Every industry has hidden rules you learn to follow. Engineering is no different. I’m going to go over 11 undiscussed powerful engineer rules.
I find these engineer rules to be the pillars of the code of ethics in engineering. So, they carry a heavy punch in making you an awesome engineer. So much so, I wish someone had given me these rules when I first started work as an engineer. It would’ve saved me a lot of headaches.
On the positive side now, you can learn from my hardships. Then more quickly, you can level yourself up as an engineer.
#1 Problems are all solvable
Many engineering problems may seem impossible at first glance. But with enough time and resources, you can crack the code to almost any problem. Look no further than SpaceX, led by Elon Musk.
SpaceX is a private company driving the space industry forward. They’ve introduced new revolutionizing rocket engineering technology. This includes the development of near-reusable orbital-class rockets.
What’s more, SpaceX rockets now safely launch NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). This alone has brought interest back into space travel and this makes me so excited. It goes without question, Elon and crew overcame many naysayers and hardships. In fact, an industry saying best describes the challenges of starting a rocket company,
“The quickest way to become a millionaire is to be a billionaire and start a rocket company.”
The moral of the story is, almost all engineering problems are solvable. And you can improve over existing engineering solutions too. The key is to be relentless and not quickly give up. Check out the Elon Musk lessons on how to tackle problems for further guidance.
#2 Present solutions when discussing problems
If you present a problem, provide a solution suggestion too. Because you’re the expert, and others view you as the almighty engineer. And if you can’t suggest a solution, then who can?!
Now, the solution doesn’t need to be completely drawn out and perfect. While keeping in mind, any initially suggested solution will be full of holes. But at the very least, your solution will help get the ball rolling. Also, as a professional and expert, you’ll be fulfilling your duties.
Even more, you’ll gain the respect of those around you. Because it shows initiative and you’re not trying to throw the hot potato at someone else. And not to forget, this level of initiative is what creates 10x engineers!
Important Note: when you provide a “draft” solution, state it’s a draft. For example, write “DRAFT” or “NOT FOR CONSTRUCTION” on your sketch. Because I’ve had instances where others have tried to run with my draft sketches as if they were final. This can get you in trouble!
Bad communication is the leading cause of problems in engineering. For this reason alone, don’t be shy to over-communicate with all parties in a project.
If there’s any question about a design element or problem, then speak up. And continue speaking until you get a clear-cut answer. In the process, you may annoy some people. But no one will thank you if you keep quiet, and your engineering design later fails.
Also, when there’s a design change or a new solution found to a problem, tell others. I’m talking about the other players on your engineering team. Because YOU don’t know how a trivial-looking change will affect the work of others.
I’ve had instances where engineers told me of design changes a week before a project’s deadline. They thought the design changes were trivial and unimpactful to me. Lo and behold, the changes were huge. I had to burn the midnight oil to get my work done. I wasn’t a happy camper.
#4 Verify even the most trustworthy sources
Trust people, but still ALWAYS verify the information you’re handed.
Imagine someone from a top global company approaches you. He comes at you in a three-piece suit, head full of white hair, and the alphabet soup listed after his name. He tells you your design isn’t implementable in the real world. Then, he backs up his words by telling you he has 50 years of engineering experience. Yet, you see nothing wrong with your proposed design.
For this reason alone, you can’t just take his word as gospel if the laws of physics are on your side. Plus, what are you going to tell your boss,
“uhhhm, boss, the three-piece suit said it’s not possible. He didn’t provide me with any hard facts to support his case though…”
This is poor engineering. You need to always verify your information. If there’s even 1% of doubt, you need to speak up.
To give you an extreme example, let’s talk about the search for aliens. All the brightest minds on Earth can say aliens are bullshit and they don’t exist. BUT, nature doesn’t care what a bunch of humans on Earth think. If aliens do exist, human opinions don’t matter one iota. Only the truth matters!
And guess what? To the surprise of many, the truth doesn’t revolve around what ANY human thinks.
#5 Keep a record of all information and correspondence
Always keep a record of EVERYTHING. Your records should include all the following:
- Communication with all parties of a project
- All drawing and specification versions of submittals, from start to finish
- Equipment cut-sheets
- Your projects notes
These documents all become references for your future projects. Even more, if shit ever hits the fan with a project, you’ll have a record to point to.
I’ve had countless incidences where people told me they never said a certain thing. And they then turned and said they wanted a change order. But since I keep an email record of all conversations, I was able to call their bluff.
#6 Under-promise and over-deliver
Tell your customer you’ll deliver their project in a month. But then deliver the finished product in 2 weeks. At the same time, over-deliver beyond your scope of work. This way, I guarantee you’ll have a customer for life.
Because who doesn’t want to get more than they paid for. This is the premise behind all the discount deals you find at department stores and online. For example, do the following:
- Add extra details to your design
- Include extra documentation to improve your customer’s understanding of their project
- Look for any other issues your customer may have overlooked, beyond your scope
Just remember though, ONLY do this for good customers. Not assholes!
#7 Create a plan of action
Don’t just put your head down and start working. This never ends well. Instead, put in the time and create a project schedule and plan you can follow. You’ll waste a lot less time down the line and have fewer engineering problems.
It’s like building a house. You don’t just pick up a piece of lumber and start hammering nails away. You first create a blueprint and then create a stepped plan for construction.
Be forewarned though, many outsiders may view your plan creation phase as you being lazy. Because you’re not doing any actual design work. And this is where the question of, “are engineers lazy?” comes from. BUT, this type of laziness is good.
In the end, everyone will thank you, when the project wraps up without any issues.
#8 Mindfulness over potential problems
Problems are rife in engineering. So much so, problems and engineering projects go hand in hand. Especially, if you work on the bleeding edge of technology.
So, you always need to keep an eye out for potential problems. I’d go as far as to say, don’t ever become too comfortable and let your guard down. Because this is when problems tend to sprout.
For example, I know several engineers who think they don’t make mistakes. Not surprisingly, they don’t properly review their work. And guess what, their work becomes a prime source for problems. Because ALL engineers make mistakes. No exceptions!
This is why the review process is an integral part of EVERY engineering project. At the same time, don’t forget about the problems you find. Even the trivial seeming problems. Always write down every problem you uncover and do your best to address them as soon as possible.
When you’re leading a design or piece of work, never expect someone else to solve your problems for you. You’re the engineer on record and it’s your job. So, don’t push the puck down the line waiting for a miracle solution to appear at your doorstep.
#9 Be the commander in charge
Imagine a foot soldier makes a mistake under your command. The soldier leaves your campground to inspect the footsteps they heard in the middle of the night. And in the inspection, the soldier is somehow shot and wounded.
Clearly, it was the foot soldier’s fault for leaving, right? BUT, hold your horses. It was YOUR responsibility to ensure no foot soldier left the campground. So just maybe, you had forgotten to properly lay out all the ground rules.
In other words, take ownership of problems when mistakes happen under your leadership. This is what all great leaders do. A lot of engineer-related problems come from poor leadership and lack of initiative.
To illustrate, let’s go over an engineering example. If you’re an electrical engineer and you spot a blunder in a mechanical engineer’s work, then call it out!
Don’t sit on the sidelines thinking the mechanical engineer will notice the mistake. Maybe they won’t, and the problem will then propagate into other areas of the design. This later then causes a failure when contractors execute the design.
And I get it, it’s best to stay in your lane in most instances, especially when you’re not the leader. But in engineering, if you see a potential problem, it’s YOUR responsibility to call it out. Engineers hold a lot of power with the work they do. The lives of people are in your hands. So, as the saying goes,
“With great power comes great responsibility.”
#10 Get work done
It doesn’t matter how you do it, but get work done. This is what great engineers do, despite mounting hardships. This may mean doing one or all of the following:
- Burning the midnight oil week after week
- Taking work home on weekends
- Researching endlessly in textbooks
- Reaching out to vendor after vendor
- Collaborating with other engineers
- Endlessly brainstorming ideas
The greater responsibilities you hold, the more of these actions you’ll need to take. This becomes magnified too if you’re working on the bleeding edge of technology. And this is why there’s an entire process for coming up with creative engineering solutions.
So yes, engineering isn’t easy, and not everyone can do it. At the same time, it’s important to realize, grueling work is a part of engineering projects. No matter how good of a talent you think you are.
This is why I believe there’s a lot you can learn from NASA engineers who worked in the Apollo program. They had the impossible feat of taking humans off from Earth and to the moon, and they succeeded.
#11 Take no bullshit!
Don’t take bullshit from people who try to make you do unethical things. For example, a customer tries to get you to bend the rules to save them a buck or two. Not only does this go against the engineering code of ethics, but it’s a waste of your time.
Your job as an engineer is to solely focus on your engineering work. You work towards solving problems while adhering to all codes and standards. At the same time, don’t lose focus and start doing unnecessary work. If someone tells you to do X activity, which doesn’t support your project, then slam on the brakes.
I’ve found many times, non-engineers think certain work is beneficial to a project. So, they try to make you do unnecessary work. This is usually no fault of theirs, but it’s something you need to watch out for.
In the end, it’s your responsibility as the expert to draw the line. You need to explain why certain activities are unnecessary. Because doing bullshit work will negatively affect everyone involved. It’s a waste of time and budget.
These hidden engineer rules carry over to all types of engineering. And if you find you’re not following any of these rules, then adopt them. They can only make you a better engineer.
I compare these rules to the foundation of a bridge. The more pillars you build, the stronger the bridge becomes. The same idea applies to engineers.
Which of the hidden engineer rules do you find the most important? Are there any other engineer rules you find critical for engineers to follow?
Featured Image Photo Credit: SpaceX (image cropped)
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 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 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, our history and future, sports, and fitness.