Every day is a school day as they say. The problem with life is that it only gives the lesson after the exam has been passed, though usually failed. Ouch. We are all prone to making mistakes and those starting out in their engineering career path are particularly vulnerable. The following are gathered from advice from senior engineers and we hope they might prove useful to you. Though they are perhaps applicable to those who should also know better.
Enjoy and good luck.
1. Failing to plan is planning to fail
This advice comes from Grant Francis at E&T Jobs. It is all too tempting to jump straight into a new project. You should take some time to understand the requirements, specifications, data, management and customer needs. Pay attention to the details but don't be afraid to ask questions whenever in doubt. It is also important to not feel overwhelmed. Nothing is ever that difficult and it's usually a good idea to break lots of information or tasks into smaller manageable and achievable tasks. One step at a time, you are human after all. Also, don't be afraid to delegate or ask for assistance completing tasks.
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2. Don't stop learning
Never stop learning. Look for weaknesses in your knowledge. This could be technical or softer skills. A rolling stone gathers no moss after all. Keep moving forward and never stagnate. Always keep yourself updated in your area of expertise. If you have an eye on a position is a larger company figure out what experience and knowledge you need. Then move towards it step by step. It will pay off in the long run. Also be prepared to fund your own training if your current employer will not, there is nothing nicer than funding your own courses and qualifications.
3. Resist the urge cut corners
It's always tempting to try to cut corners. You might consider copying and pasting parts of previous projects for the current one. This could be disastrous. Although similar parts and processes may seem akin on the surface, they could have critical differences. There will be some circumstances where this is ok, but you'll only know that with experience.
Also, try to avoid the "it's good enough" thinking. You may feel an approximation is fine for a project. In engineering good enough is not the same as correct. If something is wrong, fix it. Senior experienced engineers will have many stories where an entire part has had to be redesigned because it was a matter of millimeters out.
4. Save for a rainy day
The job market is volatile at the best of times. You might have a nice cushy position at the moment but who knows what the future will bring in your engineering career. It's better to try to get into a mentality of saving money so that you're not left high and dry if you should be laid off. It's also a good idea to start investing in your retirement as early as possible. There are many guides out there to help you with this. Compound interest anyone? Hint hint.
5. Measure twice, cut once
Diligence is a virtue. Never rush completing part of the project to try to impress superiors. It's better to take longer and be correct than quick and wrong. Less haste more speed as they say. You should always check your work prior to submission, especially to clients. Learn to double and triple check workings especially on your first few projects. With time experience will speed this up but you must go through the rig morale of checking your work. You will also save a lot of time by getting it done correctly the first time round. If you understand the inputs and don't cut corners, you'll quickly become an invaluable engineer.
6. Never burn your bridges
Whether you're leaving of your own accord or have been made redundant, never leave on bad terms. Industries are surprisingly small and you never know what the future will hold. Plus you can't know your current employer's connections in other companies. It may come back to bite you.
7. Never miss deadlines
Be sure to meet deadlines. Schedules can seem like an annoyance to new engineers but remember schedules are not your enemy. Intense deadlines are a great way to focus your efforts and you will gain excellent experience by forcing yourself to meet them. Negative feedback should also be embraced. Fix it and learn from it.
Be prepared for projects to extend beyond apparent completion. Even months later parts of projects may need to be changed. Try not to get into the thinking of "washing your hands with it" once "completed". When problems inevitably crop up, take ownership of your mistakes. Don't point fingers. That will sink your engineering career quicker than a torpedo. Remember you are part of a team. Humility will gain your respect and trust in the long run.
8. No man is an island
As with anything in life, communication is key. It builds trust and confidence in yourself and others. Lack of trust will quickly hamper the project's progress and ultimately your reputation. It is easy to fall into the trap of wanting to please superiors by having all the answers. Remember these peeps are long in the tooth and were junior members at one time. They've seen it all before. They will respect you more if you ask questions when in doubt than trying to bluff it.
That being said do persevere in trying to solve a problem under your own steam. Don't rely on senior members to always spoon-feed you the answers. If you fail on your own you'll be better prepared to ask for help. You will be respected for that in the long run. It should go without saying, but also never partake in gossip this will scupper your engineering career.
The final word
Here are some more general mistakes to avoid.
So there you go, some words of advice for you to think about on your engineering career path. Do you have any suggestions of your own? Let's start a conversation.