities. And this is often an easier ladder to climb when you embrace what others don’t focus on.” Sune points out. And being the expert to go to for some expert knowledge is great – especially inside a large company like Ørsted. It will introduce you to other interesting people and projects, which very well will turn into interesting opportunities for you down the line. And it all starts with building the right specialist-foundation early on.
“The Generalist-term Doesn’t Sit Right With Me”
From the outside, it looks like Sune has transitioned from being a specialist engineer to more generalist roles where he had to manage projects and people. But we don’t think this is the right way of looking at it: “I don’t really believe in the generalist-engineering role, to be honest. It doesn’t sit right with me, because there will always be something that you are specialized in. To me, a generalist is a person who knows and insights into a broad range of domains. But their specialty is typically to quickly and reliably analyze a complex cross-domain-problem and assess the right decision for a project.”
This view on the specialist/generalist spectrum is typically referred to as T-shaped skills. Here the idea is to know a little in a lot of areas – enough to navigate them and know what you don’t know, while also having a single expertise domain where you go deep and specialize.
So where should you start building your own “T-shape”? Is it best to focus on the depth or the width of the ‘T’ first?
According to Sune, you should always seek to specialize in the domain you are currently in and then grow from there. Focus on depth-first and leverage your expertise to grow wider with time.
Embracing the technical challenges ahead of you is typically a strategy that engineers find pleasing, as it aligns well with our desire to understand and solve problems. But Sune has seen countless times, engineers typically end up exhausting the domain and turn towards other challenges: “I think the wish to go wider comes naturally for many engineers. When you have specialized in a niche domain for some years, you may feel like your opportunities have been exhausted. So to meet challenges again, you will turn towards other domains and expand your horizon. And remember, this will be possible to do from the specialist-foundation you have built”. This view aligns well with Daniel Eggert’s experience working as a specialist Software Engineer at Apple. Both Sune and Daniel recommend to use your technical background to specialize early on, and then leverage that specialist role to grow into other roles. And they both experience, that your specialist skills will benefit you in your new roles, whether it be in management or specialist role.
Becoming a Specialist
Next; how do you follow Sune’s advice to become a specialist? Of course, a lot of the specifics are domain-dependent; to become a great medical engineer you need to do the work in that domain. But you don’t need to figure e everything out on your own. Seek out mentors from within the company, preferably someone who is just 2-3 steps ahead of you. They clearly remember the struggles you are currently facing, but also how to overcome them.
However, some advice is applicable regardless of the direction you are heading. Two examples:
- It is always a great idea to understand the fundamentals and first principles of your domain. Understanding the technical foundation will greatly improve your rate of learning new and complex topics.
- It takes deliberate practice and deep work to become a specialist. Personally, learning about these topics has greatly improved my way of working. To get a taste of it, I recommend you go start here and here.
On a final note, Sune wants to share a few insights for you to consider in your first engineering role.
- Don’t focus on the work conditions (benefits, salary, the quality of the canteen, etc.) as these things are quite equal and great across companies – especially the large ones.
- Instead, choose your first role based on what field and domain you find interesting. And this is something you should try to figure out during your studies. The important thing is to learn how to learn and to find out what fields appeal to you and try to specialize in that. Choose your courses so that you try out many areas of your degree.
- Say ‘yes’ to every chance heading your way early on. Specialize in your current domain, and use your expertise to expand into other roles if you wish to.
- Don’t plan your career too much. As an engineer, you most likely enjoy working towards and achieving a goal. But in Sune’s experience, it makes you blind to enjoying the actual journey – and it may also make you blind to great opportunities that suddenly appear. So don’t follow a career plan just for the sake of achieving it.
This is the second of several articles from Conflux Insights. Our goal is to learn from real career histories, extract key findings from them, and share them with you. We would love to hear your thoughts on the article, as we are still trying to find the right fit for us.
If you have any comments or questions about the article or Conflux Insights in general, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to Sune Grønskov for sharing his experiences and career history with us.
This interview was performed and written by Jakob from Conflux.