7 Top Engineering Skills to Use in Your Everyday Life

The top engineering skills translate over perfectly to everyday life. Without these skills, we wouldn’t have the many luxuries we all enjoy today.

Maybe we’d still all ride horses and travel on sailboats as we did centuries ago.

So yes, engineers have a unique set of skills that set them apart from most people. I hope so anyway. Engineers design the bridges we cross, planes we fly in, cars we drive, and the list goes on.

This is why I want to show you the power of the top engineering skills and how they can improve your life. This might sound off the wall, but let me explain.

First, take a look at the below questions. If you answer ‘yes’ to any of them, then continue reading.

  • Do you want to become more productive?
  • Do you want to increase your chance of success?
  • Would you like to increase your happiness?

I’m going to go over 7 top engineering skills I find most important. As an engineer myself, I know what great engineers do. So, I chose only the top engineering skills to share.

For each skill, I’m going to discuss how it’s used in engineering. Then, how you can apply the skill in your everyday life.

If you can pick up even a couple of these skills, your life will improve. Let’s get started.

1) Pay close attention to details

In the Engineering World

Not all types of engineering work, but most, can endanger the public. For example, when I size an underground 12,470-volt cable, I make sure I properly size it.

The cable needs to safely carry the rated current of the load it’s connected to. If I undersize the cable, I could cause an explosion.

The explosion could damage equipment and even injure or kill people. It’s not a game where a redo button exists.

So in engineering, you need to be very detail-oriented. Every stage of a design requires your close attention.

Otherwise, the entire project becomes a huge liability. And then, lawyers get involved. This is what you want to avoid at all costs.

Even more, I like to compare the liability of engineers to doctors. When a surgeon makes a mistake, one person gets hurt. But in engineering, a mistake could hurt hundreds of people at once.

Again, this is why you NEED to be very detailed oriented in your work. You leave no stone unturned in a design.

NASA catastrophe due to lack of attention

NASA launch success rate

NASA launch success rate 1

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

As a result, the engineering team used the units of pounds of force instead of newtons. My mind is still blown by the simplicity of this error.

But, in engineering, the wrong units will make or break your design. Even safety factors won’t help you with unit errors.

And I know in NASA, the goal is never to almost reach Mars. You want to safely orbit Mars.

The takeaway is to pay CLOSE attention to details. Make this a habit and you’ll make fewer mistakes.

Kind of like when you check your rearview mirror every time you go reverse in your car. You turn your head and look all around. You want to be sure you won’t hit anything or anyone.

In short, you need this skill to become a great engineer. Great engineering happens in the details.

In the Real World

I’m not saying to become OCD. Rather be more observant. In other words, take extra time to review things.

For example, imagine a new home bill you receive in the mail. Don’t simply open the bill and pay it without checking the charges.

Review the charges in detail. Are the charges accurate?

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 period ends is important. Small details matter as mistakes happen and people try to con you.

What’s more, computers today do a lot of computing and data management for us. They’re lifesavers.

But, it’s a mistake to blindly rely on computers. A wrong human input or poor program will output the wrong values. For this reason, I always review the outputs from computers in anything I do.

2) Plan and organize your activities

In the Engineering World

A lot goes into starting and completing an engineering project design. First, you need to fully understand the client’s scope of work.

Next, figure out the details of the project scope. Thereafter, you create a plan of attack for your design.

The plan of attack includes all the types of engineers who will work on the project. For example, civil, structural, and electrical.

Then, depending on the project, certain engineering disciplines will begin their work first. In building a bridge, for instance, environmental engineers start first.

They’ll inspect the area to review the impact of a newly added bridge. Next, geotechnical engineers will analyze the area’s soil.

The soil analysis will help structural engineers design the bridge foundation. Then so on and so forth.

In the end, I would come in as an electrical engineer to design lights, generators, and any other circuitry.

Clearly, a formula exists for staging a project. Think of it like falling dominos.

Without following certain steps, projects become delayed. Even more, a project budget may balloon and design quality could suffer.

In the Real World

Plan your day. Create 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 on my phone. As I think of new things too, I add to my list.

I also have monthly and yearly to-do lists. This gives me something to shoot for in the long term.

Having clear plans of action help me stay focused. For example, if I’m looking to make a new investment by the end of 2020, I’ll need to plan ahead.

I need to save a certain amount of money. Also, I need to network to find deals. So, my monthly goals include activities to help me reach these year-end goals.

And just as important, my to-do lists don’t just include business goals. I include fitness, family, and spiritual goals as well.

In short, to-do lists give structure to your life. They help you stay on the path to reaching your goals.

3) Always keep a healthy level of paranoia in your life

In the Engineering World

When I design a large complex project, I become extra paranoid. I triple check my calculations and design work. I want to avoid any and all mistakes.

Large complex projects have high liability. And, you’ll have more critiquing eyes on your work.

That said, I always want my completed designs to simply work in the real world. Also, I want my designs to remain in budget and be easy to construct.

Thus, in the design process, I review all the project details closely. I make sure I’ve come up with the best design approach.

Then, I check my work against the work of other engineers in the project. I make this check at various stages in the project too. This way, I can catch any conflicts in the design before they become problems.

I find this especially important when I’m juggling many projects at once. When your mind is being pulled in many directions, mistakes are more likely to happen.

I find this level of paranoia healthy in engineering. It keeps you on your toes and helps you deliver quality products every time.

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.

I once bought a short sale home that had mold behind the sheetrock in the master bedroom. Before closing on the home, I had an inspector inspect the home.

He didn’t spot the mold. But his inspection didn’t sit well with me, as I thought he didn’t investigate deep enough.

So, because of my paranoia, I brought my handyman friend over the day after. Together we both inspected the problem area.

My suspicions were right. We found a lot of mold behind the sheetrock.

Even with the mold, the home still was a great investment. But if I hadn’t found the mold, this investment could have turned into a nightmare in the future.

My point is, PAY ATTENTION!

Further to help you, I’ve listed some instances where paranoia is necessary:

  • Contractor inspection: don’t blindly accept a contractor’s word. Go inspect the completed work yourself. Check if everything looks good.
  • 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 something: crunch the numbers yourself. Review the calculations. 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, don’t risk using it. Instead, use a new gas tank to avoid an explosion.

Also, paranoia will indirectly make you more confident too. 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 and how something works.

This carries over to when I run studies using engineering software. I never blindly accept the output results. I want to understand how the software computes the calculations.

For example, I do cable ampacity studies for projects that use high voltage cables. I want to see how much current 230,000-volt cables can carry in the real world.

As background, cable data exists that shows you how much current a given cable size can carry. But, the data doesn’t include the many other variables that exist in the real world.

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

For example, here are real-world considerations for each cable:

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

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

So, when I receive study output results, 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.

Does the software show the cable’s current increases in the metallic versus the PVC conduit? If no, then I have a problem.

Metal makes a great conductor. So, a metallic conduit will transfer heat better than a PVC conduit. PVC makes a bad conductor given it’s a lightweight plastic.

So, if all variables remain constant in both case studies, then I know the software made a mistake. Or maybe, I made a wrong input into the software.

In the real world

Imagine your landscaper tells you it’ll cost $5,000 to add turf to your backyard. Something seems off to you though about his quote.

In this instance, you shouldn’t blindly accept his quote. Ask your landscaper these questions:

  1. What’s the cost and quality of the turf you’ll be using?
  2. What’s the square footage of the area you’ll be adding turf to?
  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?

These questions will help you determine the legitimacy of your quote.

The doctor visit dilemma

Even more, 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.

I’ve noticed in America today, patients in most instances don’t get ideal care. I get it.

Doctors are a byproduct of the medical industry mixed with today’s insurance system. Thus, many doctors give general advice and rush patient visits.

Plus, doctors don’t address the root problem of illnesses most times. Rather, they patch problems with pills.

Thus, do your research at home. Then enter back into your doctor’s office with your questions. Ask the doctor “Why?” when they give you a response.

If the Doctor can’t answer your questions, go find a new doctor. Get two or three opinions.

This is a great skill to have. Not only will you save money but you’ll stay healthier.

5) Always remain relentless and don’t quit

In the Engineering World

Engineers are stubborn. We always think solutions exist for all problems. When the client says “jump,” we ask “how high?”

As long as problems stay inside the laws of physics, then we believe solutions exist. That said,  I’ve designed projects with many limitations.

Limitations sourced from physical space all the way to budget. I’ve always found solutions after a lot of head-scratching.

All in all, most problems have solutions. The trick is to not quit too soon. You need to tackle problems from all angles using creativity.

To illustrate, think of how a metallic tube holding 200 plus people flies over oceans. Imagine if the Wright Brothers had quit the first time they crashed a plane.

We would maybe still be traveling by ship in month-long journeys from Europe to New York. Ironically today, we complain about one-hour flight delays.

Plane flying over ocean

In the Real World

The best things in life take effort. Most of the time we’re standing near the finish line when we quit.

Imagine you quit something you loved. But later you found out you only needed one last push. Would you still have quit?

Let’s go over some examples of quitting 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. Applying to better jobs became difficult after the tenth rejection, so you quit.
  4. You quit on your marriage after 6 months without discussing your problems together.

This list can endlessly continue. My point is, before you quit, properly evaluate the situation. Don’t quit because the work takes too much effort.

In short, most every worthwhile thing we do in life requires effort. And a lot of heartaches in life come from quitting too early.

Just like in engineering, most life problems have solutions. The trick is to push through the difficult stages. These challenges are what make life worthwhile.

And frankly, life is a string of challenges.

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

In the Engineering World

Engineers think differently than most people. Also, engineers heavily rely on math and science subjects.

In other words, engineers rely on logic. So, if calculations show a cable can only carry 200 amps, then that’s your final answer.

No voodoo magic exists that can increase the amps this cable can carry. If you increase the amps, the cable will overheat and possibly cause a fire.

This is where the rational thought of engineers comes from. Engineers seldom allow their emotions to dictate their decisions.

A wrong decision could kill people.

Emotions always take a backseat to logic in design work. And yes, emotions can help create beautiful designs. I know. But, the added beauty only comes after you think through the engineering.

For example, aerospace engineers don’t design block-shaped planes because it’d be cool. The engineering for this would be near impossible.

You first figure out the most aerodynamic design to battle the laws of physics. Then, in the end, you add the beauty touches.

You don’t allow excitement or frustrations to overtake good design practices. And this brings us to our next question.

Are all emotions bad?

No. Certain emotions will help you. Paranoia for example will make you more cautious, helping you deliver quality designs.

So, emotions have their place. But most emotions need to take a backseat to rational thinking. A rational mind is what allows us to safely fly from New York to France.

I’m 100% certain you don’t want a team of recently divorced people designing your next plane. This will more than likely lead to a disaster.

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

In the real world

Many examples exist for using rational thinking in the real world. In fact, irrational thinking is what causes the most problems in the world today.

So, if you want to make better decisions, start thinking more rationally.

Here are several examples where you absolutely need to think rationally:

1) Buying a house: you either can afford the home or you can’t. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the home looks. The mortgage payments will not 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 the relationship. It doesn’t matter how much you think the other person loves you. You don’t hurt the people you love.

But keep in mind, 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 is priceless. You help the people who gave you life and raised you.

In this case, you review your finances. If you can help your parents without hurting financially yourself, then you do so.

7) Creativity

In the Engineering World

I’ve shown how rational thinking rules in engineering. For example, you need to think rationally to design a plane and computer.

But also, great engineers are incredibly creative. You need an imaginative mind to think of outside the box solutions.

I compare a creative mind to a Swiss Army Knife. You can hack any problem to find many solutions.

Many people don’t know that engineers are very creative. A lot of it comes from constant exposure to different problems and solutions.

As an extreme example, imagine the first airplane. Birds inspired the wings on them.

So, we became creative and designed planes to fulfill our desire to fly.

In summary, combining creativity with rational thinking, you’ll become an unstoppable engineering machine. This is one of the most important engineering skills to have.

In the real world

You’re getting ready to throw a party. You want to bake your favorite cake recipe.

But, several hours before your party you realize there’s a problem.  You find out you’re missing several important ingredients.

You don’t stress though. Instead, you use your creative mind to improvise.

You mix and mash various ingredients you find in your fridge. You’re inspired by recipes you’ve seen on the Food Channel.

In the end, none of your guests can even tell you created an awesome cake recipe from scratch.

My point is, not only shouldn’t you quit, but learn to flex your creativity muscle. You’ll get in the habit of solving problems faster and cheaper.

The best engineering skills that’ll transform your life

Many people think of engineers as dull and boring. But, engineers are the ones who have given us so many cool things we love and adore.

So, you can’t go wrong by picking up engineering skills. These skills sent rockets into space, so they can certainly help improve your life.

They’ll make you more productive and increase your chances of success. Even more, they’ll lead you to more happiness.

So, do your best to adopt as many of these engineering skills as possible in your everyday life. You can’t go wrong!

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

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