on August 2nd, 2011

Dear Colleagues

One of the best investments I ever made in my basic skills
was learning to touch type thirty years ago (yes - on a typewriter). Admittedly,
being the only (geeky) boy in the class, I was somewhat intimidated by the dozen
girls in the class; but a mere 20 hours investment, has been worth tens of
thousands in terms of a real payback. There are many other basic skills which
we tend to neglect but are critical to our engineering careers and personal
lives. Obviously, you do need solid engineering expertise and skills in which
to perform your job competently. From welding, to power system protection relay
settings to electrical design and designing a PLC program. But these basic
skills, listed below, can make an enormous difference to you in your day-to-day
engineering work. Read on to see what these other basic skills are (not
necessarily in any priority order):

Manage your time ruthlessly. Each day, write down an
updated list of tasks with strict deadlines and work through them in priority
order (esp. the unpleasant ones).

Capture your environment by photo-graph-ing powerfully. How
many times have you had to take a top class photo of a substation, control
system installation, project or piece of equipment and wondered if you were
providing the best picture ? There are two simple steps to ensure a great photo-graph
from even the most amateur photo-grapher:

  1. Design
    – most good photo-graphs adhere to the “the rule of thirds”. Imagine the frame
    of your photo is split into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Position
    the elements of your photo-graph long these lines. i.e. the horizon would sit
    on either the bottom or top horizontal line and the subject would line up with
    one of the vertical lines.
  2. Lighting:
    to ensure a good shot ensure the subject in the foreground is lit to the same
    F-stop (light exposure) as the background. i.e if your subject is in the shade
    or has the sun behind them. Fill flash will be required to give the correct

Basic bookkeeping. How many times have you looked at
a project costing and wondered whether it has been realistic (esp. software). Always
be super conservative and underestimate sales revenue and overestimate costs. Assume
costs will hit you immediately and sales revenue will come in a lot later. Ensure
you can read a simple Profit and Loss and Balance Sheet. Ensure your real
assets are “real” (e.g. not software worth $40m sitting on the balance sheet
but in actual fact - worthless); and you know the true extent of your
liabilities. Finally, remember in your personal and business life, that Cash is
King. No matter how much the reported profits are; the key to your project and
firm is always (sadly) availability of immediate cash.

Negotiate effectively. Much to the horror of my kids
(all Y-Generation), I reckon I conserve $3000 to $4000 per year by negotiating
for everything from fruit, veggies to a computer to circuit breakers for a project.
You should try this. Always make it a win-win for both parties in negotiating
and give the other person a reason to give you a discount. Try and look for a
lateral thinking solution where you can exploit assets the other person may
have but which don’t cost them anything (but are worth a lot to you) to throw
into your “deal”.

Write simply and powerfully. Write in simple English
and keep it short and powerful. Avoid big clumsy words. Use digital graphics,
sketches and photos which are so easily produced these days and integrated into
your text to add life your words and make the whole document easier to

Make simple but powerful presentation. I am not
referring to clever animations and gimmicks but simple presentations which are
understandable. I was surprised by a presentation on surge protection (by
someone who shall remain nameless) where they brought in a ton of equipment to
demonstrate to a very interested group of 60 odd engineering professionals, but
didn’t explain in simple English what they were planning to do with the
demonstration, what they were doing and what actually happened. Result: a
complete waste of an exercise. Speak to your audience in simple English and
assume nothing in terms of understanding. Don’t lecture but chat to them with
passion and enthusiasm.

These are all basic skills but an investment in these skills
will make you hundreds of thousands of $, make your professional and personal
life so much more interesting and satisfying.

Can you think of any others that I have left out that
have made an impact on your life ? Let me know and I will highlight your
comments to everyone else.

When acquiring knowledge and skills, we always need to
ensure we get the right ones. As Alec Bourne so rightly remarks: It is
possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely

to the inimitable Arna Holmes for her suggestions on photo-graphy.

Yours in engineering learning


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