To become a rockstar engineer in no time, here are 15 tips for young engineers that’ll help you unleash your full potential.
In return, you’ll enjoy a plethora of perks, including boosted confidence, opportunities to tackle challenging projects, higher pay, increased respect from your peers, and an array of new employment, investment, and business prospects.
#1 Take killer notes and document everything
As a young engineer, I thought my memory was infallible. A few months in, I realized I was wrong and had to relearn stuff I thought I’d never forget. Talk about a facepalm moment!
So, get your note-taking game on point. Ditch the random scraps of paper, and opt for a dedicated binder with labeled dividers for your physical notes. For digital notes, use a cloud service like Google Drive, which lets you access and update your notes across devices. And don’t forget to back up your notes!
Important Note: Organize your digital notes with searchable long-tail keywords, descriptive headers, and logical folder structures. Include supplementary notes for equations, defining variables, and explaining their applications.
Also, remember to jot down notes when you:
- Spend significant time researching a question online or in books
- Call an outside agency or firm for help
- Spend hours devising a solution
- Complete a complex, multi-step technical process
- Learn something intricate or abstract
#2 Stay curious
Curiosity fuels your knowledge, sending you down rabbit holes you never knew existed.
Suppose you’re reviewing topic X; don’t just brush off related subject Y. Understanding Y and how it connects to X will make you a more skilled engineer. And don’t just stick to your own little niche; venture into other engineering fields too!
In fact, don’t pigeonhole yourself in a single specialty. Explore the fascinating inner workings of various engineering disciplines – it can only help you grow. Don’t be the engineer who claims:
“I have zero opinion on mechanical work, because I’m an electrical engineer.”
Sure, you might be an electrical engineer by training, but that doesn’t mean you can’t broaden your horizons. If you can memorize every NFL stat, you can certainly learn a thing or two about mechanical engineering.
By widening your knowledge base, you’ll become a better communicator, able to engage with a diverse range of people on a deeper level. The more active you are as an engineer, the more valuable your contributions will be.
Ultimately, top-notch engineers have a wealth of data at their disposal, ready to be extrapolated. This rich data set paves the way for creative problem-solving from multiple perspectives.
Important Note: Step out of your office whenever you can. I’ve learned so much just by watching technicians and construction workers in action. Observing designs come to life helps you connect the dots between complex theories.
That’s one reason I believe hands-on engineering experience trumps formal education.
#3 Continuously learn
Never stop learning. If you haven’t learned something new in a week, shake things up!
The best engineers continually soak up knowledge, especially with today’s fast-paced tech advancements. Stay up-to-date and keep your mind engaged.
And no, I don’t mean just going through the motions with formal education. It’s about self-study and an insatiable thirst for knowledge, regardless of degrees or paychecks.
Important Note: Embrace complex projects. They make the best teachers, guiding you on never-ending learning journeys.
#4 Set the bar high for yourself
Don’t rely on others to review your work and catch your mistakes. And don’t assume that just because you’re a rookie, others will carry the load for you. Absolutely not!
Give it your all in everything you tackle, always double-checking your work and never hesitating to roll up your sleeves and diving back in when needed. Remember, your goal is to deliver the best possible product—that’s the engineer’s code of ethics.
Now the great thing is, the more you hold yourself accountable, the greater respect you’ll earn. You’ll set the standard for everyone around you, fostering a culture of success.
This level of responsibility is what propelled young NASA engineers to send us to the moon during the Apollo missions. There’s no shortage of lessons to learn from these engineering trailblazers.
#5 Embrace your curiosity and ask “stupid” questions
When I first stepped into the engineering world, I was too stubborn to ask questions. This led to unnecessary frustrations and silly mistakes, all because I thought my questions were too stupid. I hadn’t yet embraced the wise saying:
“There’s no such thing as a stupid question.”
You see, no engineer knows it all, but when we come together, our collective knowledge is powerful. That’s why it’s essential to tap into the wisdom and experience of others.
But don’t just stop at your fellow engineers! Reach out to these folks too:
- Engineers in other firms you’re contracted with
Honestly, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t ask questions. You’d be missing out on the incredible knowledge that experienced professionals can share. Plus, your question might even teach others something new. It’s a win-win!
#6 Polish your communication skills
Being an engineer doesn’t give you a pass on poor communication. In fact, mastering the art of speaking and writing is a crucial part of the job. You’ll need to interact with clients, investors, colleagues, and the public.
To up your communication game, 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
#7 Believe in yourself
Remember, everyone starts somewhere. Don’t doubt your potential just because you’re a newbie. Believing in yourself can take you far!
It’s totally normal to feel unprepared as a young engineer. I, too, had imposter syndrome in my first job. But with time, my confidence grew.
Stick to these tips, and soon, you’ll blossom into a rockstar engineer!
#8 Tackle challenges head-on
Engineering isn’t always smooth sailing. You’ll face problems that make you want to tear your hair out. But trust me, that’s completely normal.
Even the most seasoned engineers hit roadblocks. The key is to not throw in the towel too soon.
Instead, dig deep and search for solutions. You’ll learn a ton along the way and become better equipped for future challenges.
#9 Milk each mistake and failure
Listen up, because I guarantee you’ll make mistakes as a working engineer. We all do. No exceptions!
The goal, though, is to not make the same mistake twice. When you do mess up, learn as much as you can from it. After all, mistakes and failures are life’s best teachers.
With each blunder or setback, ask yourself:
- What went wrong?
- What caused the mistake?
- How can I avoid a repeat performance?
- How can I tackle future problems with the lessons I’ve learned?
#10 Sweat the small stuff
In engineering, the devil is in the details. Take the Saturn V rocket, for example, with its 5.6 million individual parts. If even one part fails, it could mean disaster.
Knowing your subject inside and out helps you spot potential issues. To really master the nitty-gritty, try teaching or writing about it. You’ll be surprised at how much you learn along the way!
#11 Ditch the baseless assumptions
Don’t take something as gospel without the facts to back it up. Always double-check, test, and verify!
For instance, just because a device has worked perfectly in the past doesn’t guarantee success on its next use. If you assume it will, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
The same goes for project costs and timelines. Don’t make assumptions without digging into the fine details. Thoroughly review project scopes before setting budgets and deadlines.
#12 Just do it
In the wise words of Nike, just do it!
Don’t let work pile up as deadlines loom. When you get a project, dive in. Your schedule can go from zen to chaos in a heartbeat if new tasks suddenly appear.
I learned this the hard way. I procrastinated on a project, thinking I had plenty of time. Then, before I knew it, I was drowning in work and had to put in long hours to catch up.
Also, focus on the technical stuff instead of getting bogged down in endless emails. Busy work isn’t the same as productive work!
#13 Never become comfortable
I’ve noticed many new engineers don’t fully understand the consequences of their decisions. Believe me, I’ve been there.
At first, I knew I was working on real-world projects, but I didn’t grasp that a tiny slip-up could cost millions. It wasn’t until I teamed up with senior engineers that I realized the full impact of my choices.
So, the moral of the story? Never let your guard down. Just because you’ve seen a problem a million times doesn’t mean you can breeze through it.
As an engineer, it’s your duty to stay laser-focused on solving problems, big or small. It’s all part of the engineering code of ethics. I’ve found that when you get too comfortable, that’s when things go south.
#14 Show off your personality
Don’t feed into the idea that all engineers are robotic. Hollywood’s engineering stereotypes have done enough damage.
Watch a blockbuster action movie, and you’ll see what I mean. Engineers are often portrayed as awkward, geeky, and fashion-challenged.
To shatter this tired cliché, be charismatic and lively. The public will warm up to you, and that’s crucial since building relationships is key to driving engineering work forward. For instance, you might need to persuade a client to choose one design direction over another.
#15 Stay humble
Some new engineers can be a bit cocky, but trust me, they know way less than they think. Real-world experience is a game-changer.
Listen to others’ opinions, even if you think you know better. You might just learn something new. Be respectful, punctual, empathetic, and never stop learning. Because, let’s face it, no one wants to work with a pompous asshole.
Need a dose of humility? Just look up at the stars and remember how small we really are.
Tips for young engineers wrap up
Starting out as a young engineer can be intimidating, but with the right game plan, you’ll be a superstar engineer in no time.
It all boils down to initiative. You need a burning desire to improve. After all, the only person who can truly push you to greatness is you. So, don’t just coast – thrive!
Which tips do you think are most important for young engineers? What tips have helped you the most as a young engineer?
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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.