10 Ways on How to Improve as an Engineer

There are 10 actions to take on how to improve as an engineer. With the improvements including technical, business, and customer skills.

In return, you’ll obtain the following in your career:

  • Higher pay
  • A position you’re passionate about
  • Ability to lead challenging projects
  • Ability to limit mistakes
  • Mastery of your craft

#1 Understand what your customer wants

Each customer has differing demands. While your job is to figure out your customer’s unique demands, to better serve them, and gain their trust.

To make this happen, do the following:

  • Review project scopes in detail
  • Inquire about the final objective of projects
  • Use your experience to review the completeness of project scopes and ask questions if necessary
  • Have a strong technical understanding of project scopes while having empathy

Similarly, you can’t make someone the perfect pizza if you don’t know their favorite toppings. So, offer the best topping choices and allow your customer to choose. If they’re unsure, kindly explain the different topping choices to them.

#2 Improve your communication skills

Being an engineer isn’t a pass to have horrible social skills. You need to be able to properly speak and write. Otherwise, your colleagues and customers may not take you seriously.

I can’t count how many times I’ve worked with introverted engineers who spoke to me like robots. To top it off, I had to pull words out of their mouths. This makes it uncomfortable for everyone.

So learn casual communication, as if you’re speaking with your buddy. And yes, I know all about formalities. But, formalities don’t launch rockets into space. Rather, great engineering and clear communication do.

To help improve your communication, check out my following articles:

#3 Continue learning and learn fast

constantly learning to become a better engineer

With rapidly changing technology, you can never quit learning, or you’ll fall behind. Or even worse, you may design an obsolete and unsafe product.

So self-motivation and a desire for ongoing education are essential. This starts with being passionate about a topic, but it’s also important to:

  • Know where to search to find the latest information in your industry
  • Learn how to manage your time to fit studying into your schedule
  • Gain the ability to cut out distractions to optimize learning sessions
  • Leave yourself open for constructive criticism

Even more, learn how to work like a machine to simplify and maximize your learning. Then check out my 22 tips on how to study engineering subjects.

#4 Become a hybrid engineer/manager

Don’t become another engineer who only crunches numbers, and is 100% focused on technical work. You don’t need a manager title to touch the business side of projects. How do you think engineers move up from technical to managerial roles or start companies?

At the same time, don’t become a replaceable cog in your company’s machine. Not only will your breadth of knowledge not expand, but you’ll never reach your full potential.

Imagine if Lebron James was only a great dunker. He’d be a one-dimensional player who’d be out of the league in his late 20s. But since he can also rebound, pass, play positionless basketball, and coach, he’ll play past his 40s.

To become a hybrid engineer/manager, do the following:

  • Ask questions to your boss and/or client
  • Discuss project elements with your colleagues – don’t hide behind a desk
  • Take lead in group work
  • Take full responsibility for your assigned work
  • Provide input on projects beyond your work scope

It takes a village to complete a large engineering project, with business decisions leading the way. And like in the game of chess, don’t just learn how pawns move.

#5 Become a pro-Googler

searching for solutions using google search

Everyone uses Google and now ChatGPT. But not everyone can quickly parse through an endless sea of good and bad content.

As ridiculous as it may sound, you need to become a Master Online Searcher. It’s an invaluable skill to find what you need and to connect with amazing people online.

The following are useful sources of information to know how to search for:

  • Vendors: search vendor websites for products. Or, find a local rep to ask your questions to, or download and read product cut sheets.
  • Forums: find relevant forums in your industry, to search for information. Of course, verify the information you read with reputable sources.
  • Twitter: find prominent people in your industry to follow, to stay on top of the latest trends.
  • Contacts: find relevant industry people to connect with.
  • Articles: find and read articles on subjects in your industry and beyond.

#6 Work hard and don’t run from challenges

You need to bust your ass to maximize your potential as an engineer. Because it’s hard work, especially if you’re on the front lines making the final decisions.

It goes without saying, you need to accept the challenges and difficulties. They’ll help you grow and become a better engineer.

I know many innately talented engineers who don’t go the extra mile to level up. In return, they default to being average engineers. A great comparison is with Michael Jordan.

Jordan had all the athletic gifts an athlete could ever wish for. But without his relentless hard work, he would just have been another uber-athletic NBA player.

What’s more, if you don’t challenge yourself, you won’t trigger your creative mind. It’s only when you’re on the front lines in engineering, can you flex your creativity to the full extent. Because your neck is on the line!

#7 Build unbreakable confidence

Confidence is one of your most important tools. And the greater responsibilities you take on as an engineer, the more confidence you’ll need. I say this for the following reasons:

  • 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

Now, building great confidence begins with smarts. You need to know your technical subject like the back of your hand. Especially, since in engineering, decisions are all logic-based.

When you know a design will or won’t work, you gain the utmost belief in yourself. For example, say you design a structure, which can handle 2X the structural load as the original design. Other engineers may then say your design is incorrect and it’ll cost additional millions of dollars.

Instead of bowing out, you vehemently yet pragmatically push back, without giving any ground. Because maybe the other engineers are wrong. If you let them walk over you, their decision may lead to structural failure.

#8 Be humble and embrace constructive criticism

team work in engineering and accepting constructive criticism

A horrible attitude won’t get you far in any walk of life. No one will want to be around you or help you.

I’m not saying to become submissive. As we learned, confidence and speaking up are important. But, you need to know when to raise the white flag in defeat.

Equally important, don’t freak out when someone points out your mistakes. Even 10x engineers make mistakes. The benefits of having your mistakes called out include the following:

  • Becoming open to criticism, to then better work in the confines of a team
  • Learning faster
  • Improving engineering skills and creativity

I find this especially important when you’re juggling many projects. Because naturally, you’re more likely to miss a design element. And the end goal always remains to deliver an impeccable product.

I’ve learned over the years, it’s a skill to learn how to take criticism. While technical discussions aren’t competitions. At the end of the day, the laws of physics always win, not humans.

#9 Keep things simple

Creating complexity isn’t always good while bringing simplicity is both a skill and an art. This applies to all types of engineering.

With simplicity, you’ll often find you have the following:

  • Improved product maintenance
  • Increased reliability
  • Cheaper construction/manufacturing

Creating simplicity is easier said than done though. Because you can throw everything but the kitchen sink at a project, to complete a design. But at what cost?…

Over-engineering is real, as supported by Einstein’s following words:

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

To become a simplicity wizard, leverage creativity, while checking out my following articles:

#10 Feed your passion

If you have a deep passion for engineering, you’ll be a huge step ahead of your peers. Passion allows you to do the following:

  • Solve problems efficiently
  • Have career progression without outside motivation
  • Become a great leader
  • Effortlessly push through the bullshit, which comes with engineering

Some engineers have a lifelong passion for engineering, while others hang on to the profession by a tiny thread. In most instances with the latter, the engineers had their passion drained by a poor job. To combat this, switch positions, change jobs, or start your own business.

“How to Improve as an Engineer?” wrap up

Everyone can level up as an engineer, while each person has their own ceiling.

Unfortunately, most engineers never reach their full potential for one reason or another. And this is why every time I’m asked “how to improve as an engineer?”, I reply with, “how much are you willing to sacrifice?”

The beauty is, when you love what you do, the word “sacrifice” doesn’t even register in your mind. But even without full-fledged passion, you can become a better engineer by adopting several of our discussed tips.

What are your thoughts on how to improve as an engineer? What’s the best way to improve as an engineer?

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