on June 12th, 2007

Dear colleagues

We are closer to the end of the year. Did you achieve what you set out to do on the 1st January 2007? Perhaps you never gave it too much thought with all the day-to-day stuff going on. I am composing this over a few welcome coffees in Dubai after a missed flight (we’re doing a little hazardous areas roadshow in the region).

Thanks once again to all you wonderful engineers and techies out there who write to me. Your suggestions/criticisms and help is always gratefully received and acknowledged.

How to avoid engineering career killers – 11 tips

A few thoughts on how to avoid the sabotage of your brilliant engineering career – perhaps something to add to your 2008 New Year resolutions? Thanks to John McKee of BusinessSuccessCoach for his relevant ideas here, which I have modified for our engineering lives (from his IT geek focus).

1. Make sure you have a life plan. This is the number one problem for most engineers and techies. A plan that includes one’s career, along with personal/family and financial goals. Where do you want to be in a year? Ten years? Write it down in a few short sentences and read it every morning before you start your day. An engineer pointed out to me yesterday that he doesn’t particularly worry about money; he enjoys his job and that is all that matters. This is good, but you still need to pay the bills and put something away for when you’re older or sick and want the best for your family.

2. Keep your skills current. You need to keep surfing the engineering wave. What was a key skill yesterday is not necessarily one today. Learning new skills certainly doesn’t mean only attending a course; but informal learning from your peers/books/the internet/on-the-job and then practicing the new found skills. Engineers and techies are in ferocious demand today. But all booms must end, and keep in mind that lower cost countries are developing some extraordinarily skilled people who will compete. Don’t hoard your knowledge but pass it on  freely to others in your organisation. They will reciprocate and regard you highly.

3. Deliver real results to your organization. You have to deliver the goods. Unfortunately putting in extraordinary efforts (such as working long hours) is only part of the story for career success. You eventually have to demonstrate real results which will distinguish you from others when a promotion is at hand. Persistence and innovative thinking are the key attributes to excel and deliver real results.

4. Don’t confuse efficiency with effectiveness. Many people love doing everything quickly by email with no person-to-person contact and don’t bother about talking to real people. You need to talk and communicate in person or on the phone with others.

5. You’re not irreplaceable and unfortunately you are not unique. No matter how much you know; there will be someone out there who is cheaper and better who can replace you. So don’t be overconfident. Listen carefully to others in your company about how you are performing and view your engineering ability objectively. Often difficult to do. As it can be a painful experience. But very productive provided you approach it positively.

6. Learn carefully from the signal in the noise. There is a lot going on around you. An incredible amount to learn. New ideas and new approaches; a lot of them are rubbish. But occasionally you will come across new approaches and new technologies which despite your worse fears, can be applied very successfully and result in remarkably positive changes in your engineering world.

7. Don’t surround yourself with “yes-(wo)men”. Don’t believe people who keep telling you what a wonderful job you are doing. They may be your subordinates or others who have a vested interest in keeping you happy. Look for strong critical but constructive reviews of what you are doing.

8. Give credit where it’s due. Don’t take credit where it isn’t due. It doesn’t reflect well on you. Ensure you praise lavishly for successes achieved by others. People will respect you all the more.

9. Self-promote yourself with panache. A fine line between being a braggart and hiding your light under a bushel by being too modest. Ensure that everyone knows (including your boss) of your successes and achievements using newsletters/case studies/improved design procedures/helpful emails etc. Without being overly immodest, obviously. If you keep ultra quiet, no one will know what a marvelous job you are doing.

10. Don’t lose perspective. Sometimes a design or problem seems intractable. No easy solution can be found. Have no shame in consulting other colleagues for assistance here and other perspectives on solving this problem.

11. Be passionate, enthusiastic and have a positive attitude. Don’t complain and be “political”. Just concentrate on getting the job done with enormous chutzpah and passion. Avoid the blame game. One of the finest and most experienced industrial automation engineers (Martin G.) I know of, has often been given failed designs to fix. He goes about his task quickly and effectively with nary a negative word about the previous incumbent. I always believe that if you are passionate about what you are doing, you will always be eventually successful. If you are not passionate about what you are doing, get an exit strategy sorted out as soon as possible. This is your life.

In conclusion, I reproduce a tiny part of a poem I keep with me wherever I am:

When  things go wrong as they sometimes will/When the road you’re trudging  seems all up hill/When the funds are low and the debts high/And you want to smile  but you have to sigh/When care is pressing you down a bit/Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.

Yours in engineering learning

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