Readers often write in to create magazine to debate and discuss important issues within the engineering profession. Here, one reader shares his advice on shaping a career.
It has been more than 38 years since I entered the workforce as a graduate electrical and electronics engineer. I’m still practising, although now as a software engineer. I’ve been in roles from engineer to vice-president of engineering, and even CEO.
I love this quote by physicist Freeman Dyson:
“A good scientist is a person with original ideas. A good engineer is a person who makes a design that works with as few original ideas as possible. There are no prima donnas in engineering.”
The advantage of age is that one has had more time to accumulate knowledge and experience and to reflect. Losing your ego will help you become a good engineer, but I have other advice for young engineers.
1. Be a good person
Don’t just be a good engineer; strive to be a good person. Don’t be the engineer who is always defensive, always quibbling, always negative. Be positive, be supportive, give credit, be respectful, be inclusive, be nice.
2. Follow your heart
Following your heart means giving yourself the opportunity to follow your own curiosity and seeing where that takes you. Take heart from the fact that many of the world’s greatest inventions came from people shunned by others. Following your heart is the best strategy, not just for a rewarding career, but for a rewarding life.
3. Think about impact
During your career you’ll be confronted with myriad choices. Those choices will be easier for you to make if you frame those choices in terms of their impact, and, importantly, what that impact means to you.
4. Understand the big picture
Relate how what you’re working on, regardless of how small a component it may be, fits into the overall system. Doing so will help inform you and, in particular, help you to navigate design decisions.
5. Care about cost and timeliness
Typically, the newer and more radical the technology, the more expensive it is. Avoid it! Good engineers are always on the hunt for ways to remove cost and get things done more quickly. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Caring about cost also means thinking about manufacturing early on in the engineering process, not as an afterthought.
6. Follow the data
Get the relevant data, run the numbers and let the data decide. Data is apolitical. It beats opinion.
7. Master the written word
Whether it’s an idea or a detailed design, write it down and get good at it. Writing forces a clarity that thoughts or conversations alone can never capture. It also facilitates sharing and openness, and rightfully or wrongfully, it also imparts an aura of credibility.
8. Be open
The best ideas can’t possibly come from within any one company. Be open and learn from outsiders. Conversely, wherever possible, be open to others. Sharing is a two-way street.
And finally — all the best in your engineering career!