7 Pieces of Advice New Engineers Need to Hear
Lane Long posted on May 31, 2019 |
Veteran engineers share what they wish they’d been told at the start of their careers.
Who wouldn’t leap at the chance to travel back in time and communicate some crucial piece of information to their younger self? You could offer a few stock tips or a crib sheet for that one killer exam that still haunts you to this day. While the thought has occurred to nearly everyone, this form of regret can be particularly salient for engineers in the middle or late stages of their career.

Reddit user maysmotors discovered this first hand when they posed the following question to the AskEngineers subreddit:

Looking back, what would be the one piece of advice you would give yourself during the early stages of your career?

The responses were many and varied, but we’ve distilled them down into seven essential pieces of advice.

1) Be a Sponge

Many engineers chimed in to voice their belief in the value of constantly learning. Even pieces of knowledge that seem impertinent today can pay dividends down the road. As one commenter pointed out, “Something you might not need to know then you almost definitely will in a future job or role, and unfortunately the future will come whether you like it or not.”

2) Take Advantage of your Coworkers’ Experience

The opportunity to work with people who have spent decades in your field is a valuable part of being brand new to a career. Mentors can open doors for junior level engineers that would be inaccessible without their knowledge, guidance, or networks. Moreover, as more than one commenter noted, your mentors don’t have to be other engineers.

“Keep in mind that the guys your age and older doing ‘maintenance’, ‘technician’, ‘assembler’ and ‘machinist’ work probably know more about your job than you do when you start,” one user wrote.

3) Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

High-level executives, skilled professionals and successful entrepreneurs share a similar perspective on failure: it’s a precondition for success. That’s not the view taken by lots of young engineers, who may worry about what an early failure could mean for the rest of their careers.

 “A quality that I see many engineering students carry into their careers is the fear of failure,” one commenter wrote. “Remember that every failure creates a rung on the ladder to success. Capitalize on every learning opportunity.”

4) Embrace New Responsibilities

It can be intimidating to be thrust into a role without much experience, but those chances are often a fast track to developing skills, knowledge, and the respect of your peers. When a challenging role with a high level of responsibility comes available, jump on it. Just be prepared to put in the work.

One commenter suggested being proactive: “Don't just do things that are assigned to you, but actively take on other responsibilities that may be available.”

5) Improve Your Social Skills

As with STEM fields more generally, the focus in an engineering education is on hard skills, such as mathematics and programming. Although many departments are improving, there’s typically been less emphasis on the soft skills that most professional engineers will use every day.

“Imagine trying to present the status of a high-profile project you are working on not only to your peers and boss, but your boss’ boss and several other functional groups,” one user wrote. “Speaking without confidence in a design review is not going to fly.”

6) Do What’s Best for You, Not What’s Best for Your Company

The reality of the modern workplace is that the traditional “social contract” between employer and employee has largely gone the way of the dodo. Companies can be good places to work or bad places to work, but their the bottom line will almost always take priority of their employee’s wellbeing. For those reasons, it’s important to put your career and happiness first.

As one respondent put it, “Do your bit. Do it well. Go home to those that matter. Don't give more than you're obligated to. And never hesitate to pursue any opportunity that improves your situation or quality of life.”

7) Carefully Record Your Accomplishments

A written record of your achievements in a new role isn’t boasting—it’s common sense. When the time comes to position yourself for advancement either internally or externally, your job performance is the best case you can make for yourself. It’s much easier to make that case if you have a written summary of that performance.

“Every time someone compliments or congratulates you, write it down and save it—even if it's just a ‘Good job on X project,’” a commenter wrote. “When a project you've worked on makes it big, write that down, too, with details of what you contributed and how it contributed to the company or customer's bottom line. I have a file full of such things, which comes in quite handy when review time rolls around, or when I'm applying for a new position either inside or outside the company.”

For more engineering career advice, find out Why Every Engineer Should Learn Machining.

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