It can be inspiring to listen to smart people talk about what motivates them and learn what habits have enabled their success. I co-host “Being an Engineer,” a podcast centered around engineers and what makes them tick. As my co-host Aaron Moncur and I have shared the privilege of interviewing over 50 engineers and other creative people, we constantly gather useful advice and are reminded of important values that can take our skills to the next level. While nobody’s lifelong wisdom can be reduced to one sentence, this list is some of my quick takeaways from the podcast. Anyone else who listens to these interviews will likely have a different interpretation of each episode, but these are mine:
My takeaway: Don’t just download the McMaster hardware you need. Take a few extra moments to explore the section of the hardware you need so that you build a mental library of the off the shelf hardware that’s available. This will help you in future designs.
The importance of having various prototypes and educating the customer on the design process.
Serendipity, and how to gain a 6th sense in design.
My takeaway: Strive to have a company culture in which transparency is the norm. Achieve this by making it clear that when one gives constructive criticism, it’s focused on the project and not the person.
My takeaway: This is a recurring theme: Understanding and being able to manufacture prototypes with your own hands by operating various methods like machining, laserjet, etc, makes you a valuable designer. You want your designs to be optimized for manufacturing.
Germany has a great mechanical engineering program.
This statement has been incredibly helpful when proposing ideas during brainstorming, “What would happen if ________.”
My takeaway: Making the end user–in many cases, the operator–part of your design team is crucial for two reasons: A) The end-user can give you insights on the real problems they’re facing, B) The end-user will take ownership for the solution you develop and actually use it. They become your advocate in promoting your solution to other operators. Conclusion: Always make the end-user part of your design team and touch base with them regularly to ensure the idea being developed aligns with their needs. You’ve succeeded if the operator feels ownership of the solution you’ve developed.
In my own words: Read “Exact Constraint: Machine Design Using Kinematic Processing” by Douglass L. Blanding to become a better mechanical designer.
Immediately after graduating, continue reviewing your college notes so that you keep the equations fresh in your memory.
My takeaway: Develop processes that foster clear communication between the team.
My takeaway: Dedicate one hour a day to improving your craft. Pay keen attention to how you communicate. Aim to project the most confident version of yourself. Be wary of “imposter syndrome,” you probably already have what it takes.
My takeaway: Have “rubber band focus.” Rubber band meaning develops the habit of looking at the fine details of a project as well as the high-level overview. When looking at a problem, you may get into the intricate details and lose track of overall projects. When solving a complex system, every now it’s useful to take a step back to ensure what one is trying to accomplish is aligned with the goals as a whole
My takeaway: Similar concept to episode 46. Visit the manufacturing floor/assembly line and develop a relationship with the operators. Kirsty tells a story of how engineers may overcomplicate a solution that sometimes an operator can solve in an instant if you simply ask them. Her toothpaste box story is an eye-opening example, you have to listen to it.
My takeaway: Manufacturing companies are moving from Asia to Latin America. Reason: The workers in Latin America seem to be a better alternative because of what seems to be higher-level high school education. This makes Latin American operators more apt at assembling. Thus, being a bilingual engineer who speaks Spanish could make you invaluable to the company that you work for if you can communicate directly with the manufacturing facilities in Mexico. This results in getting paid handsomely. This advice made me very optimistic because I’m Argentinean and I’m 100% bilingual.
My takeaway: Advice on how to communicate with engineers (hint: use numbers). This skill has allowed him to earn the respect of engineering teams owing to his ability to communicate in a way that allows engineering teams to fully understand and appreciate the value his human factors team brings to the table. He has also helped develop and foster an incredible work environment at Priority Designs (check out their website – it’s an impressive firm) where a flat organizational structure has led to supreme efficiency and empowering team members to get stuff done without the bureaucracy of traditional organizations.
My takeaway: Understand the problem really well before you start designing a solution.
My takeaway: How to start a company after getting laid off from your mechanical engineering job. The importance of soft skills, or what Aaron calls “kindergarten skills.” Aaron is the host of the “Being an Engineer” podcast and founder of Pipeline Design & Engineering. His company specializes in medical device test fixtures.
My takeaway: This is my episode. I talk about how I went from graduating with a degree in Genetics with honors at 23, selling my software company at 26, and starting my mechanical design engineering career at 27. I’m almost 30 years old now and I will be writing articles on SolidSmack about what it’s like to break into the world of mechanical design.
My takeaway: Michael graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from an Ivy League school and didn’t actually “use it” until 20 years after graduating. I asked him how he was able to remember the concepts he learned 20 years ago, and the key was to internalize the information learned. As long as you understand the main principles, like the laws of physics, everything should come back to you. This has positively affected my study habits and improved my retention.
My goal is to be direct, succinct, and to provide value in my articles. I know that by you reading this list, you are now equipped with at least one golden nugget of wisdom that you may have not known before. If you’ve found this content of value, please consider “sharing” on social media so your astute followers can benefit from these golden nuggets. Thanks for reading.