5 Undiscussed Qualities of a Great Engineer

What are the undiscussed qualities of a great engineer? I’m going to go over 5, which, unfortunately, engineers rarely discuss.

These qualities go beyond what I’ve discussed on how to be a great engineer. They’re qualities that attract other technical and non-technical people to you.

This is important, as it gives you a strong voice as a technically minded person.

Because you don’t want to come off as an antisocial recluse. A lot of the public already has this perception of engineers, because of the media.

So, I’m going to relate each of these qualities to real engineering scenarios. This way, you can better connect the dots to see how these qualities pack so much punch.

1) Ability to explain complex subjects to a fifth-grader

This is definitely one of the hidden qualities of a great engineer.

Stuffing every discussion with huge words helps no one. Except for maybe your ego.

What’s more, it may mean you don’t understand a subject too well yourself. That’s why you can’t explain the subject in simple words.

Maybe you’ve simply memorized your words straight out of a textbook.

The ability to dumb down a subject is your roadway to connect with countless minds. Why do you think people love Neil deGrasse Tyson so much?

He breaks down complex astronomy and science subjects into simple words.

Because few people share your level of expertise. Most people haven’t been staring at the same equations and theorems as you have all your life.

In many types of engineering, you’ll speak with non-engineers. In these instances, you need to break down your subject into simple words.

Otherwise, you’ll confuse people. And bad communication is the main source of problems.

I’d go as far as to say, using overly complex words is a form of bad communication. Especially when speaking with others who aren’t in your specialty field.

How to gain this quality?

Know your subject inside and out. I’m talking about knowing almost every rabbit hole related to your subject.

Only then, you can explain a complex subject in simple words. At the same time, create some awesome analogies to better get your points across.

It’s like the beer analogy for ‘power factor’ in power engineering. Let me break it out to you.

Imagine you have a beer mug.

The full capacity of your mug is apparent power (kVA).

The beer poured in your mug represents the active power (kW). While the beer foam at the top of your mug represents the reactive power (kVAR).

Now, the power factor is the ratio between kW and kVA. In our beer analogy, we calculate the power factor by dividing the beer by the mug capacity.

So guess what?!

You’re not getting your money’s worth when you buy a full mug of beer. Because you’re paying for a good amount of beer foam too.

2) Go out of your way to help people 

A helping hand never hurts. It sucks, if you’re stuck on the side of the road and can’t change your tire. You feel like shit!

This same feeling happens in engineering a lot.

You slam into a difficult to understand concept or problem. Next thing you know, you’re pulling out your hair in frustration.

No matter how you approach the problem, you can’t figure out a solution. Even after paging through endless books.

It happens to the best of us.

So, having empathy and helping others without an ego is powerful. You’ll quickly earn the respect of so many people this way.

I know some engineers, who I’ve seen never decline to help someone. They go out of their way to help another engineer whose stumped on a problem.

All the while, they don’t ask for any credit for helping solve the problem.

What’s more, this helps build a bridge for the next time you need help yourself.

How to gain this quality?

Just be helpful, like you’d be at any other time or place.

If you see someone struggling with an engineering problem, lend a helping hand.

Or if someone asks you a question, take the time and help.

The formula is very simple, just don’t be an ass!

More times than not, you can answer the question in a few minutes.

3) Optimistic in all situations

Even with a volcano erupting in your backyard, you still remain optimistic. Heck, the lava leveled all your weeds, what’s not to love…

My point is, no matter how difficult an engineering problem may seem, you still tackle it.

Plus, you don’t fear irate clients who are fuming over a problem your firm caused.

Because you know you can quickly calm them down and resolve their issue.

I knew a very senior engineer when I was first coming up. He resolved a very hairy multi-million dollar issue in a matter of hours.

The problem had been dragging on for weeks. We all thought heads would soon roll with how angered the client was.

I entered a large conference room with this senior engineer. Sitting inside was an army of men in three-piece suits ready for battle.

This engineer stood up and without missing a beat, resolved the issue. He cut through the bullshit and delivered a solution that satisfied the client.

What’s more, he barely broke a sweat!

How to gain this quality?

Offer to take on challenging problems. Then seek out help with difficult problems, as necessary.

The more you’re uncomfortable, the better you’ll sharpen your engineering skills.

Not only that, you’ll gain confidence as you become the “guy” or “gal” everyone turns to in dicey situations.

Your confidence then turns into an optimistic attitude over everything.

4) Get along with everyone

construction workers pouring wet concrete

Not all engineers live behind a desk crunching numbers. Some engineers interact with all types of people, including the following:

  • Other engineers
  • Investors
  • Contractors
  • The public
  • Clients
  • Journalists

If you can interact with all these people, and instantly connect with them, you’re golden.

Some engineers can’t create this connection.

For example, telling a group of tired contractors at the end of the day, they need to fix a problem. A problem they caused and that you’ll bill them for.

Many contractors may silently tell you, “go, fuck off!”.

It’s a skill to have the chops to speak with anyone and do it well. I’ve even written on 11 ways how engineers can improve their public speaking.

By better connecting with people, you’ll have better pull for various types of work. In other words, you can more quickly get work done that involves an outside hand.

At the same time, your job will become a whole lot easier. Because let me tell you, sometimes it’s like pulling teeth to get some people to respond.

But if you have a rapport with someone, more times than not, they won’t stiff you.

How to gain this quality?

Go speak with people more. Get out of your comfort zone as an engineer. Don’t hide behind a desk.

The more you speak with other people, the better you’ll get at connecting with others.

Also, learn the best way to speak with different groups of people. Because you can’t speak with everyone the same way, expecting the same results.

5) Make others around you better

You go out of your way to make others better at their jobs without asking for anything in return.

This includes offering to review another engineer’s completed work. Most of the time, no one will take offense.

Because in the end, you’re an extra set of eyes looking for errors, that may save future troubles.

What’s more, you praise the work of others.

I knew an older chap who would randomly bring up your work to others while you weren’t around. He wasn’t looking for anything in return, and he never once referenced himself.

Plus, he made your work sound much better than it really was.

I found out about it because my colleague told me. He said, “[so and so] was talking about how you did amazing work on [project X].”

I thought this was very cool.

I found this individual to be just a standup person, who loved engineering. And he loved showcasing the work of other engineers.

How to gain this quality?

Just be a genuinely great person! Simple, right?!

Don’t think everything must circle around you. Give praise to others, who genuinely deserve it.

Especially, younger engineers who need this reaffirmation to boost their confidence.

Not everything in life is a competition, especially in team projects. The more confidence your team members have, the greater chance your project has for success.


It takes a lot to become a great engineer.

You need to constantly sharpen your technical skills. But certain non-technical skills will help push you over the edge to become even better.

I find these 5 undiscussed qualities of a great engineer, will make your work easier too. You’ll build stronger relationships, and have more options as an engineer.

Which of the 5 undiscussed qualities of a great engineer do you admire the most? Which non-technical qualities of a great engineer do you think are the most important?


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