As a graduate engineer of 5 years as of this writing, I find it necessary to share some things I’ve learnt on my journey as well as things that I wish I knew when I just started. If you are not an engineer, don’t worry, some of these may still be applicable to you. So without further ado, here are the 10 things you need to know as a starting engineer.
1.People will want you to fix everything
One thing I have noticed time and time again is that whenever someone knows you’re an engineer at some point in time they WILL ask you to fix their fan, fridge, TV, you name it! With family in particular, you won’t be a ‘real’ engineer in their eyes until you fix something around the house for them. And although in most cases we can fix it, it is a little degrading to think that after years of studying the most advanced sciences and mathematics, people only see you as a ‘handyman’. What I try to do however is look on it as compliment and in some cases use it to my advantage to make some side money.
2. Your profession will be looked at in awe
Like medicine, law, and accounting, engineering is one of the traditional professions parents typical want for their children, because those jobs are usually in demand and most times pay well. In social settings, where you are asked what you study in school or where you work, and you tell them that you are an engineer, the “wows” and nods you get in response is truly a gratifying experience.
3. Google is your best friend
We live in an era where the world’s knowledge is just a click away; use it to your advantage! Whether if it’s for things you know already or don’t know, don’t waste the opportunity to verify with other sources online. In addition, traditional books, though credible, are outdated at times, compared to its contemporary online counterpart. There will be times where you are required to do things you haven’t the slightest clue about, but as the ‘expert’ you can’t look like you don’t know what to do. So it’s always best to pay for data service on your phone each month as knowledge protection for yourself.
4. You actually know less than you think
Just because you have your degree in engineering now doesn’t mean you’ll know what to do in the working world. Often times what you learn in the textbook is not how it goes in reality. Some things just come with experience. So don’t be discouraged if what you learn at school isn’t applied at your job, and be sure to stay close to your peers and learn from them.
5. Be open to learning
Learning is your most important virtue as a starting engineer. As stated before you will not know everything you need to know even if it’s in your field. It might be tempting to try to impress the boss by taking on tasks solo, but the worst thing you can do is trying to be a ‘know-it-all’ and to not accept guidance from others more experienced. All that will happen is that you will make many unnecessary mistakes and waste a lot of time. This is why HR put a great emphasis on teamwork when hiring.
6. Don’t sweat the small details
As engineers we pride ourselves on accuracy. So much so to our detriment sometimes. It stems from the fact that in school we were taught all these mathematical techniques to solve engineering problems to great degrees of accuracy. In other words, to solve by first principles. The problem with this is that it usually takes a considerable amount of time. Conversely, an estimate most times can get you ‘accurate-enough’ results. In the ‘real world’ wasted time is wasted money, so unless you work in research & development (R&D) with time at your disposal, its best you learn techniques to estimate accurately.
7. There is not much math at work
Unfortunately (or fortunately) in many engineering jobs there is not much math, and when there is math involved, it’s usually arithmetic or simple algebraic mathematics. Calculus is practically non-existent. This goes back to the previous point that doing those types of calculations are simply just too time consuming. So instead estimation techniques are used or in some cases software is incorporated to help generate engineering models. So if you’re a math enthusiast you may be in for a surprise if you choose an engineering job. At the end of the day math is just a tool engineers use to solve real world problems. If we can utilise computers to handle those tools for us it will make the engineering process quicker and flow smoother.
8. Keep up with the latest technology
Technology is advancing at its fastest rate ever and is accelerating at an exponential rate. Many of the baby boomers, and the generation X peers you have at work will not be able to keep up because they have gotten used to a static way of working. As a starting engineer you can use this to your advantage by using technology to make business much more efficient. Learn from your peers yes, but if you see where you could improve through technology speak up and you will rank up in your career. Just remember the only constant in life is change, and those who can’t keep up in this age will perish, however the ones who embrace change will prosper.
9. Salaries vary
Like most other jobs, a starting engineer’s salary isn’t all that relatively speaking. But of course the salary will vary on a myriad of reasons, e.g. the branch of engineering, which company, which country, etc. That said, engineering jobs do generally pay better that the average job even at a starting salary.
10. Hone your skills and market your skills early
Lastly, if you have a passion for your engineering field, use this opportunity to continuously learn as much as possible quickly, so that eventually you can become a master of your trade. Education is something no-one can ever take from you. It will make you more marketable in the long run, and you can eventually branch off to start your own private practice. The end goal shouldn’t be ‘good enough’ to make a salary at some job, but to be the best at what you do so companies need you more than you need them.