As I get older and I see more young engineers enter the industry, including my own daughter, it is interesting to reflect on what characteristics result in success. How you define success is another discussion.
For those of you who don’t know, I got a very indifferent grade for my Bachelors of Engineering from Manchester Polytechnic in the UK. At the time I graduated I had no interest in becoming an engineer. Both of my parents were engineers and I knew the field to some extent, having grown up with it. It was just not something I had any interest in.
So I spent several years in the lower end of the music industry. As all struggling musicians do, I accepted whatever paid work, or unpaid work was offered to get me ahead. I played with bands but I also worked in management, as a studio engineer, a soundtrack composer and a teacher.
By the time I had tried this for a few years, engineering was starting to look pretty damn attractive. So I gave up my ‘dream’ and leaned on my Dad to help get me a job in engineering.
To get to the point – the time that I spent outside of engineering engaged in setting up business and writing business plans (you still have to do that in the music industry), learning from the mentors who took me under their wing and learning to deal with constant rejection and disappointment was a huge advantage when it came to engineering.
In the freewheeling low end of the music industry of 30 years ago, as it has always been, it was the people who worked the hardest, turned up first, left last, were unfailingly good natured, hardworking and pulling for the team who got ahead.
I was not a great engineer and a good attitude was all I had, so that is what I tried to bring to the table.
The engineering skills and experience came over time.
I see my daughter doing the same thing. She keeps on asking for additional work from other engineering groups to expand her cross disciplinary skills and she asks for more responsibility – without the expectation of immediate compensation. She learned very quickly that manufacturing is the customer of engineering and the customer is always right.
She is much more a natural engineer than I was when I started and she is already pulling ahead of her peers. Not because she achieved better marks in college or she has a remarkable IQ (I don’t think she has ever been tested) but because she brings the right attitude.
I am often asked via social media and email by young engineers for advice, how to get ahead in their career.
The answer, as always, is to accumulate experience as fast as you can. Turn up early and leave last. Be unfailingly good natured, work hard and pull for the team – not for yourself.
As with most of life there is no great trick to doing well. You have to bring the best of yourself every day to whatever situation you discover and work as hard as you can for the project and the team.
You must always tell the truth, no matter how unpopular it might be. Don’t compromise your principles even once, you may find you can never get them back.