Engineers who have been in the workplace for decades have seen huge shifts in their industries no matter which field they’re in, and they have a wealth of advice for their up-and-coming colleagues. Most of their advice isn’t specific to a single field or a set of technical skills; it comes from experience, and they’ve distilled that experience into a few key pieces of advice. From freshly graduated engineers to professionals ready to make a career shift, these tips can help.
Find a Real-World Role Model
Some engineers look to successful innovators such as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk for inspiration, and while these role models offer plenty of inspiration, they can’t offer advice. For that, you need a mentor who’s closer to you. Having someone who inspires you to achieve, helps you see what’s going wrong, and teaches you new ways to look at challenges is instrumental to success. In return, you give your mentor new perspectives and fresh insights too, so it’s a valuable professional relationship for everyone. Take a look around you at the workplace and find the people you most admire. How do they lead? How do they work? What do they do that makes them an inspiration to you?
Become a People Person
Sometimes, engineers work in the realm of things rather than people and don’t develop the essential social skill-set every professional needs. Every engineer who wants to rise to management positions must also be a manager – and that means sharpening inter-personal skills. Take leadership roles on projects to hone your skills and build a portfolio that emphasizes your managerial acumen. Engineers who can manage other engineers have a tremendous advantage over their colleagues who prefer to focus on the work and not the workers. The technology you work with will change, but the essentials of working with and managing other people won’t, so learn leadership skills now, and they’ll last you throughout your career.
Engineers who still have their academic experiences fresh in their minds are sometimes reluctant to ask questions, but in professional life, you aren’t facing a grade. Completing a project successfully is paramount, and getting all the information you need is part of that. Don’t be reticent to ask questions about anything you want to understand more fully or need to know about to do your job well. Get comfortable asking questions even when what you see is self-explanatory; you might be the one to uncover a major design flaw or spot a missing step because your viewpoint allows you to see something that people closer to the project can’t.
Never Stop Learning
Engineering in any field is a lifelong learning proposition. One of the things that draws new engineers into a field is that sense of discovery. With every new wave of technology, you have more to learn and explore. Look for learning opportunities everywhere – on the job, through ongoing education, in seminars, and by working on your own projects.
Look to Other Disciplines
Some of the most enduring engineering accomplishments draw from other fields as well. Think of how biological processes have informed neural network development, and you have an understanding of how important inter-disciplinary thinking can be. Instead of putting your head down and focusing solely on the projects in front of you, broaden your scope and gain insights from other disciplines.