Niche as defined by Webster’s is “a place, employment, status, or activity for which a person or thing is best fitted — finally found her niche.”
Creating your niche helps create your career. Over the years, I have learned that creating services that support the core business helps establish relationships early on. Prior to engineering, getting involved in projects from the business side adds value, thus creating a niche that other engineering firms do not have. Originally, this first service offering was data center development services (DCDS) in which we would create a concept design, estimates, and pro forma assistance. Since then, business solutions include total cost of ownership (TCO), M&A data center infrastructure, technology migration — consolidation and technical program management. It’s these services that have created a niche for me as well as for ESD Consulting, thus separating us from other engineering firms.
- Data center engineering niche: Engineers in college are trained to design on a per-discipline basis (electrical, mechanical, etc.) to be all encompassing in their design. When graduating, they are fairly well rounded in their discipline and ready to begin work at an engineering firm. The challenge is “all encompassing” does not create a niche. Nor do many engineers right out of school know of which niche within the engineering community that they would like to pursue. Most of the time they are hired by an engineering firm and are placed within a pool of general engineers or “studios.” It is when you are placed in a studio environment that you can hone in on a specialized design — and truly discover your niche.
The data center industry is a specialized engineering design that requires a different approach than other industry designs. Redundancy, reliability, and concurrent maintainability are prominent features within data center design and are not often taught in college. Data center design is typically taught through more of a mentoring process within an MCF studio, supported by experienced data center engineers. This often takes years and diligent QA/QC oversite of the junior engineer. As designing data centers have become a “hot” pursuit within engineering, more and more engineering firms are stating they are experts within this field; however, they lack the experience that is required to execute proper design.
Double niche engineers: A double niche engineer is a person who has combined his or her design niche with a secondary niche such as communication or knowledge of a “specialty system.” Engineers who communicate well often hold the traits of listening, presenting, or demonstrate exceptional customer service. These engineers are often highly requested for projects both internally and by the enduser. When combined with public speaking skills, this person develops a “leadership niche.” One of the most recent examples of this is Peter Gross, now with Bloom Energy. As with a communication niche, an engineer can also specialize in a specific system such as data center controls or communications design. A great example of this is Patrick Murphy (formally of Digital Realty and now principal at LIG Consultants) who specializes in data center utility substation design. Whether your secondary niche is communication or specialty systems, the combined niches create career opportunities that are rare and sought after.
NICHE…Discovering Yours: If you sit back and look at characters throughout history, you will find that most of the successful people in life (depending how you rate success) have multiple traits (or niches) that have driven them to their destiny. Muhammad Ali for example. While one can argue that boxing was his niche, looking deeper … winning and communication became his “double niche.” I say winning because of winning both in the ring as well as for civil rights at the Supreme Court. Communication because it created a “brand” to his niche, thus giving him attention. Boxing was just his job within his industry. Over the last six months I’ve been researching the characteristics of successful people and how they capitalized on their niche. Two common elements that I found within successful people concerning their niche is they have “passion” and “perseverance” in whatever they do.
In Q2, 2018 I will be publishing a book titled NICHE…Discovering Yours. Unlike my two books (Cocoa’s World and The Stonehenge File), this will not be a novel but more of a self-help and “awareness” read. Not only will it address the discovery of niches from several successful people; it will also address how you discover your own niche, as well as fostering and branding your own personal niche. It’s been a fun project so far, and I look forward to the column I write in this magazine when it’s published.