One Year as An Engineer; Lessons Learned So Far

July 1st, fresh out of University, just graduated as an Engineer, I joined a top brewery in the country. I was scared about the world of Engineering.

Nonetheless, I said; “come what may, I must practice for some good time. Long enough to get the Engineering body to allow me to use the title before my name.”

Before I joined, a friend approached me with an enticing opportunity to become the Engineer in charge at his factory. I turned down the opportunity for the moment and chose to take the longer route. 6 months into the job, another firm approaches me asking that I do PR for their project. They offer me an option of thrice my salary. The inner voice in me leaves that money on the table. I still knew I wanted to just practice in the real world.

Looking back, I realize that 90 percent of what I was scared about did not come to happen. Most people who graduate as Engineers never practice. Over 3 quarters go into totally different fields.

I was scared of finding mean people in a sense that they wouldn’t share their knowledge. On the contrary, I found the nicest of people. They went out of the way to teach me all they could, share all the Engineering tips. They just became my moving libraries.

I remember when I had just started, I was always intrigued by how easily people would know by eye sight the size of the bolt. Like the guy would just look at the bolt or nut and say; “get me spanner 13.”

So one day I asked one of the guys. And he told me; “Ian some of these things just come with time.” And true to it, for engineering, it is much about time. Now some bolts are pretty obvious to me, whether it is an M17 or M13. Most knowledge in the world is tacit knowledge. It is the kind of knowledge that you can’t get by reading a book. When I was a kid, I was always amazed by people who typed without looking at the keyboard. Now I do the same. It is like you develop something called “muscle memory” where you do things unconsciously as a result of repetitive practice. The same applies for engineering. To listen to a noise on a motor and know which bearing has seized is tacit knowledge. You can google a million types, watch youtube videos whatever, but until you spend time experiencing it in the real world, you will never get that knowledge. 10,000 hour rule really applies in Engineering. It is practice, practice, practice.

I also soon learned about the value of teamwork. Engineering unlike other professions is a team ‘sport.’ Engineers work in teams. You win as a team. There was and still in this kind of camarederie that ensues as you work on a challenging problem, everyone suggesting a solution. Most people at campus had this illusion that to win, others must lose. In Engineering you all must win. Just watch the Formula One pitstops and then you will know what it means to work and win as a team.

I also soon learned that 90 percent of the time should be spent on the ground having the hands on and 10 percent opening the books or googling. There is the kind of knowledge that can’t be explained or passed on through words. It is just like learning to drive a manual car. You won’t ever know what it means to reach the clutch biting point until you step on the clutch yourself.

Engineering also taught me the value of going the extra mile. Staying long enough with a problem until it is solved.

It also taught me passion. Passion can’t be faked. You can fake passion in other professions but not in Engineering. Within a month, if you were faking the passion, you will be asking out. Once you would have a very smooth day and as you are leaving at 5pm, something happens and you have to solve it all the way into the night. Trust me, only passion can get you going in such moments. If you don’t love it, you can’t stay in.

In Engineering, you can’t fake it. Soon your bubble bursts. Whenever you see an engineer at the top, they’ve earned their place in that spot. And how do you earn that place? By practically demonstrating that you are fit for it.

Honestly, I keep laughing when people say they never use things they studied. I was taught how to read a vernier calliper in Senior one. Now it is a normal way of life. You want to measure something accurately especially diameters, you get out that vernier calliper and take a reading. Although there are digital callipers, I still find the manual ones much more reliable.

You also soon learn in Engineering that learning is a life time process. In Engineering there is no shame in asking a stupid question. Better to be laughed at for a day than to remain ignorant all your life. I am constantly asking all kinds of “stupid” questions. I ask everyone. And then go research more. You have to keep asking “why” in engineering. You have to keep learning and asking questions. You soon realize that no one knows it all in engineering.

Looking back on the past one year, it has been tremendously exciting. I remember my first assignment. My coach threw me in the deep end. The fastest way to learn anything is to do it, go execute.

I remember the first brewing meetings I attended. It all sounded like french. Of course after sometime the short form lingua also infects you. Sometimes I have to catch myself in the middle of a sentence in case I am using this short form when talking to someone knew.

Above all, if you want to go a long way in engineering, you must be humble. Where you don’t understand, ask. Watch someone do it, try it out under their watch. And take on every challenge.

But to summarize it all, it is passion, passion, and passion. You must love it. If you don’t, you will live a miserable life. Most people do jobs they hate so they always fuckin’ look forward to Fridays. Like Fridays they are celebrating. Come Sunday afternoon, they are dreading Monday. Come Monday morning, they are cursing. If this is your life, then it sucks and you must take some steps to change it. We spend most of our time at work, so there is no reason doing something you hate. You must love it. Everyday of your working life should be like Friday. Mondays should excite you. You must be absolutely pumped up for them.

And by the way, I don’t buy into this thing of work-life balance. It is a terribly bad idea. That supposes that you have work in one folder and your life in another. Whether it is work or what, it is all life. And let me be bold here. If you are looking for a work-life balance, then your life absolutely sucks. Work should feel like play. That is why you gotta love it.

And hey, after doing engineering for a year, I am very safety conscious. The kind of things that I didn’t get bothered by before now bother me. I am constantly seeing people in the outside world being seconds short of an accident. I am now always acting as a saviour.

But above all, engineering is superbly fun. There will never be a day where you get bored for no day is the same. And that is what makes it exciting. Everyday seems like an adventure. But more interesting is knowing that to be an Engineer is the closest one can get to God. The world is the way it is because Engineers have made it so.

See all that you call life, see that light in your house, see that water, see that chair, see that glass, see that burglar proof, all around you is something that an engineer has touched. The people who move the world, who make it the way it is, are engineers. For that reason, God must have created Engineers first in his own image.

So if you know a young person who wants to go this route, tell them to be self-aware. Engineering is not about having the title and posing around with it, you have to earn it both in school and in the real world.

Above all, if you are still in school, take every subject serious. Just because you want to be an Engineer doesn’t mean Economics is not important or writing skills. In real life, you will need to know about the process of procurement for example. That you send a request for quotations, then pick the best, raise a purchase request, then it turns into a purchase order, things like invoices and delivery notes. These things are key. We deal with a lot of data. So be good at Microsoft office packages like Excel. Still amazes me that people leave school and they can’t use Excel or Powerpoint. These are quick wins. Just become versatile and good at these different things which I call enablers. Have good presentation skills for meetings.

The only problem with being an Engineer is that your family starts to think you can fix everything. From construction to electrical to mechanical. This is certainly not true. Engineers come in different forms. So aunties and uncles if you are reading this, I won’t be wiring your house or installing whatsapp on your phone.

One last thing, in Engineering you learn that machines are super loyal compared to people. A machine will do whatever you tell it to do. If you treat it badly, it will also misbehave.

So to that one year of Engineering practice. What an awesome ride it has been. Look forward to many more returns.

As for all things in life, life begins outside your comfort zone. Every time, you gotta be asking yourself; “what is on the other side of fear?” Use fear as a compass pointing you towards which routes you must take.

Whatever you fear, you must face. That’s one rule I have kept by all my life. I want something from someone, I ask. I want to know what it means to be a musician, go try to be one. You soon realize that the only thing on the other side of fear is a life without regrets, a life where all is possible.

And if you want to face fear. Ask yourself, what is the worst that can happen? Do you realize that the worst that can happen in any case is usually something we can handle. What is the worst that can happen if you apply for that job even if you don’t have the experience? What is the worst that can happen if you execute on that business idea? What is the worst that can happen if you ask that beautiful girl out? What is the worst that can happen if you just do what you love?

Just drop your fears, fly not caring for other people’s opinions. Fear is unreal. It doesn’t exist. It is an illusion. Go focus on your strengths. Let everyone else focus on your weaknesses. Above all, have this at the back of your mind; “the dots connect. It all works out in the end.” So don’t over think your decisions. Just follow that voice within you. Just don’t live a life of regrets.

And always date an Engineer at least once in your life.