There are lots of career pathways you can take to become a successful engineer, and there are multiple fields you can work in. Those pathways don’t have to be linear, making it possible to direct your career in the direction you want it to go. Whatever path you take, the following 14 tips will help.
1. Define Your Goals
Successful engineering projects don’t happen by chance – successful engineering careers don’t happen by chance either. Therefore, define where you would like to be as an engineer in the medium and long-term. You’re not making an unbreakable commitment when you do this, but it will help to keep you focused and moving forward. In addition, regularly review your progress to achieving your goals.
2. Commit Yourself to Continuous Professional Development
To keep up in a rapidly changing world and enhance your value to employers, you should engage in continuous professional development. In other words, you should acquire new skills with enthusiasm while being on a constant lookout for new professional development opportunities.
3. Constantly Work on Improving Your Problem-Solving Skills
Problem-solving is an essential skill in just about every field of engineering. It is also a skill that can be continuously improved. So, work on developing your problem-solving skills at each stage in your career.
4. Work on Improving Soft Skills
Many engineers focus their professional development efforts on improving their technical skills – learning SQL, for example. Don’t underestimate the importance of soft skills, however, such as organisational, teamwork, and presentation skills. You should also take time to acquire and improve essential skills like these.
One of the most important skills that fall into this category has already been mentioned – problem-solving skills. While all soft skills have their place, there are two more that deserve special attention by engineers:
- Communication skills – you will need to communicate with others at various levels throughout your career. This includes peers on your team, junior engineers as you become more senior, those in senior positions to you, clients who are not engineers, engineers who work for your company’s customers, and more. Therefore, it’s important to develop your communication skills.
- Collaboration skills – when everyone on the team works together, problems are solved faster, solutions are more effective, and quality is maintained. So, having good collaboration skills is important.
5. Focus on the Details
Details matter in engineering, so be meticulous in your attention to detail, whatever the task and whatever the project.
6. Learn from Mistakes
As an engineer, you will make mistakes, and you will fail. Mistakes are part of the process, particularly if you work with cutting edge technologies, processes, or systems. You should use these situations as an opportunity to learn, develop, and improve.
7. Understand Business
The people who make the decisions on the projects you work on will, more than likely, do so from a business perspective. As a result, they are more interested in return on investment than they are with the innovative approach you take to solving their problem. You don’t have to become a businessperson, of course, but it helps if you understand what makes decision-makers tick.
It can also help to work with different business teams when the opportunity arises – teams outside engineering. This experience will help you better understand the different requirements and perspectives of the business. It will also help others in the company to better understand the perspectives of engineers.
8. Embrace Change
Rapid advances in technologies and thinking mean nothing in engineering stands still, particularly if you’re involved in software engineering, automation engineering, and similar fields. You should embrace these rapid developments and never get stuck in an attitude of “that’s the way we’ve always done it”. Instead, always be flexible, so you’re ready to change.
9. Work Hard
This applies to every industry and job type, including engineering. You should take your inspiration from Thomas Edison, the great inventor. He said: “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”
10. Be Optimistic
Engineering is often about problem-solving, so it’s important to have a can-do, optimistic attitude. Of course, you need to be realistic too, but remaining optimistic when facing challenges will take you a long way.
11. Identify Role Models and Mentors
You can learn a lot from role models and mentors to help you further develop your career. This could be the best engineer in the company you work for, for example. You can formalise the mentoring relationship, but it doesn’t have to be formal. Instead, you can simply talk to them, ask questions, work on teams or projects they are also involved with, etc. You can also seek inspiration from role models outside your company, including industry leaders. When doing this, don’t just look at the great engineering work they do, but also how they became successful.
12. Stay Flexible
Engineering is a very broad field with lots of opportunities. You should remain open-minded, therefore, about where your career will take you. In fact, you could be doing a job role in 10 years that doesn’t even exist today. Also, industries you may never have considered could present you with significant opportunities. One of the points above says you should define your goals, but you should remain flexible in their implementation.
13. Get the Right Work-Life Balance
Not everything in life is about work. In fact, work isn’t even the most important thing. We all know this, but it is all too easy to start prioritising work over other aspects of your life. There are occasions when this is unavoidable, such as when a project deadline is fast approaching. However, it is important to get the right overall work-life balance to be a successful engineer.
14. Focus on the Long-Term
You can become a good engineer in a relatively short period of time, but real success (i.e., achieving the goals you identified in the earlier point above) takes time. You should view it as a marathon, not a sprint.