Career Advice

Control Engineering magazine just published a survey where respondents offered career advice. I extracted some that I thought was the most valuable. You can read entire report in the magazine.

I love this quote:

Set goals, work to accomplish goals, and don’t worry about anything.

Here’s my advice:

Dare mighty things! Refuse to do work that is easy, look for trouble and always work on the things that nobody knows how to do!

Technical Challenge

Technical challenge and feeling of accomplishment both rank higher than compensation for job satisfaction criteria. Typically, compensation only ranks highest when the economy is in decline.

Job satisfaction factors remained nearly the same for the top four year over year:

  1. Feeling of accomplishment,
  2. Technical challenge,
  3. Financial compensation, and
  4. Relationship with colleagues.

Flexible work hours moved into the fifth spot from seventh.

Learn, improve attitude, and communicate effectively

Lifelong learning, positive attitude, use of engineering skills, and strong communications are among the top areas of advice offered by respondents.

Engineering career advice by category

Advice type Sample advice
Leadership skills Set goals, work to accomplish goals and don’t worry about anything. Remember that everyone is your customer.
Education Always keep learning, technically and interpersonally.
Attitude Focus on things in your control. Avoid gossip, negative comments.
Engineering tips Understand the engineering in context of the project and process.
Communication Explain the value hierarchy in options. Listen to understand, not respond.
Project management Make a plan; work the plan; adjust to the unexpected.
Workplace strategies Have an automation/controls improvement plan and implement it. Continuous improvement.
Other [mostly similar] Empower team members: what’s YOUR plan to solve this issue?

Leadership skills

Be professional at all times.

Bring in interns and challenge current staff.

Don’t be afraid to network with those outside your core engineering discipline.

Remember that everyone is your customer.

Seek employment with high integrity companies.

Set goals, work to accomplish goals, and don’t worry about what others do.


Keep up with latest technological advances; read and learn all the time.

Always try to widen your knowledge.

Get as much education as possible, especially relevant certifications.

After a Bachelor of Science and engineering degree, get credentials: Project Management Institute (PMI), Lean, Six Sigma, reliability.


Have a learning attitude.

There’s ALWAYS something that can be learned.

You can always learn more.

Always remain curious.

Understand that you are not an expert, and learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others.

. . .

Be flexible and positive; stand up for your values

Obviously remain positive, but more importantly be a contributor to solutions, not just problems.

Be humble and respectful of everyone.

Find a team and contribute.

Don’t be afraid to take career risks when young.

. . .

Focus on things within your control. Gossip and negative comments detrimentally effect team morale.

Put your work aside to help customers (internal and external). It will pay off even if you have to work extra hours to make up the time spent on them.

Engineering Skills

Actively stay current in your field; keep learning.

Apply creativity, fear-not the sense of failure. Be ready to learn from those old timers.

Drawings: update before the project is complete.

Do as much front-end engineering as possible in a project so you aren’t scrambling at the end.

. . .

Get on challenging projects.

Save work examples. Don’t be a perfectionist.

Understand engineering in context of the project and process.


Engineers are salesmen. Diplomacy!

Be accurate, timely, and positive consistently.

Over-communicate; sticking to facts, not emotions. Short and concise

. . .

Ask the question.

Be willing to listen – where communication begins.

Learn to speak the truth with respect.

Listen to understand, not to respond.

Keep the explanation simple.

Project management

Be smart about time management.

Figure out what’s important to your stakeholders. Over-communicate on that.

First make it work, then control costs and schedule.

Scope creep: make sure that your project outline is to the point and expectations are clearly outlined by both the manager and the team.

Workplace strategies

Continuous improvement.

Learn anything they will let you/teach you.

Help others, and you will be rewarded.

Take the time to mentor others; find a mentor.

. . .

Keep a good work-life balance.

. . .

One team, one direction.

Be flexible, know your discipline, and be open.

Rotate through all aspects of company.

Don’t move jobs too often; find good bosses and stick with them.


Empower team members: what’s YOUR plan to solve this issue?

Enjoy a good co-worker relationships

The most difficult thing is to deal with your coworkers rather than the machines.

Excel by working with what makes you unique

Identify your unique strengths, understand your own ways of working and learning style to maximize your efficiency, technically and interpersonally, and be satisfied with your decisions and performance when you go home at night.

Identify and get comfortable with your strengths. Use those strengths (technical and soft skills) to benefit the team. Strengths come in many forms and primarily are associated with activities that provide career satisfaction.

Work around weaknesses

Work around your weaknesses and get creative to mitigate them.

  • Do you have difficulty communicating the right information or frequently enough? Set a reminder to send a standardized update to your team.
  • Do you have a technical gap in your knowledge? Find and shadow a mentor.
  • Are you better at writing emails than speaking up in a meeting? Write a detailed report and rehearse the high points before the meeting.

Identify your learning style and resources you need to do your job. Learn to recognize if you are not retaining new information. Ask questions if you are missing the foundation or background information.

  • Have you ever had a customer explain a problem over the phone and leave out the most critical information (such as what system?) Next time, ask them to write it down. Or better yet: write it down yourself, and get feedback in writing.
  • If a coworker is explaining something using a whiteboard, ask them to demonstrate the concepts with staged hardware and software.
  • It may not be possible in every situation, but if something isn’t clear, speak up and ask for the information in a format that works for you.

Interaction style

Be mindful of your interaction style with supervisors, peers and customers. Develop unique interpersonal relationships and ways of working for every team. An honest and trusting relationship is the foundation for building a strong team.

Some teams require more (or less) communication. Information you have not shared can be as important as the information you have shared.

Some people work better as individuals but always towards a common goal.

If facing a difficult interpersonal situation, consider the person’s motivations and that their goals may not align with yours. You may be focused on completing a project, but they may be focused on their next promotion, or have a fear of losing production time. Understanding the motivations of those around you may help find some common ground.

If you embrace your strengths and acknowledge weaknesses, you can be more comfortable in your own professional skin and achieve success and career satisfaction.

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