S9-DISC4-4 - What Do Engineers Do All Day? Using LinkedIn Profiles to Study Engineering Work

3. Research Full Paper
Christopher Gewirtz1 , Marie Paretti1, Jennifer Case1, Lee Vinsel1, Jessica Deters1, Omer Zulfiqar1
1 Virginia Tech

This full paper examines the potential for using LinkedIn profile analysis to understand engineers’ everyday work activity. Calls for change in engineering education are often framed around perceptions of the changing nature of engineering work in present times. Existing research on engineering work, which draws on interviews, ethnography, case studies, or surveys, consistently highlights the social and contextual dimensions of practice, but also suggests that engineering work may have more to do with maintaining existing systems than with creative development of new systems. To add to this growing body of research, in this exploratory study we turn to a novel data source: publicly available descriptions of engineering work available on social network and job posting sites. Such data sources, if found to be useful, could significantly expand the reach of research on engineering work and provide access to much larger data sets than those obtained through current – predominantly qualitative – methods. This study is a preliminary look at using LinkedIn for these purposes. Specifically, we ask the question, “How does data about engineering work from LinkedIn compare to findings from in-depth interviews?” To answer this question, we use interviews with 15 new engineers at six and 12 months of work, and compare them to participants’ LinkedIn profiles. The interviews, collected as part of a separate study, focused on newcomers’ workplace responsibilities and challenges. Analysis focused on inductive coding to categorize engineers’ work experiences and environments. The findings were then compared to participants' LinkedIn profiles to identify gaps and overlaps.