Being an engineer is like being that curious cat. The curious cat knows his or her curiosity may be the end of him or her, but he or she still needs to know how something works.
Without knowing how something works, we may not be able fix it, improve it, or simply innovate a new solution that makes that thing we think is cool obsolete.
Engineers built irrigation systems, engineers built castles, engineers got man to space, engineers built the world-wide web. Engineers are the reason we can see our loved ones across the sea in real time.
Engineers are the reason we can take selfies on a plane—flying across the sea, sharing them with millions of people while sipping our favorite drink thousands of feet up in the sky.
I became an engineer because I am a curious cat—I need to know how something works. I need to know how to build things from scratch. I need to know how to build more efficient things that will make my life and the life of people I care for easier. Being an engineer is rewarding, and also demanding.
It requires a lot of hard work. The cliché of “hard work pays” is indeed true, but to be a good engineer, you need to not only “work hard” but also “work smart.” Working smarter and more efficiently will help you complete tasks much faster. If I can write a computer program to automate a task that will help me work faster, I will. If I can build an Artificial Intelligence system that can automate most of my tasks, it will free my time to do more pressing matters. Artificial Intelligence is a hot and controversial topic today; there is a lot of excitement and fear. I am personally excited about it, because Artificial Intelligence is here to stay, it is in our future, and my job as an engineer is to make sure I help engineers and Artificial Intelligence, which will be good for me, my kids, and humanity.
In short, being an engineer is like being a curious cat who will work hard and work smart to make sure the next innovation he or she builds is an innovation for good rather than an innovation that may cause his or her doom.
How do we become good and successful engineers? Well, for starters, we must persevere.
Perseverance is perhaps one of the best traits to have. As engineers, we will fail—we will fail many times. It is not about failing—failure is inevitable—it is about how we deal with failure. The old “fail fast, recover fast” saying is true. We want to be able to fail, learn, and resume our work. Some days will feel like there is no solution, so we need to take a breather, sleep on it, and get back at it the next day. When we try different approaches and learn from our failures, we are bound to find a solution, or at least a partial solution that will help us move along.
Complacency is our enemy. As an engineer, we cannot, and should not, fall into the trap of complacency with our everyday tasks. As an engineer, if you reach a point where you stop trying to improve things, you are not being a good engineer. A good and successful engineer will look at better ways of doing things, improving on existing processes, and innovating.
Finally, to become a successful engineer, you must have a strong and positive attitude. You must not keep quiet when you see something is not quite right, when you feel something will not work, or something may endanger yourself or others. You must be strong and accept criticism— take it as an opportunity to learn rather than take it personally. We have all been criticized at some point in our lives for our work. Criticism is an opportunity to come back stronger and show that we can improve our work. However, do not let criticism get you down. And always give good feedback and positive criticism, because like you, others will also need that opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Be proactive, help when you can, and ask for help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Some people say to let our work speak for us, this is true, but you must also be your own marketing department. Good engineers will do great work, as good or better than yours. It is your responsibility to showcase your work, push your work, and market your work, so that others appreciate it and it does not fall on deaf ears. Yes, good work speaks volumes, but there is nothing wrong with adding amplifiers.
So, be a curious cat, be an innovator, be a creator, persevere, never be complacent, and have a great attitude. Don’t just be an engineer, be an awesome engineer!
Luis “Danny” Bathen was awarded HENAAC’s 2018 Most Promising Engineer Advanced Degree – Ph.D.