7 Top Engineering Skills to Use in Your Everyday Life

The top engineering skills translate over perfectly to everyday life. So much so, they’ll greatly improve the quality of your life.

Because not surprisingly, engineers have a unique skill set. They design the bridges we cross, planes we fly in, and cars we drive. And as an engineer myself, I’m going to discuss the 7 top engineering skills and why they’re important. Then, I’ll show you how to improve your everyday life by using these skills.

#1 Become super detail-oriented

In the Engineering World

The work in many fields of engineering endangers the public. For example, when I size an underground 12,470-volt cable, it needs to carry the rated current of its load. If I undersize the cable, it can explode damaging equipment, or even hurting people.

So engineering requires you to be very detail-oriented. Otherwise, an entire project becomes a huge liability. And unlike a surgeon, an engineer’s mistake won’t only hurt one person. A mistake can affect an entire village.

To further hammer home the importance of detail-orientedness, let’s go over a NASA example.

NASA catastrophe due to lack of attention

The below graph and chart show NASA’s mission success rate. And the failures are no surprise, given the advanced engineering NASA does. But one particular mission failure stands out the most.

NASA launch success rate

NASA launch success rate 1

In 1999, NASA lost a $125 million Mars orbiter. Because mistakenly, both the metric and U.S. units were used, by two different engineering teams. This simple mistake derailed the entire project.

In engineering, the wrong units can make or break your design. Even safety factors won’t help you with unit errors. And with NASA, the goal wasn’t to almost reach Mars but to orbit Mars.

In the Real World

I’m not saying to become OCD. Rather be more observant and take extra time to review things. For example, review your credit card bills looking for errors. Don’t quickly pay them off. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught mistakes in bills. Sometimes there’s a miscalculation, and other times I find transactions I don’t recognize.

Even more, don’t blindly rely on computers. A wrong human input or a poorly written program will output wrong results. So AWAYS do reality checks on computer results to see if they make sense.

#2 Plan and organize your activities

In the Engineering World

A lot of planning goes into starting an engineering design project. The following is a shortlist:

  1. Understanding a client’s scope of work
  2. Gathering project information
  3. Creating a preliminary design
  4. Reviewing the preliminary design with the client
  5. Gathering missing information to execute the full design

Then when design begins, there’s endless coordination required. For example, with a bridge design, environmental engineers get the ball rolling. They inspect the project area to analyze the impact of a new bridge. Next, geotechnical engineers analyze the soil. The soil analysis then helps the structural engineers design the bridge foundation. Then so on and so forth.

So, a clear-cut formula exists for completing projects. And if you skip steps, projects get delayed, budgets balloon up, and mistakes happen.

In the Real World

Plan your day by creating daily to-do lists for yourself.

Daily to do list template - most profitable skills to learn

I always create my daily to-do list the day before. Then, I add to my list as new tasks strike me. Also, I create monthly and yearly to-do lists for my long-term goals. This keeps me super focused.

For example, if I want to make an investment by the end of 2021, I need to plan ahead. I need to save money and network to find deals.

Just as important, include fitness, family, and spiritual goals in your to-do lists. This will help give structure to your entire life.

#3 Always keep a healthy level of paranoia 

In the Engineering World

When I design large complex projects, I become extra paranoid. I triple-check my calculations and design work to avoid any and all mistakes. Because large complex projects have high liability with many critiquing eyes.

So high levels of paranoia are healthy in engineering. It keeps you on your toes and helps you deliver awesome work every time. In fact, every 10x engineer I know is paranoid whether overtly or covertly.

In the real world

With today’s fast-paced life, you need a healthy level of paranoia. It’ll help you slow life down to make better decisions. To illustrate, let me tell you about the time I bought a short-sale home.

Back in the 2008 Great Recession, I found an awesome deal on a short-sale home. And like every sane home buyer, I had an inspector inspect the home. He said the home had no issues.

I questioned his inspection though because I’m naturally paranoid. Something just seemed off with the sheetrock in the kitchen. So I had my handyman friend take a look. And guess what, my suspicions were spot on. We found mold spread everywhere.

I still bought the home because it was such a great deal. But the home purchase could have easily turned into a nightmare. The point is, PAY ATTENTION!

As an added tip, I find paranoia to be important in the following instances:

  • Contractor inspections: don’t blindly accept a contractor’s word. Go and inspect their completed work yourself looking for busts.
  • Cash exchange: when someone gives you cash or change at a grocery store, count the money. Cashiers make mistakes.
  • Sent emails: if someone or business tells you they never received your email, don’t take their word. Check your email outbox yourself to verify.
  • Financing purchases: crunch the financing numbers yourself. Check if the numbers make sense to you.
  • Safety issues: when you dropped your barbecue gas tank, was it damaged? If you think it was, then don’t risk using it. Instead, use a new gas tank to avoid an explosion.

What’s more, paranoia will indirectly increase your confidence. Because you’ll prevent others from taking advantage of you.

#4 Be curious

In the Engineering World

Engineers by nature are a curious group. This curiosity then leads to creativity, which you see all around you.  Think of the insanely shaped high-rise buildings, smartphones, video games, and so much more.

So when I run engineering computer studies, I never blindly accept the results. For example, with a high voltage cable ampacity study, I always stay curious about the results.

Underground bore with high voltage cables inside - constant questioning is a best skills to learn
Pipe section view with 8 high voltage cables inside.

As background, every cable has a rating showing how much current it can carry. But, the rating doesn’t include many real-world variables. For example, the following:

  • Is the cable near other cables?
  • What conduit type is the cable inside of?
  • What’s the soil type and temperature around the cable?
  • How much load does the cable need to carry?

Each of these questions affects how hot the cable will get. And the hotter the cable gets, the less current it can carry.

So, with any software outputs, I check to see if the results make sense. I call it a ‘reality check.’ For instance, imagine two case studies. One where the cable is inside a PVC conduit, and another where the cable is inside a metallic conduit.

Now, does the software show the cable’s current increases in the metallic versus the PVC conduit? If not, then there’s a problem as metal is a great conductor. So, a metallic conduit will transfer heat better than a PVC conduit. Because PVC is a poor conductor given it’s made from lightweight plastic.

In the real world

Say your landscaper tells you it’ll cost $5,000 to add turf to your backyard. In this instance, you shouldn’t blindly accept the quote. Instead, ask your landscaper the following questions:

  • What’s the cost and quality of the turf you’ll use?
  • What’s the square footage of the area you’ll add turf to?
  • Does your cost include grading the existing area?
  • How much are you charging to dispose of waste materials?
  • Is the $5,000 quote a fixed cost?
  • What’s your experience with this type of backyard design?

These questions will lead you to a nice backyard without burning a hole in your wallet.

#5 Always remain relentless and never quit

In the Engineering World

Engineers are stubborn and I can’t sugarcoat it. We think solutions exist for every problem. And when a client says “jump,” we ask “how high?” Of course, as long as problems stay within the laws of physics.

I find if you do enough head-scratching, you’ll eventually find solutions. The trick is to not quit too soon and to keep your creativity cap on.

To illustrate, think of a metallic tube holding 250 plus people flying over oceans. Now, imagine the Wright Brothers quitting pursuing flying machines after the first crash. We’d still maybe be traveling by ship in month-long journeys from Europe to New York. Crazy, right?!

Plane flying over ocean

In the Real World

Most of the time, we’re near the finish line when we quit. And if most people knew this, they wouldn’t quit. The following are examples of quitting too early:

  • You quit college when you had 1 quarter left before graduation.
  • You quit your diet 2 weeks before it turned into a habit.
  • Applying to better jobs became difficult after the tenth rejection, so you quit. Your colleague then found a new job on the eleventh attempt.
  • You quit your marriage after 6 months without discussing problems with your spouse.

This list can go on and on. The point is, before you quit, properly evaluate the situation. Don’t just quit because the work takes too much effort. Almost everything worthwhile in life takes effort. And like in engineering, most life problems have solutions.

#6 Think rationally and don’t let your emotions get the better of you

In the Engineering World

Engineers think differently than most people by using A LOT of logic. But this is no surprise, given how heavily engineers rely on math and science.

As an example, if a calculation shows a cable can only carry 200 amps, then this is the final answer. No voodoo magic exists to increase the ampacity of the cable. And if you do increase the cable’s load, it’ll overheat and possibly cause a fire.

These fires, or any failures, further drive engineers to rely on logic. In fact, engineers seldom allow their emotions to dictate their decisions. Because a wrong decision could hurt or even kill people.

To point out, emotions can help you create beautiful designs. But, the added beauty only comes after the drawn-out engineering process. For example, aerospace engineers don’t design block-shaped airplanes because they’d look cool. First, you figure out the most aerodynamic design using the laws of physics. Only thereafter, you add the beauty touches. And this brings us to our next question.

Are all emotions bad?

No. Certain emotions are helpful. For example, paranoia will make you more cautious. In return, you’ll deliver better designs.

So, emotions do have their place. But most emotions need to take a backseat to rational thinking. Because a rational mind is what allows you to safely fly from New York to France. I’m 100% certain you don’t want a team of recently divorced distressed people designing your airplane.

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

In the real world

It’s not surprising how irrational thinking causes many problems. So, if you want to make better decisions, start thinking more rationally. The following are several examples where you absolutely need to think rationally:

1) Buying a house: you either can afford a home or you can’t. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the home looks either. The mortgage payments won’t decrease because you found your dream home.

2) Eating healthy after a heart attack: it doesn’t matter how delicious food looks. If your doctor says to avoid certain foods, then do so. Your heart doesn’t care how tasty a Twinkie is over broccoli.

3) Abusive relationship: if you’re in an abusive relationship, then leave. It doesn’t matter how much you think the other person loves you. You don’t hurt the people you love.

BUT, cases do exist where you blend rational thinking with emotions. For example, helping your parents when they need money. From a financial lens, it’s not the rational thing to do. But the benefit to me at least is priceless. You help the people who gave you life and raised you.

#7 Become insanely creative

In the Engineering World

As we learned in #6, rational thinking is a prerequisite to becoming an engineer. But just as important is creativity. Creativity allows for outside-the-box solutions engineers are well-known for.

I compare a creative mind to a Swiss Army Knife. You can single-handedly hack and solve any problem. To illustrate, let’s go back to our airplane example. Many don’t know this, but birds inspired airplanes. According to Airbus,

Airbus’ “Bird of Prey” conceptual airliner is inspired by the eagle. The theoretical design is a hybrid-electric, turbo-propeller aircraft for regional air transportation, which mimics the eagle’s wing and tail structure, and features individually controlled feathers that provide active flight control.

So, we became creative and designed planes to fulfill our desire to fly. And this combination of creativity and rational thinking creates rockstar engineers.

In the real world

You’re getting ready to throw a party and you want to bake your favorite cake recipe. But several hours before your party, you realize there’s a big problem.  You’re missing several important ingredients.

You don’t stress though. Instead, you use your creativity to improvise. You mix and mash various ingredients you find in your fridge. And in the end, none of your guests can tell you created an awesome cake recipe from scratch.

The point is, always be ready to flex your creativity muscle. In return, no problem will ever seem impossible.

The top engineering skills for everyday life wrap  up 

Hollywood stereotypes paint engineers as dull and boring. But the reality is much different. In fact, you can learn A LOT from engineers.

I believe if a given set of skills can send rockets into space, they can for sure improve your personal life. So do your best to adopt as many of these engineering skills as you possibly can.

Which of these 7 top engineering skills do you think would most benefit your life? Which engineering skills do you think best translate over to everyday life? 

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