How To Be An Indispensable Engineer

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Though workforce attrition is inevitable in every business, the cost to replace an employee can be 50-250% more than the salary of the employee they will be losing. Employers would prefer to retain their top engineering talents, but how can they tell which employee is dispensable and which one isn’t?

EngineeringJobs.com, a job board site and online magazine for engineering professionals, wrote this article on how to be an indispensable engineering employee:

1. Master The Fundamentals … and Never Stop Learning

Indispensable engineers build on mastery of their field’s core competencies, steadily increasing their stock of knowledge while expanding into customer-facing and commercial skill sets.

“As in any profession, mastering the fundamentals is essential,” writes Steve Nimmons, a Chartered Engineer, Fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, and Certified European Engineer. “Engineers have enormous responsibility to the profession, their employers, shareholders and often the safety of others.” Twenty years of experience in software, systems, and IT engineering gave him an appreciation for engineers who continually hone and expand their skill sets; consider how much his field has changed since the early 90s, when graphical browsers were relatively novel and there were less than a thousand web servers, period.

“Continuing professional education should be a vocation, not a mere obligation,” Nimmons writes. “Ensure you keep your knowledge of relevant legislation, standards and best practices up to date.”

2. Keep The End User In Mind
“The killer skill I value in my engineers,” writes Sid Savara, technical manager for financial systems at the University of Hawaii, “is the ability to make the client happy, even when we are behind schedule, and even when things are not going well.” As a veteran engineering manager, with a number of DoD projects and Fortune 500 companies on his resume, Savara came to value engineers with client-facing skills who could communicate and handle concerns directly from clients.

“Technical talent is extremely valuable, but what matters most to me is someone who is able to work with our end users and who I don’t have to manage.”

3. Know Business Operations
Similarly, indispensable engineers develop knowledge of the commercial impacts of engineering decisions. While engineers would certainly make amazing things for free if they could, technical considerations are by far not the only factors in the success or failure of a project. “The indispensable have commercial nous and find ways to innovate and reduce financial or environmental cost,” Nimmons writes.

“Invest time in understanding the commercials of any project including the business case, budgets and commercial imperatives or pressures.”

4. Have Integrity In Your Work

“Right out of college, an engineer told me, ‘if you don’t want to do something, do a bad job and they won’t ask you to do it again,’” recalls Gina Smith, President and CEO of Systems Engineering Global. “I was thinking, that just sounds stupid.”

Engineers who slack and avoid unpleasant work are dispensable, by definition. Smith was raised with an uncompromising work ethic and the willingness to set high standards for herself; a characteristic which served her well in engineering. “I concentrated on producing, performing all my tasks to the best of my ability and only to the standard that I would find acceptable,” Smith writes. “I don’t like, or accept, junk.”

“Practice with utmost integrity,” Nimmons writes. “Your professionalism and impeccable values should be uncompromising.” For him, ethics and excellence are inseparable – especially for engineers. Building a reputation for undeviating ethics and honesty is not only moral, but peerless asset. “Coupled with deep domain and technical skills, you will be equipped for the role of ‘trusted adviser.’”

5. Always Be Adaptable
“Another trend I’ve noticed,” adds Savara, “is the engineers with the most staying power adapt to change easily.” While most engineers’ professional ethics must be rock solid, and their commitment to excellence unwavering, becoming an indispensable engineer also requires flexibility in the face of external conditions. Budgets grow or shrink, personnel are reassigned, and project specifications are subject to change with little notice – sometimes, with little reason.

“Someone who pushes back too much, or refuses to adapt, is going to find it difficult to stay on,” he writes. “In a lot of ways, the only way to remain competitive is to keep learning and changing.”

Are you an indispensable engineer who is looking for a new challenge? Contact SoloPoint Solutions today at (408)246-5945 or (714)708-3639. We can assist you in your next career venture!

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