A few pieces of advice for young engineers on how to thrive in a company environment.

advice to interns

One of the goals of our fast-growing intern’s lab is to provide students with practical work experience. Because, to thrive in a company, you need to acquire some skills and habits not taught in college.

To facilitate that learning, we took a few pieces of advice from a little gem of a book called “The Unwritten Laws of Engineering.” It was published way back in 1944, but it contains some indispensable guidance on personal conduct.

Here are our five picks from the book that resonate particularly well with our company culture. They’re taken from part One titled “What a beginner needs to learn at once”:

1. “If carrying out a project, do not wait passively for anyone – suppliers, sales people, colleagues, supervisors – to make good on their delivery promises; go after them and keep relentlessly after them. This is one of the first things a new engineer must learn in entering a manufacturing organization. Many novices assume that it is sufficient to make a request or order, than sit back and wait until the goods or services are delivered. Most jobs progress in direct proportion to the amount of follow-up and expediting that is applied to them. Expediting means planing, investigating, promoting, and facilitating every step in the process. Cultivate the habit of looking immediately for some way around each obstacle encountered, some other resource or expedient to keep the job rolling without losing the momentum.”

2. “Don’t be timid – speak up – express yourself and promote your ideas Too many new employees seem to think that their job is simply to do what they are told. Of course there are times when it is wise and prudent to keep silent, but, as a rule, it pays to express your point of view whenever you can contribute something. The quiet, timorous individual who says nothing is usually credited with having nothing to say. […] It also happens that the one who talks most knowingly and confidently about a project will often be assigned to carry it out. If you do not want the job, say nothing and you’ll be overlooked, but you’ll also be overlooked when it comes time to assigning larger responsibilities.”

3. “Develop ‘Let’s go see!’ attitude Throughout your career people will approach you with all manner of real-life problems they will have observed on devices or equipment for which you have responsibility. A wonderfully effective response, both technically and administratively, is to invite them to have a look with you – i.e. “Let’s go see!” It is seldom adequate to remain at one’s desk and speculate about causes and solutions, or to retreat to drawings, specifications, and reports and hope to sort it all out.”

4. “Cultivate the habit of seeking other peoples’ opinions and recommendations Particularly as a beginning engineer, you cannot hope to know all you must about your field and your employer’s business. Therefore, you must ask for help from others; routinely seek out those who are ‘in the know.’”

5. “Demonstrate the ability to get things done This is a quality that may be achieved by various means under different circumstances… It can probably be reduced to a combination of three basic characteristics:

– initiative, which is expressed in energy to start things and aggressiveness to keep them moving briskly
– resourcefulness or ingenuity, i.e., the faculty for finding ways to accomplish the desired results, and
– persistence (tenacity), which is the disposition to persevere in spite of difficulties, discouragement, or indifference”

Technologies change but people stay the same. That’s why the advice is as relevant today as when the “Unwritten Laws of Engineering” was first published. Reflect on it from time to time, act in accordance, and you’ll do well.

That’s for personal skills.

If technical knowledge is what you’re after, don’t forget the repository of books on our site, some of which you can access for free and start reading right away.

Yours sincerely,

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