How to improve as an engineer? Hone your technical, business, and customer skills to become the ultimate engineering Swiss army knife.
Get ready for 10 awesome tips to supercharge your career, leading to:
- Higher pay
- A job you’re stoked about
- Spearheading thrilling projects
- Reducing slip-ups
- Becoming a maestro in your field
#1 Be a mind reader for your customers
Every customer has unique needs, and your mission (if you’re up for it) is to decipher what they truly want, dazzle them, and win their loyalty.
To do this, make sure to:
- Examine project scopes like a detective
- Ask about the end goal of projects
- Use your expertise to assess project scopes and ask questions when needed
- Combine technical know-how with empathy
Think of it like making the perfect pizza. You need to know their favorite toppings and let them choose. If they’re unsure, be their friendly guide and explain the options.
#2 Improve your communication skills
Being an engineer isn’t an excuse for lousy social skills. You gotta talk and write effectively, or your colleagues and customers might just roll their eyes at you.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve dealt with introverted engineers who spoke like robots. It’s like pulling teeth, and nobody enjoys it.
So, learn to chat casually, as if you’re just hanging out with a friend. Sure, there’s a time for formalities, but they don’t launch rockets. Exceptional engineering and clear communication do.
To boost your communication chops, check out these articles:
- 12 engineering writing tips you need to know
- Engineering writing style guide – 6 things to know
- 12 ways to improve public speaking skills for engineers
#3 Never stop learning and learn at lightning speed
With technology racing ahead, you can’t afford to pump the brakes on learning, or you’ll be left eating dust. Worse, you might design an obsolete, unsafe product.
Staying fired up and eager for knowledge is essential. It starts with a passion for your field, but also remember to:
- Seek out the latest industry info
- Fit studying into your busy life
- Cut out distractions for better learning sessions
- Embrace constructive criticism
Moreover, learn to work like a well-oiled machine, simplifying and maximizing your learning. For extra tips, dive into my 22 secrets on studying engineering subjects like a pro.
#4 Morph into a hybrid engineer/manager
Don’t be the engineer who’s all about the technical side and crunching numbers. You don’t need a manager’s title to dip your toes into the business side of projects.
Have you ever wondered how some engineers shoot up the ladder to tech lead roles or even kickstart their own companies? At the same time, they sidestep the danger of becoming a replaceable cog in the corporate machine.
Broadening your skillset is the key to unlocking your full potential.
Think of LeBron James: if he were just an amazing dunker, he’d have been a one-trick pony out of the league in his late 20s. But since he’s also a fantastic rebounder, passer, versatile player, and even a coach, he’ll keep playing into his 40s.
To evolve into a hybrid engineer/manager, take these steps:
- Grill your boss and/or clients with questions
- Chat up your colleagues about project components—don’t hide behind your desk
- Take the reins in group tasks
- Own your assigned work completely
- Offer insights on projects beyond your scope
Remember, it takes a village to wrap up a massive engineering project, and business decisions often pave the way. So, don’t just learn the moves of a pawn in the chess game of engineering.
#5 Master the art of Googling
Everyone uses Google and ChatGPT, but not everyone can swiftly sift through the ocean of content and separate the wheat from the chaff.
As crazy as it sounds, becoming a Master Online Searcher is crucial. It’ll help you find exactly what you need and connect with incredible folks online.
Here are some handy info sources to ace your search game:
- Vendors: check out vendor websites for products, or reach out to local reps with questions, or download and read product specs.
- Forums: look for industry-specific forums to seek information (just make sure to double-check with trustworthy sources).
- Twitter: follow influential people in your industry to stay in the loop on the latest trends.
- Contacts: track down and connect with relevant industry professionals.
- Articles: discover and devour articles on topics within your industry and beyond.
#6 Hustle hard and embrace challenges
To unlock your full potential as an engineer, you’ve gotta hustle like there’s no tomorrow. It’s hard work, particularly when you’re the one making the final calls.
It goes without saying, you should welcome challenges and tough times—they’re what help you grow and morph into a better engineer.
I’ve seen loads of naturally gifted engineers who refuse to go the extra mile and end up as just average engineers. It’s like Michael Jordan—his extraordinary athletic talents wouldn’t have meant much without his insane work ethic.
Plus, if you don’t push your boundaries, you won’t activate your creative brain. Only when you’re in the engineering trenches can you truly stretch your creativity to the max. After all, your reputation is on the line!
#7 Build unbreakable confidence
Confidence is one of your most vital tools. As you take on greater responsibilities as an engineer, you’ll need more of it. Here’s why:
- More people will question you, accompanied by endless critics
- Many people will come after your position
- Every decision you make requires convincing and supporting arguments
Building solid confidence starts with smarts. You need to know your technical subject like the back of your hand. In engineering, decisions are all about logic.
When you know a design will or won’t work, you gain unwavering belief in yourself. For instance, if you design a structure that can handle 2X the structural load of the original design, others might argue that it’s wrong and too costly.
Instead of backing down, stand your ground—passionately yet practically. Maybe the other engineers are wrong. If you let them steamroll you, their decision could lead to structural failure.
#8 Stay humble and welcome constructive criticism
A sour attitude won’t get you anywhere in life. No one will want to hang out with you, let alone help you.
Now, I’m not telling you to be a pushover. Remember, confidence and speaking up are vital. But, know when to swallow your pride and wave that white flag.
And hey, don’t have a meltdown when someone points out your mistakes. Even 10x engineers mess up. Embracing criticism leads to:
- Being open to feedback, making you a team player
- Speeding up your learning
- Boosting your engineering skills and creativity
This becomes extra important when you’re juggling a bunch of projects. Naturally, you might overlook a detail or two. But the end goal is always to deliver a flawless product.
Over the years, I’ve learned that taking criticism is an art. Technical discussions aren’t battles. At the end of the day, the laws of physics always win, not humans.
#9 Keep things simple
Creating complexity? Meh. Bringing simplicity? That’s both a skill and an art. This goes for all engineering fields.
Simplicity often leads to:
- Easier product maintenance
- Increased reliability
- More affordable construction/manufacturing
Though, making things simple isn’t always easy. You can throw everything but the kitchen sink at a project to complete a design. But at what cost?…
Beware of over-engineering. As Einstein said:
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”
To become a simplicity whiz, unleash your creativity and check out my articles:
#10 Feed your passion
If you’re passionate about engineering, you’re already miles ahead of others. Passion lets you:
- Solve problems efficiently
- Progress in your career without needing external motivation
- Become an inspiring leader
- Breeze through the inevitable engineering bullshit
Some engineers live and breathe their craft, while others barely cling on. For the latter, passion often gets drained by a lousy job. To fight this, change positions, switch jobs, or start your own business.
“How to Improve as an Engineer?” wrap up
Anyone can level up as an engineer, but sadly, too many engineers don’t reach their full potential for one reason or another. So, when someone asks me, “How can I improve as an engineer?”, I shoot back with, “How much are you willing to sacrifice?”
The cool part is, when you love what you do, sacrifice doesn’t even cross your mind. But even without being head over heels for engineering, you can still improve by adopting some of the tips we’ve discussed.
What are your thoughts on how to improve as an engineer? What’s the best way to level up your engineering skills?
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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.