Best Skills to Learn from Engineering for the Real World

The best skills to learn come from rational and analytical thinking in engineering. Without these skills we wouldn’t have the many luxuries we all enjoy today. We could still all be riding horses and traveling on sailboats.

Engineers have a unique set of skills that set them apart from most people. We hope this to be true anyways. Engineers design the bridges we cross, planes we fly in, cars we drive, and the list goes on.

These skills have translated into things we could never have imagined only 300 years ago.

Now what if we could use these same skills from engineering and apply them to our personal lives?

  • How much more productive could we become?
  • How much more could we accomplish?
  • How much happier would we be?

I’m going to go over a list of skills to learn from engineering. We’ll see how to apply these skills to everyday life. These skills have really helped improve my own personal life.

1) Attention to Detail

In the Engineering World

Not all engineers, but some, directly endanger the lives of the public with their design work. When I size an underground 12,470 volt cable it needs to be properly sized. The cable must carry the rated current of the load it connects to.

If the cable is undersized the result could be an explosion. The explosion would damage equipment and even injure and kill people.

Being very detail oriented in engineering is critical. Every stage of a design requires your close attention. Otherwise the entire project becomes a large liability.

Unlike a surgeon who hurts one person if things go wrong, in engineering you can hurt hundreds at once. With this thought in mind, your brain becomes very detailed oriented.

You never want to miss anything in a design. You leave no stone unturned.

NASA launch success rate

NASA launch success rate

In 1999 NASA lost a $125 million Mars orbiter. Two different engineering teams used different units: metric units and U.S. units.

A simple mistake of using the units of pounds of force instead of newtons led to a disaster. There’s no margin for error when precision is of utmost importance.

Once you learn this, mistakes rarely happen. Learning to pay attention to every detail becomes a habit. Similar to when you check your rear view mirror every time you back up in your car.

In the Real World

I’m not saying to become OCD. Rather be more observant. Give extra time to review something piece by piece. Then review all parts of it as a whole.

Think of a new bill you receive in the mail. Don’t simply open the bill and check how much you owe. Review the amount you owe and then look over each of the transactions. Then review the fine print in the bill.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught a mistake in a bill. A transaction I didn’t recognize. Also, verifying when my 0% APR would adjust is important to know. Small details matter.

Mistakes happen all the time. People try to con you. If you don’t see the details then you’ll never know the full story to something.

Also, as one of the best skills to learn for jobs, you need to become detail oriented. Computers today do a lot of our high level work. Computers do this work in most every industry.

We can’t always blindly rely on computers though. The outputs from computers require review. This requires you to have the ability to see details to properly review outputs.

2) Planning and Organizing

In the Engineering World

A lot goes into starting and completing an engineering project design. First you must study the client’s scope of work. Next, you find out the details of what exactly the client wants.

Thereafter, you create a plan of attack to complete the design. You include all parties involved in on the project in the plan. This includes the civil, structural, electrical, and other engineering disciplines.

Depending on the project certain groups will need to begin their work first. In building a bridge, you’ll have environmental engineers first inspect the area to know the environmental impact. Then you’ll have geotechnical engineers who analyze the soil do their work.

The soil work then helps with the bridge foundation design. The structural engineers then design the bridge foundation. Then so on and so forth.

At the end of the project I would become involved as the electrical engineer for various designs. This includes design for lights, a generator, and any other circuitry.

There are certain steps to follow with every project. Every group involved in a project receives a schedule for all their tasks. Without following certain steps, a project would be delayed. Also, the project would not remain in budget and the design quality would suffer.

In the Real World

Simply plan your day. Create a to do list for yourself for what you need to get done the next day.

Daily to do list template - most profitable skills to learn

I always create my daily to do list the day before on my phone. As things come to mind, I add to my list. I also have a monthly and yearly to do list as well. These are goals I’m working towards in the long term.

Having a clear plan of action helps me stay focused. For example, if I’m looking to make a new investment by end of 2019 I’ll need to plan ahead. I need to save a certain amount of money and I also need to network to find a deal. My monthly goals include activities I need to complete to reach this year end goal.

My to do list does not remain limited to business goals either. I have fitness, family, and spiritual goals as well.

One of the most profitable skills to learn is creating a to do list. It will give your life structure and keep you on a path to reaching your goals.

3) Never Be Content and Keep a Healthy Level of Paranoia in Your Life

In the Engineering World

When I design a project that’s very large both in scope and budget, I become extra paranoid. I triple check my calculations and design work. I want to be sure I’ve made no mistakes.

The liability and complexity typically is greater for larger projects. You’ll have more eyes on your work too. Many different groups of people will review your design.

First and foremost though, I want to submit a design that works in the real world. Also, I want to create the best design. A design that will be easy to construct and will save the client money.

I review all details of a project. I then check to see if I have come up with the best design approach. Also, I review the project’s original scope against all the submitted designs from the other engineers. This allows me to check if my design conflicts with others.

I do this check multiple times at various stages in a project. This is especially important if I’m juggling multiple projects at one time.

This level of paranoia is healthy in engineering. Keeps you on your toes and helps you deliver a quality product every time.

In the real world

With how fast paced life has become, having a good level of paranoia is important. It helps you slow life down to make better decisions. You don’t always catch everything on the first review. Also, everything isn’t always as it seems.

I once bought a short sale home that had mold behind the sheetrock in the master bedroom. When I first brought an inspector into the home before I closed on the home, he didn’t spot the mold. His inspection didn’t sit well with me for whatever reason then.

I brought my handyman friend over the day after since I’m paranoid. Together we both inspected the area. Due to some suspicion and various clues, we found mold behind the sheetrock.

Even with the mold the home was a great investment. I still bought the home. However, if I hadn’t found the mold then my investment could have been ruined.

My investment would not have included the mold removal cost. It could’ve been a disaster if the numbers didn’t work in my favor.

Here are some things where paranoia will help you with:

  • Next time a contractor does work for you, go inspect the completed work yourself. Don’t trust his word.
  • When someone gives you cash or just change at a grocery store, count the money. Don’t take their word.
  • If someone or a business tells you they never received your email, don’t take their word. Check your email outbox yourself.
  • Financing something? Crunch the numbers yourself. Review the calculations. Check if the numbers make sense.
  • Did the BBQ gas tank fall possibly damage it? Then don’t use the gas tank as it can lead to an explosion.

Add this to your new skills to learn list and you’ll prevent others from taking advantage of you.

4) Constant Questioning

In the Engineering World

I’m a very curious person. I want to know why something is how it is. When I run studies on engineering software, I never blindly accept the output results.

For example, I run plenty of cable ampacity studies for projects that include high voltage cables. I want to see how much current a 230,000 volt cable can carry. There’s a chart that shows how much current each cable size can carry. However, there are other variables too to consider.

Underground bore with high voltage cables inside - constant questioning is a best skills to learn

Is the cable near other cables? What conduit type is the cable inside? What’s the soil type and temperature surrounding the cable? Then so on and so forth. Each of these questions affects how hot the cable will get. The hotter the cable gets the less current the cable can carry.

When I receive the output results I check to see if the results make sense. For instance, reviewing the case of the cable being in a PVC conduit versus a metallic conduit. Does the software show the cable’s current is greater in the metallic conduit versus the PVC conduit? If no, there’s a problem.

A metal is a great conductor. Therefore, a metallic conduit will transfer heat better than a PVC conduit. PVC is a lightweight plastic making it a bad conductor. Now we know if all other variables remain constant, the metal conduit will always allow my cable to carry the most current.

In the real world

Imagine your landscaper tells you it’ll cost $5,000 to add turf to your backyard. Don’t blindly accept his quote. Ask questions and get answers. Start with these questions:

1) What’s the cost of the turf you’ll be using?

2) What’s the square footage of turf you’ll be adding?

3) Are you charging to grade the existing dirt?

4) How much are you charging for disposing of waste materials?

5) Is the $5,000 quote a fixed cost?

Another great example is when you go visit the doctor. Never blindly accept a doctor’s diagnosis if you don’t 100% agree. Ask questions. Like in any profession, doctors don’t know everything.

As a former bodybuilder, I have a pretty good understanding of human physiology. I enjoy discussing health subjects with my doctors.

In America today with how the medical and insurance system is setup, it’s not in favor of patients. Most doctors give mainly general advice and rush patient visits.

Also, doctors don’t address the root problem of an illness most of the time. Rather, they patch the problem with pills. This is a larger issue that we don’t have the time to discuss. But the point is, don’t blindly take a doctor’s word.

Do your research at home. Then enter the doctor’s office with your questions. Ask the doctor, “Why?” when they give you a response. If you feel the Doctor can’t answer your questions, then find a new doctor.

This makes constant questioning one of the most profitable skills to learn. You’ll keep more money in your pocket and you’ll stay healthier.

5) Relentless and Not Quitting

In the Engineering World

Engineers are stubborn. We always think there’s a solution to a problem. When the client says, “Jump,” we ask, “How high?”

If the problem remains inside the laws of physics, we always search for a solution. I’ve designed projects where the physical design space and budget had limits for adding high voltage equipment. Took a lot of head scratching and pounding but I did finally find a solution.

Most problems have a solution. The trick is to not quit too soon. You need to look at the problem from all angles and be creative.

Just think of how a metallic tube holding 200 plus people flies over oceans. Imagine if the Wright Brothers had quit the first time they had crashed a plane. We would still be here taking months to travel by ship from Europe to New York. Now today ironically, we complain about a one-hour flight delay.

Plane flying over ocean

In the Real World

The best things in life take effort. Most of the time we’re near the finish line when we quit. Imagine if you knew your goal was only one last push away. Would you still quit then?

Here are some examples of when you quit too early:

1) You quit college when you had 1 quarter left before graduation.

2) You quit your diet 2 weeks before it became a habit.

3) You quit applying to better jobs after the tenth rejection.

4) You quit on your marriage after 6 months without discussing your problems together.

There are many more examples. Most everything we do that’s worthwhile requires effort. Effort requires not quitting.

Quit too soon and you won’t get the reward. A lot of the heartache in life is due to quitting something too soon.

It’s important to realize most everything in life has a solution. If someone else has done it, then you can do it too. Look at others who did something who were once in your shoes. Find out how they did it.

Half the battle is pushing through the difficult times. If it’s not difficult then it wasn’t worthwhile to begin with.

This makes not quitting one of the best skills to learn for jobs and relationships. Both include many hardships. To see better times, you need to push through the hardships.

6) Rational Thinking and Not Emotionally Driven

In the Engineering World

Engineering is based on math and science. It’s all logic based. If the calculations show a cable can carry 200 amps, then we have our final answer. There’s no voodoo magic you can do to increase the amps that this cable can carry.

As a result, engineers are very rational thinkers. They seldom allow their emotions to dictate their decisions.

Allowing emotions into your design doesn’t help. Sure, you need to put certain emotions into a smart phone design. The shape and feel of the phone will subconsciously lead buyers to buy. A partial psychologically driven decision. However, in designing a hydroelectric facility emotions will not help you.

Again, certain emotions can help in some instances. Also, paranoia will make you more cautious and help you deliver a quality design. However, I won’t allow my excitement or frustrations to overtake solid design guidelines.

If the calculations don’t work, I won’t proceed with the work no matter how cool a solution may sound. The client can offer me $10,000,000 to complete the design and I may be jumping for joy. But no matter my excitement, I can’t force a square peg into a round hole.

Emotions are important, but they never overtake rational thinking. A rational and clear mind is what allows us to fly safely from New York to France. I’m 100% certain you don’t want a team of recently divorced and overly distressed people to design your next plane. This will more than likely lead to a disaster.

With technology taking over our lives, rational thinking is one of the best skills to learn for the future. It’s the language of computers.

Decision to use emotions versus logic - most profitable skills to learn

In the real world

There are many examples where rational thinking is necessary in the real world. In fact, irrational thinking causes most problems we face today. For the best outcome, you want to always use a healthy level of rational thinking.

We’ll go over examples where you need to think rationally:

1) Buying a house. You either can afford the home or you cannot. Doesn’t matter how beautiful the home is and that it’s near your family. The mortgage payments will not decrease because it’s your dream home.

2) Eating healthy after a heart attack. Doesn’t matter how delicious a food is. If your doctor says to avoid certain foods, then you need to avoid them. Your heart doesn’t care how much more tasty a Twinkie is over broccoli.

3) If someone is physically abusing you, then you need to leave the relationship. Doesn’t matter how much you think they love you. You don’t hurt the people you love.

However, cases do exist where you need both rational thinking and emotions. For example, giving money to your parents when they are in need. Sure, it will lower your bank balance, but in return you’re helping your parents.

You look over your finances and if you can help without hurting financially yourself, then you will. These are the people who once changed your diapers and fed you.

The Best Skills to Learn That Will Transform Your Life

Some of these best skills to learn we all have. You may be using these skills without thought today. However, there’s always room for improvement.

Try using these skills in different areas of your life. Try to the use these skills more often. Find out how these skills can be improved on.

Write the skills down and actively look over them every day. Or even place these skills in your daily to do list notes.

If some of these skills you aren’t using, then slowly start using them. Make a new skills to learn list for yourself and pin it to your bedroom wall. In the short term you’ll need to force yourself to learn these skills.  Overtime they’ll become a habit. Once they’re a habit they’ll become a part of your lifestyle.

The goal is to build new better habits everyday. Then soon you’ll be thinking like an engineer and increasing your productivity and bettering your life.

Which of these 6 skills do you think would be the most useful in your life? Also, what great life skill that you learned on your own do you most often suggest to others?

Author Bio: Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2019 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over a decade now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.


Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).


Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, and our history and future.

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