How to Improve as an Engineer? 10 Things to Know

How to improve as an engineer? I’m going to go over my roadmap for how to become a better engineer through 10 simple action items.

As with anything in life, levels exist. To level up as an engineer, you need to follow what great engineers do.

This way you’ll learn how to improve as an engineer to reach your following careers goals:

  • Higher pay
  • A position you’re passionate about
  • Ability to start and lead great challenging projects
  • Limit mistakes in your work
  • Reach your full potential as an engineer

#1 Understand what your customer wants

Different customers have different demands. And each customer will approach a project differently.

Your job is to figure out your customer’s unique demands for every project. The more you understand, the better you can serve.

In the process, you’ll gain your client’s trust. To pull this off, do the following:

  • Review the project’s scope. Does it make sense to you?
  • Ask about the project’s end goal?
  • Use your experience to review the completeness of the project’s scope. Then ask questions if necessary.

With every project, your goal is to deliver a high-quality product and/or service.

You can’t make someone the perfect pizza if you don’t know what they like. Everyone has their favorite topping of choice.

  • Pepperoni
  • Beef
  • Sausage
  • Olive
  • Mushroom
  • Pepper
  • Pineapple
  • Onion

As a pizza maker, you offer all the topping choices to your customers. They then choose.

The trick is to understand technical subjects and have customer empathy. This allows you to cater to your client’s expectations.

In the end, always deliver something you’d spend your hard-earned dollars on.

#2 Improve your communication skills

Being an engineer isn’t a pass to have horrible social skills. You need to know how to properly:

  • Speak
  • Present
  • Write

These are essential skills for business folks to take you more seriously.

I would go as far as to say this is one of the top ways on how to improve as an engineer.

I can’t count how many times I’ve worked with an engineer who spoke to me like a monotone robot. To top it off, I had to pull words out from their mouth.

This makes it uncomfortable for everyone involved.

So, improve your communication. Imagine you’re speaking with your buddy.

And yes, I know all about formalities. But, formalities don’t launch rockets into space. Rather, it’s great engineering and clear communication.

Even technical communication can sound simple. Using big and fancy words isn’t a skill. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

To help you level up your communication as an engineer, check out these articles I’ve written:

#3 Always keep learning and learn fast

constantly learning to become a better engineer

Technology changes fast. If you ever stop learning, you’ll fall behind.

For this reason, you need self-motivation and a thirst to constantly learn.

Yes, money is a great outside motivation. But a level up from money is a deep passion for a subject.

On top of passion, the following I find very important to help you constantly learn:

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

There are no reasons to ever quit learning. If you quit learning, you’ll design using outdated methods with outdated products.

Imagine how crazy it’d be if someone dumps millions of dollars to design a PlayStation 2 game today. The game would 99.9% flop, especially with the release of the PlayStation 5.

That said, use these 10 tips to work like a machine to help further optimize your learning.

#4 Become a hybrid engineer/manager

Don’t become another engineer who only crunches numbers.

What I mean is, don’t 100% focus 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 an engineer’s role to managers? Or how engineers become company founders?

Plus, you don’t want to become a small cog in your company’s wheel. This makes you easily replaceable.

Even more, you’ll only ever see a small sliver of a project’s scope.

I always find it’s best to learn about all parts of a project. This makes you a more well-rounded engineer.

Imagine if Lebron James only was able to shoot great. He’d be a one-dimensional player who no one talked about.

But he can also rebound, pass, play point guard, and coach.

So 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 parts of projects
  • Provide input on projects

All these actionable items will elevate you from only a technical role. You’ll better learn about all the moving parts in projects.

This will then give you a peek into the business operations of projects.

It takes a village to complete a large engineering project. With business decisions leading the way.

It’s like playing chess, you don’t only learn how a pawn moves on the chessboard.

#5 Become a pro-Googler

searching for solutions using google search

Everyone uses Google. But not everyone can parse through an endless sea of good and bad content. And do it fast.

Not everything searched in Google is good content. Look no further than the endless pages on the flat Earth theory.

You need to become a Master Online Searcher. Sounds like a ridiculous title, but it’s actually an invaluable skill.

I’m always searching for information online. I also connect with a lot of other engineers online.

Here are some useful sources of information to know how to search for:

  • Vendors: search vendor websites for products. Find a local rep to ask your questions. Or download and read product cut sheets.
  • Forums: find relevant forums in your industry for information. Of course, verify the information you read with reputable sources.
  • Twitter: find prominent people in your industry. By following these people, you can easily stay on top of the latest trends.
  • Contacts: find relevant people to connect with. You can search for just about anyone online these days.
  • Articles: find articles on subject matters you want to learn about. Plus, a lot of in-depth technical papers are floating around too.

#6 Work hard and don’t run from challenges

It goes without saying that you need to bust your ass.

It’s not going to be a cakewalk no matter how you slice it. Engineering is hard work, especially if you’re on the front lines.

In other words, you’re the person who makes the final decisions.

So, embrace responsibilities. Realize hard work and challenges are part of engineering.

The beauty is though, the harder you work, the more easy things become.

I see many smart engineers. But many don’t go the extra mile to level up.

As a result, they default to average engineers. Let’s compare this scenario to 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 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, will you flex your creativity to the full extent. Because your neck is now on the line!

#7 Build unbreakable confidence

Confidence is one of your most important tools.

The greater responsibilities you take on as an engineer, the more confidence you need to have. I say this for the following reasons:

  • More people will question you
  • You’ll have more critics
  • More people will come after your position
  • You’ll need to convince many people of every decision you make

Building great confidence starts with smarts. In other words, know your technical subject like the back of your hand.

Because in engineering, decisions are all logic-based.

Thus, knowing why a certain design will or won’t work will give you the utmost belief in yourself.

For example, you design a cheaper structure that can handle 2X the structural load.

But, other engineers say your design is wrong. They tell you your design will fail and cost tens of millions of dollars in re-design.

This is where you need the confidence to push back the doubters. To stand your ground!

Because maybe those 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 I’ve said, confidence and speaking out is very important.

But also, you need to know when to raise the white flag. Then when to take feedback.

And of course, not to freak out when someone points out your mistake.

No matter how smart you think you are, you’ll make mistakes. The sooner you realize this, the better engineer you’ll become. The benefits include:

  • You’ll be more open to criticism
  • You’ll learn faster
  • Your engineering work will improve

I find this especially important when you’re juggling many projects. Because naturally, you’ll make more mistakes.

This is when you’ll need a helping hand. And this is not a weakness.

Over the years, I’ve learned it’s a skill to learn how to take criticism. What’s more, technical discussions aren’t competitions.

Rather, the purpose of these discussions is to create the best designs. Plus, it’s a great way to learn.

In the end, the final word always comes from the laws of physics. Not a human.

#9 Keep things simple

Complexity isn’t a good thing. Keeping things simple is an art.

This applies to all types of engineering.

Simplicity leads to the following:

  • Simple maintenance
  • Increased reliability
  • Cheaper construction or manufacturing
  • Fewer problems

Simple designs aren’t easy. In fact, doing complex designs I find to be much easier.

Throw everything but the kitchen sink at a project, and any design will work. But at what cost?

Over-engineering is a real thing.

As the great Einstein once said:

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

#10 Feed your passion

If you have a deep passion for your work, you’ll be a huge step ahead of your peers.

What I mean is the following:

  • Problems become easier to solve
  • Outside motivation isn’t required for work and learning
  • Others will enjoy working with you
  • You become a leader

All this sounds great, but where do you discover your passion?

I’m sure some parts of engineering interest you. That’s why you probably became an engineer, to begin with.

But then a real job got in the way. A job that differed from what you perceived engineering to be.

This is not an excuse not to try to reignite your old flame. This reignition may become the conduit to leading you to find the job you’ve always wanted. Or even, starting your own business.

In short, don’t let your passion sit idle as you do the bare minimum to only collect a paycheck. Even if your day job has nothing to do with your passion.

Because in the end, feeding your passion will indirectly make you a better engineer.

“How to Improve as an Engineer?” wrap up

Everyone can level up as an engineer.

Sure, every person has a different ceiling. But, most people never reach their full potential.

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 the end, no one ever complained about becoming a better engineer.

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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