College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Teaching engineers the value of communication and “soft” skills

Don Gallagher
Don Gallagher

An ME alum uses his engineering perspective to build his own training business

Don Gallagher, BSME’82, says the skills he learned at Iowa State and in the co-op program have been invaluable for his career.

“Learning a clear problem-solving methodology in the classroom gave me a solid foundation. Then it all came to life in the real world during my intern sessions.” Gallagher adds that the engineering education he received here has been a “great springboard to do all sorts of different things.”

Satisfying his interest in building and fixing was Gallagher’s goal when pursuing a mechanical engineering degree. He believes he was able to fulfill this goal through his education at Iowa State and the opportunity to intern with John Deere for five summers.

After graduation, Gallagher transitioned from intern to full-time engineer in Waterloo, Iowa, at John Deere’s diesel engine factory. He later moved into marketing and ultimately worked in a variety of roles during his 25-year career with Deere.

It was Gallagher’s entrepreneurial drive that pushed him to leave the corporate world in 2010. Many years earlier, a seed had been planted when he attended a training workshop on personal development and productivity. During the workshop, he says he had an epiphany. “There was an engineer teaching the class that had a big impact on me. I thought: I’d really like to teach and develop employees like he’s doing.”

So today, Gallagher runs his own training and consulting business, where he focuses on two priorities. The first is to help organizations by teaching personal effectiveness and productivity to their employees. The second is by teaching soft skills to engineers of all ages, as well as engineering students. He believes this is important because, as a senior engineering manager told him years ago, “Engineering is roughly 20 percent technical and about 80 percent communications. You can’t do great work if you can’t interact effectively with other people.” Gallagher focuses on engineers through a website, blog and podcast, as well as serving as a live speaker and trainer.

After 35 years of education and experience, Gallagher is excited to be channeling his passions for engineering and people development into a brand new venture that’s centered on helping others. He says, “I believe an engineering degree is the perfect foundation around which you can build a great career, but by developing strong soft skills you can position yourself to become what I like to call a remarkable engineer.”