March 28, 2024

It is, according to Hasala Dharmawardena, a great time to be a young professional in STEM. 

Artificial intelligence is on the rise. Technical skills are in demand. And the barrier to entry into these fields is falling. 

“Unlike the past, if you are in STEM it is very easy to learn new technologies,” Dharmawardena said. “There are so many resources at  your fingertips with the internet and its many free resources. There is not a significant barrier to learning new technologies and making a strong impact.” 

Dharmawardena, an IEEE Senior Member, is the chair of IEEE Young Professionals  – which is often abbreviated as YP. Here, he talks about the impact that YP is making, and how his involvement has helped him in his career journey

To start, what is IEEE YP and how does it benefit students and young professionals?

IEEE Young Professionals is a unique program created by IEEE to increase the membership benefits to young professionals. The program allows young IEEE members to organize themselves by location or using a IEEE YP Affinity group, or in their technical areas of interest in society and council YP committees, or in any other area of interest. The program provides funding for events organized by young professionals, increases the opportunities to contribute as leaders, and engages the members in many unique ways.

The committee is very committed to ensuring that young professionals have what they need to grow on both the personal and professional level, and funding is provided for things like networking events, workshops and panels and technical conferences.

IEEE YP also helps to prepare the technical leaders of tomorrow by empowering them within their own communities today.

What does your role entail? 

I represent the interests of over 130,000 young professional members. I’m also empowered to provide input to IEEE leadership in different forums to ensure that IEEE products, services and strategy serves the needs of the younger members.

Do you have any tips for students in STEM and aspiring engineers/young professionals?

STEM is so much fun as a career! Every single day you get to work on exciting challenges, and you will be able to invent things that make life better for humanity. The opportunities in the STEM sector are endless. 

How might emerging technologies (e.g., Generative AI) impact the future of STEM jobs and what do these changes mean for YPs?

Emerging technologies are resulting in increasing the need for a highly skilled workforce, who can make the custom technologies to meet the evolving needs of the society. These skills are non-repetitive and therefore they can’t be replaced by AI. Therefore, if you can become a technical expert and an SME your value will exponentially increase as the emerging technologies move forward in time.

How did joining YP benefit your personal life or professional development?

When I joined IEEE, I was a stereotypical nerd. I had a high level of technical skills but a weaker set of soft skills. My IEEE volunteer experience helped me to first bridge the gap and then elevate myself in terms of soft skills and allowed me to become an industry subject matter expert and trusted advisor in my field. The technical engagements within IEEE helped me connect me with my peers and experts, expand my technical knowledge in many ways, be it presenting my work, participating in workshops and panels or publishing in conferences. I was able to build a strong support network of peers, mentors and mentees that transcended where I worked or where I lived. This has given me incredible confidence in my skills and being able to deliver high quality work — because whenever I need that extra level of support I have resources in IEEE be it digital information, or my support network.

Want to Get Involved? From volunteering opportunities to climate leadership, IEEE Young Professionals offers ways for you to leverage your technical skills to make a difference.


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