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How to Succeed as a Modern Engineer

Engineers planning CNC machinery

We hear it from mechanical engineers all the time: They were inspired to become an engineer by a love for how things work. Often, their ultimate career choice was fueled by an early hunger for knowledge about how the physical world works.

We explore what makes engineers tick by listening in on advice given to those exploring a future in engineering. Sampling these passionate exchanges provides rich evidence for what motivates many to pursue their career in helping engineer the physical — and the virtual — world we live in today.

Soft skills wanted

One of the surprising insights we gleaned from listening to engineers online is the consensus that soft skills matter in the making of a well-rounded master of the physical. One commenter offered this practical advice for the benefits of soft skills in a highly technical profession:

“I think the most underestimated skill for STEM majors is writing and communication. Students think science and engineering is all math and lone researchers. Not so. If you can't write and communicate well, you will be useless to anyone who might want your technical skills.”

Additional feedback from a seasoned engineer echoed the first response: “An important thing to remember if you are thinking about a career in engineering or science: It's not all about math, science and discovering/creating new things. A huge part of it is being able to organize your ideas/data and communicate the new stuff to other people. You may be able imagine incredible new things, but if you cannot communicate your ideas clearly through technical drawings and writing, you will not be successful as an engineer. So, pay attention in your writing classes as well as your math classes, they are very important!”

Is engineering still a haven for math lovers?

Many of the mechanical engineers we work with started out with a definite affinity for all things math. We wondered given the trend towards soft-skilling, if this was still the case, and found this thread sparked by a student asking for advice on the importance of math, should he become an engineer, as he was struggling in the subject.

Many experienced engineers agreed that math plays a vastly important role in their day-to-day, but offered insights on what to get good at in order to succeed. That was calculus.

“If you really know your algebra and trigonometry, calculus won't be so bad… after you get through integral calculus, multivariate and differential equations are a lot easier,” said one mechanical engineer. Another engineer reinforced this notion, “Most of what you do will be trigonometry with a little bit of calculus sprinkled in. So, if you take those courses in high school and can do above average, you should be fine.”

As a way of improving his math skills, one engineer spoke on the importance of establishing good study habits early. “As far as I'm concerned, passion for the field far outweighs any kind of deficiencies anyone may have. Try to learn as many good study habits as you can NOW while you're still in high school and you should be able to pick up the math skills that you need to get through college.”

Robotics — the perfect engineering storm

In a world becoming saturated with the internet-of-things, machine learning and intelligent bots, aspiring engineers turn to online forums for advice about which degrees matter if they want to work on the leading edges of engineering. One reader wondered whether electrical engineering (EE) or mechanical engineering (ME) would be most beneficial for a career in robotics. These two disciplines have a lot in common, and as you’ll read below, operate in harmony.

“Since EE and ME overlap quite a bit in theory (there is a mechanical equivalent to [just] about any electrical circuit) you can't go wrong starting with either, I'd go with the one that interests you the most. IF the school has a mechatronics degree that'd be ideal, and if not, there is always the option to minor in the other. But if you are in the EE loop, I'd try to do more embedded stuff.”

Engineering is a diverse field, with many different areas to specialize. It’s also clear that within each of those specializations, there’s tremendous opportunity to focus on very specific areas of the physical (and virtual) world.

Consider the vast knowledge of experienced engineers when looking for advice, or come on in and talk to one of our expert engineering recruiters. Thinking about your next career move, or want to surround yourself with new technology? We’d love to hear from you. Take a look at our current engineer career opportunities.