Empowering Engineers

Prolific Living founder and CEO Farnoosh Brock is looking to change perceptions about engineers and how they communicate. She recently shared her perspective with MEM students.

Farnoosh Brock is on a mission to change what she sees as an inaccurate impression many have about engineers. To do that, she is instilling leadership and communication skills in engineering students so they can make that change themselves.  

Brock is the founder of Prolific Living, a company she started after more than a decade in the corporate world as an engineer and operations leader. She recently held a daylong seminar for new students in Northwestern's Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program.  

“I'm really, really passionate about changing the stigma of engineers as being aloof, introverted, shy, poor communicators,” she said after her talk. “The onus is on us, the educators, to change that trajectory, to create the kind of engineering leaders who can communicate and can change the perception and create a new wave of engineers in the world." 

And so for the past 12-plus years, Brock has set out to bring about that change.  

She started Prolific Living after a career at Cisco Systems. At first, her company was focused on business-to-consumer leadership and coaching courses offered to individuals. But, Brock said, she wanted to reach engineering students, so she started delivering her workshops for university engineering programs. 

That is what brought her to the MEM program. She said she was thoroughly impressed by the caliber of students she found there during the all-day program.  

“The students at Northwestern were just amazing,” Brock said. “They were such wonderfully warm individuals. They are extremely willing to do whatever it takes to be successful, which is a great attitude.”  

The six-hour seminar was called “High-Level Confidence, Leadership, and Communication.” The three modules were selected from the dozen Brock has developed during her time at the helm of Prolific Living, which she runs with her husband, Andy.  

The topics are vital for engineers looking to advance to the top levels in their field, Brock said. But it’s about more than just the engineer’s career, she emphasized.   

“A vice president is not going to work hard to understand a brilliant engineer who isn’t a good communicator,” she said. “That engineer will simply not have his or her ideas heard, and then we all lose.”  

Brock told the students that leaders aren’t just those with powerful titles. She stressed that engineers at all levels need to develop the skills she was teaching to find success in their organizations.  

It all starts with mindset, Brock said. Having the right attitude toward leadership and being able to have a powerful voice while maintaining an attentive ear are key. The seminar included group activities and role playing exercises where students had mock conversations with Brock herself.  

“If they can resolve conflict, be an effective team player, have crucial conversations on sticky topics, and manage their emotions and be seen as a leader, the proof is in the pudding,” she said. “If you don't have these skills, you can only go so far on your path.” 

Brock praised MEM leadership for bringing her in early in these students’ time with the program to accelerate the process of empowering engineers to change the impression others might have of them.  

“Leaders at many organizations don't really understand the value that engineers bring and could bring," she said. "But if we can empower engineers to be relatable and connect the dots for those leaders, then it can get very exciting for all of us.” 

McCormick News Article