Engineering Tip #2 Challenge yourself, challenge your colleagues


Yesterday, I received the best piece of criticism someone has ever given me:

“I don’t think you are getting as much out of this project as you could be.”

Let’s add some context:

I started working on the project about two months ago, before that my whole 7 months of engineering experience was in an office based role. For the first month on the project, I was at site 1-2 days a week familiarising with the challenges and issues the project engineers were facing and the engineering process itself. There was a lot of information to take in.

It felt as if I were back doing work experience. Like a true intern, I started making tea and coffee for the rest of the team, not because I was asked, but because I knew it was the most useful thing I would contribute that day.

Gradually, I built the familiarity in order to take responsibility for some small but important tasks, but the learning process is ongoing and still a lot slower than I would like it to be.

And that is why the criticism is valuable for me.

The person who gave it is the project mechanical engineer. I can’t recite the exact words that followed word-for-word but here’s the gist:

1. If someone is explaining something and you don’t understand, don’t assume you’re the only person in the room who’s not following. Ask them to explain it again.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The worst that can happen is that they’re not in a position to help you right away, but they will find the time.

3. Don’t be afraid to challenge the way things are done, doing so won’t offend anyone

4. Challenge yourself to engage more with your colleagues

There is a fear that I have, that at this stage of the project I will ask a basic question and they may think/say ‘Shouldn’t she have understood this weeks ago?’ and think me incompetent.

But pretending you know something by not asking is even more dangerous.

The longer something is left not understood, the more embarrassing it is to ask someone later on down the line. One of the biggest frustrations I have at work is how difficult it is to find out something by searching the internet or the company intranet and drives. Often, asking someone is the only way.

So to all those starting out in the workplace, put yourself out there. Particularly if you’re introverted like me, going to someone and asking them to explain something or talk a bit about what they’re working on is a good way to break the ice and form a good working relationship.

Engineers are engineers because they like a challenge. Challenge yourself to harness the expertise of those around you to learn something quicker, and challenge your colleagues as well.

When you are new and inexperienced, it is easy to sit on the edge, but as my colleague rightfully says, you wouldn’t be getting as much out of it as you could be.