So far, no one’s been able to build a time machine or even prove that one is possible. For established engineers, the next best thing might be to let the new generation know a few key details the veterans wish they’d known when they first graduated. This collection of advice from senior engineers has more to do with general knowledge than with technical prowess or specific technology, so it’s as applicable today as it was in the days of slide rules and punch-cards.
Choose a Role Model
New hires fresh out of college may have plenty of subject knowledge, but they’re still unsure of how to put that education to work. Having an experienced mentor to support you and help you feel at ease in a new job that could otherwise feel overwhelming is a benefit both to you and the mentor who inspires you. While you gain deeper and more specific knowledge of how to perform, your role model gets fresh outlooks that can revitalize his or her career goals. By finding a mentor, you’ll prepare yourself for your own eventual leadership position when you’re the senior engineer in the department.
Hone Your People Skills
Throughout their education, engineers have focused on the subject matter at hand, in many cases relegating social activities to an afterthought as they studied challenging coursework. In the business world, you won’t be tested on the breadth and depth of your knowledge daily, but you’ll almost certainly need to call on your social skills multiple times a day. You don’t have to become a social butterfly, say senior engineers, but be willing to venture past a simple hello and goodbye when conversing with colleagues.
Become a Leader
Even more important than your general social skills is your leadership ability. Managing people is its own unique skill set, and while taking a few business electives in school can help you learn the theory of it, nothing compares to the practice of managing a team. When given the opportunity to lead a group or take on a position of authority, be prepared for it by developing your leadership muscles. Being able to listen to people and channel their ideas into a greater vision, keep a team focused on a task and get the best efforts from everyone on your team is a learned set of skills – one you learn best by doing or observing directly. Working with your mentor on developing your leadership skills is also a good idea.
Forget about looking like the new kid by asking too many questions. If you’ve landed a job straight out of college, you are the new kid to the senior engineers. They expect you to ask plenty of questions and are happy to help you find the answers you need. Questions are good for the whole office too, not just for expanding your own knowledge. An insightful question can often lead to new answers no one knew were needed until someone had the courage to ask. If that isn’t enough motivation to speak up with questions, consider whether it’s worse to ask a question before the fact or explain your mistake after a costly and potentially dangerous accident.
Maintain Your Education
Learning doesn’t stop when you graduate. Your diploma’s just the foundation of the lifelong educational experience of a career in engineering. You’ll always have something more to learn as tools and technology evolve. By keeping up with your studies on your own, you have a unique opportunity to be an innovator. You’re bringing a fresh perspective that many veteran engineers wish they could recapture. Make the most of it and be voracious in your reading about your own field and associated engineering disciplines.