The Difference Between a Good Engineer and a Great Engineer
Dennis Smith | Mechanical Engineer
A fellow engineer was discussing the idea of engineering hubris, excessive pride or self-confidence, with me this morning. She related a few stories and examples of times when she or her friends were talked down to either because they were women or because they were “not engineers”.
Her unfortunate stories reminded me of all the times that I’ve witnessed engineers with a ton of experience miss out on opportunities because they just “knew too much” about the topic.
When you are confident that you already have all the answers, it can be extremely difficult to maintain the ability to vigilantly observe the world around you. The ability to keep an open mind and an appetite for learning are skills that extend well beyond the world of engineering and into our personal lives as well.
You cannot learn quickly if you feel that you have nothing to learn
As engineering service providers at DISHER, we cannot possibly have all the answers to our customers’ problems. To think that we know more about their business than they do is foolish. However, we can hire smart, patient, observant engineers that can quickly absorb information and find innovative solutions rapidly.
About four years ago, I experienced a test failure on a product that was supposed to launch in a few months. The development team heard about the failure at the same time. A good friend of mine and the marketing lead on the team was worried that we would miss our launch dates. She asked frantically, “What are you going to do about this?” I smiled and said to her, “I have a little unknown engineering secret for you… I don’t know what I’m doing.” Her eyes widened. I continued, “…but I’m fairly sure that we will figure it out quickly.” And guess what? We did figure it out within a couple of weeks.
When a difficult problem arises, I won’t lie and give a solution on the spot. I will stay confident in my ability to dig into the problem, determine the root cause, and find a solution fairly quickly.
To Be a Great Engineer find random sources of inspiration
You may not know the answer, but if you are patient, observant, and open to new ideas—then you can find inspiration and ideas all around you and from any number of people.
I recall working on a furniture project with two DISHER team members a while back. We were tasked with designing a new locking mechanism for a caster. Many ideas already existed, but the three of us were able to come up with approximately one new idea every week over the course of a couple of months.
One night while waiting for my wife to get out of work, the seven-year-old daughter of her boss was showing me a Christmas toy catalog and all the fun art toys that she liked. As she flipped through the pages, I noticed a Spirograph and thought of a quick idea for a locking caster. After sketching it out on a napkin (literally), I began a CAD solution and showed it to the team. A potential solution came from glancing through a children’s toy catalog!
Even a child’s toy can spark a fresh new idea.
Like this Reversible Locking Mechanism for a Caster.
Always Learn and Observe
Newton was able to find inspiration from a falling apple and Archimedes found engineering solutions from the public bathtub!
It’s as simple as keeping your eyes peeled and being able to observe and learn from everyone. People don’t have less knowledge than you—they have different knowledge than you. Respect everyone and be ready to learn from anyone that is ready to share with you.
This doesn’t mean that everyone is right, but there may be seeds of information they have that can prove useful. Don’t let an over-inflated opinion of yourself and what you know prevent you from being open to new and maybe even better (wink-wink) ideas.