The engineering industry is like no other. It is tough and challenging, complex and important, and it requires a ton of experience – a ton of hands on experience – in order to learn everything you can and master whatever sector of engineering you work in. What will surprise you a lot though, when talking about their time on the job, most experienced engineers don’t mention technical expertise or knowledge. They don’t speak about specific problems or projects, but rather the wide range of knowledge they accrued, most of which never expected they would ever have learned when starting out. As such, these invaluable bits of advice can help you start out on the right foot and set you up for success.
Learn from someone great.
A mentor may seem like a pretty obvious place for you to start, but the obvious ones are still overlooked. There is nothing like learning on the job, but having the guidance of someone who has done it, who has lived it, will help you excel at a far greater rate because they will be able to teach you things school couldn’t. Mentors aren’t there just to feed your technical appetite, they will be able to show you how to work more efficiently, work more safely and support you through your development in a far more personal way.
A great way to go about doing this is to watch the more senior engineers. Those who inspire you, make note of what it is about them that inspires. The same goes for those whom you don’t admire; remember their weaknesses and don’t repeat their mistakes.
There is no such thing as a stupid question.
You may be laughed at, but a few seconds as the butt of a joke is far better than a serious injury. That is the nature of being an engineer. The risks are high. So if you don’t understand something, or didn’t hear what the orders were, ask a question. Questions are how we become better people, more knowledgeable, able to operate in a far bigger comfort zone and avoid serious injury by growing. Ask basic questions. If you aren’t comfortable with something, then question it.
There will be a time, when you are more senior, where you’ll be sat in some fancy boardroom and a board member or senior manager will pick your plans apart with some simple question that was completely overlooked. They will look like a genius and you a fool, so question everything.
Learn how to improve.
It could be watching what your managers do very closely and imitating. It could be through networking. It could be by holding your hands up and saying you aren’t competent at a certain task, say the maintenance or removal of certain seals or bearings, and you require the assistance of a specialist, such as Eclipse Engineering (http://www.eclipseseal.com/). Whatever the circumstance, and whatever the situation, make sure your response helps you improve who you are as an engineer.