4 Things You Didn't Learn In Engineering School

If you're an engineer you've gone through college, but you've also had a reality check when you got your first engineering job. No amount of classroom teaching and skill refining can prepare you for getting out into the real world as an engineer. Here are 4 things that will help prepare you to go from the classroom to your career.

1. Communication matters more than technical competence.

More than likely as an engineer you are a fairly smart and competent person but if you can't or won't communicate with others then your knowledge will go to waste. It doesn't matter what you know, what you invent, or what you design, if you don't communicate that vision to others then that vision will get lost in the business of your company, probably never actually see production, and you will be left feeling inadequate as an engineer. Effective communication is key to getting things accomplished for both your company and your customers.

2. Two brains are always smarter than one.

It is important to realize that you are not going to be an expert in every area. As an engineer, to be successful you have to have a team of people to rely on. Engineering school often focuses on you the individual and you're graded on your competency and skills. However, when you get into the workplace you quickly realize that if you don't work well with a team you probably won't be working there for long and for good reason. No engineering firm wants an engineer that thinks he is better than everyone else and claims to have all the answers. A successful engineering firm utilizes the capabilities of every engineer, drafter, and designer to come up with a solution to the clients problem. Engineers have a reputation of helping to solve the world's problems and make the world work more efficiently. Do it as a team regardless of what your professor says.

3. Everything is driven by financials

In engineering school you learn how to design and optimize design. Your work is often completely separated from the concept of ROI. It's not just about designing something cool. The question your executives will ask is "how is this going to make us money?" You need to be prepared to answer that question. When you design something for a client you need to explain every aspect of your design and why things are the way you designed them. The clients expectation is that you will build something efficient and that it will save them money in operation, labor, and maintenance. If an engineering firm can't deliver on these expectations then it won't be long before that engineering firm is no longer in business. Want to keep a job? Then make your clients money.

4. Character and integrity.

This might seem like the odd one out but you don't hear anything about this in engineering school. Let's be realistic, no one wants to work with someone who is dishonest and not trustworthy, especially an engineer. The difference in the engineering field is that taking shortcuts, or lying to get out of trouble can put the safety and lives of others at risk. As an engineer you're designing buildings, machines, and all kinds of things that could blow up or destroy parts of the environment.

William Mulholland

Engineer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, William Mulholland.

On March 12th, 1928 William Mulholland, an engineer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, inspected the Saint Francis Dam about 10 miles northwest of Los Angeles. During his inspection he found some cracks in the dam and due to an unusual amount of rain the dam was at capacity for the first time. After inspecting the dam Mulholland decided it was no big deal and that these cracks were standard for concrete under such a heavy load. About 12 hours later, 2 minutes to midnight, the dam failed catastrophically. The dam completely collapsed due to the cracks in the dam walls and sent 12.4 billion gallons of water roaring down the San Francisquito Canyon at 18 mph. The wall of water was 140 ft high and destroyed everything in its path. It swept away 5 cities emptying tons of debris and an estimated 600 bodies into the pacific ocean.

Saint Francis Dam

All that was left of the Saint Francis Dam after it collapsed.

Engineering school is an absolute necessity to be an engineer but it is vitally important to get outside the academic bubble and see what being an engineer looks like in the real world, where it matters, where the decisions you make can keep people safe or put their lives at risk. There is no room for arrogance or ignorance when you are dealing with people's lives.

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