The Best Advice I’ve Received as a Junior Engineer

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It’s hard to believe that I’ve been at my engineering job for almost a year and a half now. While there are still days where I don’t have all the answers, and even some days where I don’t entirely feel qualified (curse you imposter syndrome), on most days I’m amazed at how far I’ve come and how much I’ve learned.

Who knew that chocolate was such a finicky substance to design for? Or that there is a difference between pipe and tube? Or that working in engineering project management is really people management in disguise? Not me circa 1.5 years ago that’s for sure.

During this time, I’ve received my fair share of advice. It has come from everywhere: mentors, colleagues, friends, generally nice people who wanted to help me up the slope called the learning curve, you name it. Every time I’ve been given advice, I’ve been a sponge; I drank that stuff up like the elixir of life. I figured if people were telling me what has worked for them, it was important. Because of this mentality, I’ve tried to implement anything that would help acclimatize me to my work and hopefully lead to success in what I was doing.

Very recently, I received some advice from my boss that really stuck. She told me that she tries to operate in her career by a set of principles. To her, they are important because “At the end of the day, if you can say that you have done these three things, you can’t really be disappointed in yourself.”

Here is what she said:

  1. Work with Honesty

  2. Work with Integrity

  3. Do The Best You Can

Let me take you through what these three pieces of advice mean to me.

1. Work With Honesty

Working in engineering or any professional service means that people are looking to you and your firm for advice. They rely on you to tell them what’s possible. They are looking for the truth.

In engineering, the truth can often implicate safety. As someone who recently took Ontario’s Professional Practice Exam, Professional Engineers Ontario would be quite disappointed if I failed to mention an engineer’s top priority: “public safety is paramount”. Both directly and indirectly, the work that we do for the public must be safe. Safe to operate, safe to interact with, safe for a company. And that’s only just the beginning; safety isn’t the only thing in a company’s interest. For example, the work that I do in manufacturing often has a direct effect on a company’s bottom line; they are looking to me for improvements, efficiencies, and help. Help usually involves analysis and analysis tends to imply an outcome. And for me and my recommendations to have integrity (more on that later), they have to be true.

Now, no one said the truth would be easy. Especially when delivering bad news, the truth can be challenging. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my boss and other coworkers, it’s that honesty is always the best policy when it comes to bad news. This is what happened, this is why it happened, this is where we stand. Now where can we go from here?

2. Work With Integrity

First of all, what is integrity? Integrity is defined as the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. It is the state of being whole and undivided. In other words, integrity is consistency of character and truthfulness in our actions.

This all sounds great, but what does it actually mean when it comes to engineering?

To me, integrity is associated with trust. It’s a characteristic that comes from putting forth a quality of work that stands up and that can be trusted. When you work with integrity, people can depend on you and count on you to deliver what they need. There’s a reason why honesty and integrity go together at work and especially why they are relevant to engineering. As the Spider Man comics would put it, “with great power comes great responsibility” - you guessed it, still referring back to "public safety is paramount".

3. Do The Best You Can

Do your best: this was the final piece of my boss’ advice. Not too long ago, there was a situation where I was doubting if I had done enough or taken the right course of action. She asked me if I tried to work with honesty and integrity and if I had done the best I could. “Yes,” I responded. “Well, in that case, could anyone have asked for anything more from you?”

This piece of advice is a good reminder for me that we are all human, and our best is all that we can strive for at the end of the day. No one is going to make a perfect decision every time, not even that #bosslady, CEO, or entrepreneur you admire. Everyone makes mistakes, has situations they regret, and remembers times where they wish they could have played something differently or taken a different route to solve a problem. At the end of the day, we can only try to do our best on a given day and we have to accept the outcome. That’s all we can give, and all anyone can ask of us.

Has anyone ever given you advice that has really stuck? Got a great piece of advice to share with others? We would love to hear it, please let us know in the comments below!