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What are some key skills to have in an engineering major?

I'm a junior in high school and I'm interested in pursuing an engineering major. How I'm getting to my engineering goal is by taking classes that are related to engineering. But, I'm wondering what are some key skills to have as an engineer.

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Francisco’s Answer

Hi William,

Great question! I believe the following are key skills for an engineer:

1. Teamwork: All throughout your degree and your career you will be working with others. An engineer should be able to work with engineers, non-engineers, and be able to deliver for their managers, so collaborating and working cross-functionally is key.

2. Problem solving skills: Your main job as an engineer is figuring out creative ways of fixing problems. It is important that you can analyze a situation and offer a path forward to solve it. You don't have to be right every time, but proposing ideas, brainstorming, and sometimes coming up with the magical solution is all part of being an engineer.

3. Communication skills: This is a big one that many engineers struggle with or minimize. As an engineer you can easily just do your job, fix the problem and call it a day, but being able to communicate effectively to share the results of your work, or to make sure others are aware of your projects will make the difference from being good and excellent. Also, effective communication will make teamwork much easier and will allow you to understand the needs and wants of the people your work will impact.

4. Leadership: As an engineer you will be assigned different projects and you will most likely will have to work independently, have other people support your project, and push forward your solutions. These all require the ability to lead and guide others to a common goal. The best engineers are often great leaders that can leverage their skills to make everyone in a team be successful.

5. Priority management: Often you will face conflicting priorities or changing priorities, meaning what you thought you should be working on today might drastically change tomorrow. Being able to manage these priorities to make sure the key issues are addressed, as well as managing time to make sure all priorities get the time they need to be completed is what makes or breaks an engineer.]

Hope this answers your question. Best of luck!
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Mamdouh’s Answer

I would like to add creativity, analytical mind and attention to detail
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Mariah’s Answer

Francisco's answer is amazing. 100% agree on all their points. I'll add a few more

6) Curiosity: A great engineer is constantly curious about everything they encounter. Curious about finding out about the newest technology, curious about discovering how your product/projects work, curious about how to improve things, etc. Listening to podcasts or reading journals about the latest technology are really helpful. But don't just consume that information, be curious as it, double click on things that catch your interest. Maybe keep a journal on ways that new technology will impact what you're working on

7) I'll break down Francisco's Communication bullet point into a few subcategories of communication
7a) Technical communication - being able to effectively communicate highly technical information to people that aren't as technical as you. You understand how it works, but can you explain how it works to other people? A great way to develop this skill now would be to read up on some technology and them try to explain it to your friends or family. You'll start to learn how to hold people's interest, effectively summarize, and pull out the key points. Encourage them to ask questions so you can work on effectively answering hard questions on the fly. Thats a super helpful skill to have
7b) Communicating up - being able to effectively communicate technical information to your boss, your boss's boss, and maybe they're boss. It can be intimidating to let people in power know how things are going or what you think is the best path forward. A great book to read now would be Sheryl Sandburg's Lean In or anything by Brene Brown, she's got some great youtube videos on how to have difficult conversations. You'll get some strategies to be more comfortable participating in intimidating conversations. Another great thing to look into are Toast Masters. Its an organization that teaches you (through hands on methods) how to get comfortable publicly speaking. Your college will probably have a Toast Masters chapter. But more importantly, don't turn down an opportunity to publicly speak as you grow as an engineer. Its a great skill to develop early when the stakes are low so you're comfortable with it when you finally do get into the workforce.
7c) Interpersonal communication - being able to communicate effectively with your peers. Great, empathetic, and decisive communication is a skill I personally am ALWAYS working on. There are so many great podcasts, books, etc on developing better personal communication skills. Books on communicating better in romantic relationships, books on communicating better with co workers, books on communicating with people who are neurodiverse, books on mindfulness (because communicating with yourself is truly the most important skill you can learn). There are tons out there and you'll learn something from all of them that you can apply not only to your professional interactions, but to all your personal interactions. Never ever underestimate the power of being aware of your thoughts and emotions, being curious about the thoughts and emotions of the people around you and being able to effectively navigate people's thoughts and preconceived notions to allow better communication.

Good luck on your engineering path! Its a rewarding career that you'll love.