So, you’re wondering how to be an engineer? You’re in good company, as tons of aspiring engineers are asking the same question!
In this article, I’ll guide you through the steps to become a true master of your craft, and help you decide if engineering is really for you.
Now, I won’t bore you with the usual steps like getting a degree, working towards a PE license, or earning certifications. We all know that. Instead, let’s talk about what sets the great engineers apart from the average ones, and how you can level up your engineering game and maybe even become a 10x engineer.
#1 Know your material
If you’re into designing bridge foundations, for example, you’d better know everything there is to know about bridges. You don’t want to be caught off guard when someone starts throwing around bridge lingo. Remember, first impressions matter. When bidding on a bridge project, you need to confidently discuss potential designs with the customer, or they’ll dismiss you in a heartbeat.
To truly understand your field, consider these resources:
- Books: Read and absorb at least 10 textbooks in your niche, and you’ll stand out among the top 1%.
- History: Study case studies of designs in your niche to understand what separates good from bad design.
- Completed projects: Analyze implemented projects to learn effective design strategies.
- Google and ChatGPT: Browse cut sheets and forum posts to spark new ideas. The more info you gather, the more creative you’ll become as an engineer!
#2 Use logic in everything you do
Engineers are known for their logical thinking, often resembling machines. Emotions rarely interfere with an engineer’s decisions, and although that might drive your loved ones nuts, it’s a blessing in engineering. After all, you wouldn’t want the engineers designing the planes you fly in to play fast and loose with logic, right?
So, train yourself to think logically in all your work and double-check everything you do. If a software program spits out a result, don’t just accept it blindly. You might have entered incorrect values, or the program itself could be buggy.
Here are some tips to develop a more logical mindset:
- Solve problems: Tackle as many problems as you can. This forces you to dive deep into the theory and nuances of your subject matter.
- Confidence: Familiarize yourself with every aspect of your field to boost your confidence. In engineering, confidence is fueled by technical knowledge.
- Read: Explore technical subjects to grasp how other engineers think and make decisions.
#3 Always continue learning
Let me tell you, the real magic of learning happens outside the classroom. It’s this exhilarating, never-ending journey that isn’t shackled by letter grades or the dreary state of our engineering education system.
That’s why it’s so crucial to dive into a field you’re passionate about. When you do, you’ll eagerly crack open an electromagnetism textbook instead of zoning out with Call of Duty.
As I mentioned before, by devouring just 10 textbooks, you’ll skyrocket to the top 1% of your field. Trust me, way too many people settle for the bare minimum, learning just enough to snag that paycheck or grade. But that’s a one-way ticket to mediocrity, especially with the lightning-fast advancements in engineering.
Take Elon Musk, for instance. The guy didn’t waltz into a formal rocket engineering school. Nope, he crammed his brain with textbook knowledge and surrounded himself with the brightest rocket scientists to absorb their wisdom. Now look at him, leading SpaceX to make humans a multi-planetary species!
You can channel your inner Elon and maximize your learning with these resources:
- Internet: Feast on credible content and explore endless rabbit holes.
- Twitter: Stay in the loop with industry news from top experts. When a juicy topic pops up, dive deep with videos and books.
- Experts: Pick the brains of leading minds in your field to fill your knowledge gaps fast.
- Books: Devour textbooks, manuals, specs, digital books—you name it, read it!
#4 Question everything
Don’t just nod your head and accept solutions or facts blindly. Instead, unleash your inner detective and question everything, even if doubt only whispers in your ear.
I work with pricey engineering software all the time, but I never swallow the output results without chewing on them first. The outputs hinge on my inputs, and, let’s face it, software can have limitations or even bugs.
Maybe I punched in the wrong value, or another engineer handed me a wonky one.
It’s also vital to grasp the math behind engineering concepts. If you don’t, you might miss out on truly understanding the work. And when you hit a wall, go out and learn.
By being curious and questioning, you’ll learn loads and patch up your knowledge gaps. Plus, you’ll dodge those engineering blunders.
NASA’s epic failure
Back in 1998, they launched a $125 million space probe to Mars, only to lose it a year later. Why? Because of a simple unit conversion error. Yup, you heard that right – the engineers forgot to convert English to metric units when exchanging data. It sounds like a silly mistake, but it just goes to show that even the best engineers can mess up.
This little story is a perfect reminder to never be too shy to question things, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. Who knows, your stupid question might just save a multimillion-dollar project. Don’t be intimidated by the experience or titles of your colleagues; focus on the facts and speak up!
And while you’re at it, get curious about the world around you. Ask yourself how planes fly, how electric cars work, and why burning coal is bad for the planet. The more you question, the better you’ll get at it.
#5 Build people skills
Communication has become a lost art today.
Thinking rationally and working hard will only get you so far. To further level yourself up, build great communication skills. Especially for introverted engineers, having a clear and confident voice is crucial for success in the field.
The higher you move up in engineering too, the more diverse group of people you’ll work with. This includes people who don’t have a sliver of technical background. So you need to know how to dumb yourself down to relate with people of all backgrounds. While also avoiding the stereotype of speaking like a monotone robot.
I find most engineers have a wealth of knowledge and cool stories to tell. But, their personalities and skillset prevent them from properly expressing themselves.
To become a better communicator, give these tips a try:
- Engage in regular discussions: Chat with strangers about various topics to improve your conversation skills.
- Public speaking: Learn how to deliver captivating speeches.
- Step out of your comfort zone: Befriend people from all walks of life – it might be taxing for introverted engineers, but it’ll pay off.
- Simplify complex ideas: Get better at explaining intricate subjects in plain language that anyone can understand.
#6 Become Paranoid
As an engineer, the work you do often impacts public safety. Keeping this in mind, never let yourself get too comfortable. Double and triple-check everything, because, let’s face it, all engineers make mistakes—I’ve made my fair share of silly ones.
Nowadays, I’ve embraced a healthy paranoia, which helps me spot errors more efficiently. Over time, I’ve noticed that the number of mistakes I make has decreased, especially as I’ve incorporated more filters to catch them.
You might think I’m being overly cautious, but consider the ultra-vigilant engineers who design the airplanes we fly in. Their meticulous attention to every design detail allows us to soar over oceans in a metal tube with wings, feeling safe and secure.
A single error or overlooked design element can lead to catastrophic failure. As a professional, public safety must always be your top priority—engineering code of ethics aside.
To consistently deliver top-notch work:
- Check your work: Always double-check your work at every stage in the design process.
- Design review: Take your time reviewing designs. If you spot a problem, don’t hesitate to speak up. Better to delay a project by a month or two than face an angry client due to a failure—or worse, someone getting hurt or killed.
- Review with a fresh mind: After completing a design, revisit your work a few days later to remove any biases.
- Embrace criticism: Share your design with others for review, and don’t get defensive about criticism.
- Create processes: Develop a process for checking your design work. Make it foolproof so nothing slips through the cracks.
#7 Design for the real world
A lot of engineers spend their days cooped up in an office, cranking out designs based solely on textbook knowledge. That’s not ideal because most engineering products have to function in the real world.
To create the best designs, you need to apply real-world knowledge with all its complexities. Otherwise, your work won’t translate from paper to practice, and construction workers will think you’re an idiot.
That’s why I always stress the importance of hands-on experience over formal education.
For instance, when designing electrical systems, we drive 8-foot copper-clad steel rods into the ground for ground fault protection. Textbooks and the National Electric Code suggest installing the top of ground rods flush with grade, but I often require the top to be 1 foot below grade.
Why? Because if the ground rod top is flush with grade, it can become a tripping hazard during rainy seasons when the soil erodes. It can also pose a danger for passing vehicles.
The takeaway? Don’t just rely on textbooks. Many authors lack real-world experience. To be a better engineer, build a strong foundation in both theory and hands-on experience. Here’s what I suggest:
- Go outside: Visit job sites and observe construction. You’ll learn why certain design elements frustrate construction workers and what works in the real world.
- Watch smart content: Tune into engineering and construction shows on the Discovery channel or YouTube to find topics that interest you.
- Speak with others: Talk to consumers and construction workers to gain a better understanding of your product.
“How to be an engineer?” wrap up
And there you have it! Follow these 7 simple tips, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming an amazing engineer. Heck, you might even turn into a superstar engineer.
Not only will you create safer and cooler designs, but you’ll also gain the trust and respect of your coworkers and clients.
But wait, there’s more! Apply those engineering skills to your everyday life, and you’ll be a rockstar all around.
What’s your favorite tip on how to be an amazing engineer? What do you think it takes to join the ranks of the superstar engineers?
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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 well over 15 years 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, sports, fitness, and our history and future.