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What Makes a Good Engineer

September 16, 2011

I’ve been thinking lately about what turns someone with an engineering degree and a few years of experience from just a person with the engineer title and into a badass engineer.

In my limited industry experience and having seen both successful and not successful people I’ve come up with three essential ingredients to excelling:

1) Tribal Knowledge: Whether this is industry specific, company specific, product specific, this is an essential part of how well you will be able to succeed. Anyone from the secretary to the CEO has the capability of picking this up but not everyone bothers and that’s a separating factor.

2) Theoretical Knowledge: You learned a lot of this in school. But probably not 1% of what you’ll have to learn over the lifetime of your career. You come in thinking about what you know already and worrying you can remember all the tidbits you learned in class. But really you’ll have to pick up a lot more knowledge based on whatever it is you’re expected to do over your career. And you need to turn this theoretical book knowledge into an intuitive understanding of the systems you work with. As  young engineer that seems intimidating. But the more experience I get the more I see this happening almost naturally.

3) Hands on Skills: Not every single engineer needs to be able to solder or weld or fix an electronics box or a car every single day. But your theoretical understanding of a system needs to be based on real and actual skills with those systems. You probably won’t be the person responsible for doing repairs if you’re at a large enough organization. But what you learn from your hands on experience makes you a better engineer. It enhances your intuition for designing a better product and lets you know what to expect from troubleshooting the kind of day in and day out minor problems that crop up.

I’m curious to know what the readers think, what the balance is between theoretical, practical and the sort of on the job training and communication that occurs as you ramp up to a new job. (Photo from Pondering Moose)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 14, 2011 6:52 am

    Experience is the most important, on top of it is ethics and communication. Some time you need to act as politicians.


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