I recognized last week that it’s been ten years since graduating from Montana State University. I have learned a vast amount in the field that I never learned in school. Here are ten things I’ve learned from a decade working as an electrical engineer.

  1. Your time is your most valuable resource. Seek ways to maximize the effect of your time.
  2. Knowing the right answer isn’t as important as the capacity to find the right one.
  3. Accomplishing a design is only about 25% of engineering. The other 75% is showing that the design was done right. That requires a lot of report writing, testing, documentation, and meetings. That 75% is the real work.
  4. Read. Read a fucking lot. There’s a lot of smart people out there who have written tomes of how to engineer. Many of them are free, or easy to find online. Ignore them at your cost.
  5. Take care of yourself. Physical fitness, good nutrition, and mental health all impact the quality of your work. (I’d lump “financial wellness” in with this, too. Save judiciously; that ensures you’re always paying yourself first.)
  6. Good relationships make you a whole lot more effective, both inside and outside of the office. Good relationships are formed on a bedrock of trust and credibility; like bedrock, these take time to accumulate. Never underestimate how valuable a trusted working relationship is.
  7. Good communication makes you a whole lot more effective. There are tons of brilliant engineers out there. Relatively few of them can get their point across concisely and clearly. Doing so is a skill you can practice that elevates your value as an employee. Writing, in particular, helps it make you look like you know what you’re doing, and helps persuade people to your ideas without making demands on your time. (See Lesson #1.)
  8. Processes offer you the freedom to focus on the problem at hand, without stressing over the means by which the solution is executed. People tend to equate “process” with “bureaucracy”, and as a result, show a lot of resistance to implementing processes. However, it’s much harder to collaborate without one. Most folks find them a lot easier to swallow if you offer it as “a framework for how we work together”, instead of “a set of rules we must follow”.
  9. Owning uncertainty makes you more credible. Owning resolution makes you more credible still.
  10. Part of being a good engineer is constantly checking your own assertions, and testing that your understanding is correct. Like Mark Twain said: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Keep a healthy sense of skepticism, but recognize that you need to make some time to set it aside if you want it to be healthy. Be mindful that it can slide into cynicism. (Still working on that one.)
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