Four Pieces of Advice For New Engineers
One of the last engineering class projects I worked on was designing an 8-bit adder optimized for minimum delay-area product. If you don’t understand what that is, don’t worry, because neither do I. Right now your brain is full of technical knowledge. You feel like there’s no way you could ever forget an equation or formula — but over time much of what you know will fade from disuse.
The good news is, that’s okay. Nobody expects you to remember the specifics as long as you have the aptitude to understand and learn. The working world is very different from an educational environment and there are many, many new skills you will need to learn.
If I could go back in time and give my young self some advice, this is what I would say.
- The most important aspect of your job is not the work, it’s how you work as a team. The work is hard, but the relationships you need to forge are even harder. It doesn’t matter what size company you work for, whether it’s a 10 person startup or a 20,000 person multinational corporation. The most successful engineers are the ones that know how to work with all types of people and solve problems as a team. You might feel like it’s annoying to deal with “politics” or “bureaucracy”, but those words are just euphemisms for “how to work with others and get others to work with you.” If you can’t do this, you won’t go far. You’ll just be seen as an individual contributor, or worse, someone who is hard to work with.
- Make an effort to meet as many people as you can both inside and outside the company. This is likely the most uncomfortable piece of advice I can give you. “Networking” sounds like a business word but it’s one of the best ways to figure out how to solve your hardest problems. Knowing the right people will help you solve problems faster and more efficiently. Start by getting lunch with people on your team, then with people in your department. After that you should meet leaders across the company. Find out what people do and what drives them. Your first step is to meet everyone, your second step is to deliver value to them.
- You are your own Chief Marketing Officer. This means you need to market yourself. You are a product. How do you make companies want to buy your product? If you have something to say, blog about it. If you love to code, start putting open source projects up on GitHub. Be active on social media. This is scary stuff but it’s kind of like investing — the earlier you start, the more compound interest you will earn later!
- Find good mentors. Find someone you respect who has a lot more experience than you do. Ask him or her to be your mentor. Try to meet with your mentor for coffee once a month or once every other month. This is hard to do but if you have a good mentor, you will make less mistakes in your career. Your parents do not qualify for this job.
That’s it. Four pieces of advice. This is hard stuff and I would say most professionals fail to do all four things consistently but if you make a concerted effort I promise you it will pay off. EECS for life!