Summary: In the past, I have written about essential soft skills of an engineer and how an engineer can be more creative. What followed were book- and film reviews and articles for a wider audience. With this article I go back to basics and write about the characteristics of a good engineer.
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A few weeks ago, I was at a party and met an old friend from my student days. He said I was doing well. I felt flattered, thanked him and asked him what it was that I was doing well. “You work with engineers,” said the engineer.
I am aware that having a target group gives focus. Because of my engineering background, I like to work with engineers.
However, I must admit that my customers do not always belong to my target group. I realize that many engineers think coaching and training are “soft”. They prefer to work with hard data and models. If they are happy with that, then that’s good for me.
In my firm I see engineers coming to me who have questions about their career or have been given another position that requires different skills. Softer skills such as social skills, negotiating, leadership skills like convincing or motivating a team.
In this blog I go back to basics. What is a good engineer? What characteristics or skills does he / she have?
A good engineer is a specialist in a certain field. He / she keeps track of developments in the field. How do you do that? By reading (or writing) professional literature, attending congresses, being a member of a professional organization in the field or following additional training.
A characteristic of a good engineer is to be curious and to wonder what are the causes of certain events, measurements or results. This requires being aware of the environment by keeping your eyes and ears open and being amazed. Be authentic and meet people at network meetings. Listen carefully and ask good questions.
This is a contrast with the first feature! Let me explain this to you. I used to work as a Geohydrologist for an consultancy firm. That meant that in addition to advice in the field of groundwater, I also consult clients in areas that are related to my specialty. Think of monitoring, geotechnics, environment (pollution) or data processing. I was certainly not a specialist in those areas, but I knew what was needed to help customers further along and to put them in contact with the right colleagues or other companies.
Most customers have a problem and want to get rid of it as quickly as possible. If you as an engineer can help them further in areas other than your own, they will definitely come back.
How do you become a generalist? By staying curious!
A good engineer is commercial. That means that he develops certain services (business development). You can learn that by going to a meeting with senior (colleagues) or by taking along a specialist from another field.
In my experience, an engineer / specialist quickly comes to the point. After all, that is his / her field (and feels safe). During these conversations, try to find out what other challenges / projects the customer has. That requires courage. You can read more about that here. No doubt you or someone in your network can help. That also means that you are able to communicate well. Read this article to learn to communicate better (with DISC) or this article for more information about the Commercial Engineer.
Engineer comes from the French word Ingénieur. The meaning of the Latin word Ingenium is an artfully conceived tool. This means that an engineer is creative and can come up with ideas / solutions. With all your knowledge in your field you naturally have many solutions for the challenges of your customers. Sometimes that requires work from your creative muscle. You can develop that by writing down 10 ideas every day (and sharing the way Elon Musk does on Twitter). Read this article for additional techniques for engineers to be more creative.
And then, as an engineer you have a great idea to solve a customer’s problem. But that is perhaps more expensive, more time-consuming or more difficult. How do you convince your customer? Read this article about how you can convince people. That sometimes takes courage as well. You can read more about this in this article about courage.
Code of Ethics
A good engineer follows an ethical code and asks whether his/her advice is good for his or her client or a third party. For example the environment. I sometimes have interesting discussions with engineers about this when interests are likely to become conflicting. Perhaps I will write about this in the future, but for now you can consult the code of Ethics from the Royal Netherlands Society of Engineers if you have any doubts.
Since 2014, an engineer in the Netherlands can receive the title “Chartered Engineer” (CEng) or “Incorporated Engineer” (IEng). This allows you to demonstrate (internationally) what you have done in professional development after your studies. It is more than a resume or a LinkedIn profile.
Professional development is recognized by peers and has competence requirements as well as self-reflection (read here on how you do this) in your career. You indicate how you have developed and how you will develop. That also means what skills and qualities you think you need for that. For information about this you can visit this site: https://charteredengineer.nl/.
More characteristics …
Looking for more characteristics of good engineers? Read this article with 8 soft essential skills for engineers. Or listen to the podcasts with Lucas Simons. He gives you more tips about the skills that every engineer must have in his or her suitcase.
Do you want to further develop one or more of these characteristics or skills through coaching or training? Contact me today for an intake interview where we will see how I can help you or your team further along.
What are, according to you, characteristics of a good engineer? Which one is missing or does not belong at all in the characteristics of a good engineer mentioned above? Let me know in the comment field below. I and the other readers of this article are looking forward to reading from you!
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