What Makes a Great Engineer?

Guy sitting looking at the camera with text saying "I am hoping that I can be known as a great engineer rather than a sex symbol"So here I’ve been sitting, contemplating how to write this post, and not having any epiphanies as to how to go about it. Shy engineers are easy to discuss, assholes are equally easy.  Ineptitude was a bit ranty, though in my defense, those engineers tend to rant of their own accord, so it seemed to fit.  Now comes the one that should be easiest to write, but is hard to really come up with something intriguing and useful.  So I’m just going to throw it out there for the record, because this is the category in which MOST engineers sit, and the reason engineering actually works in companies.  I’m going to refer to them as A+ Engineers because if they were in school, I’d tend to give them all A pluses for grades.

So, without further ado, here is a list of common traits to good, A+ engineers:

  1. They estimate adequately how long projects will take.  If that schedule is not accepted by managers, they rationalize the exact reasons why the timeline is appropriate to the work required and gain the needed acceptance.
  2. They help co-workers with problems that are encountered.  They realize that the team benefits from spreading information, and freely give it when they can.
  3. If a project is going to take longer than anticipated, they PREEMPT the deadline by contacting the schedulers and managers to establish the problem and the needed time extension.
  4. They accept blame when they, or their team fail to meet expectations or deadlines.  After all, just because other things happen doesn’t mean that you can merely dump your problems on another department.

Hmm.  Ya know what?  I just talked to my friend Gian about this post, and he made a great point: aren’t those qualities things you would consider just a good employee?  I have to think…. yeah, I suppose they are.  So, I’m going to realign my thoughts to what normally is considered a good engineer that normally wouldn’t be a good employee in other areas of an organization.  I’m going to request your input on whether these facets are good or not!

  1. They tend to come in at a time of their own choosing, though still get all required work done before the end of their workday (or after a small bit over overtime if needed).
  2. They latch onto good and interesting projects and begin thinking about/working on them before they are even assigned the project officially.
  3. If one of their fellow engineers is assigned to such an interesting project, they will wander over to discuss how they see it working in case the other hasn’t thought too hard about it.
  4. They take several breaks to surf the internet.  These are generally between bouts of deeply engrossing work.
  5. They make sure to make time to keep themselves educated on the newest news in their specific field, or even in the broader field of general technology (Lifehacker/Engadget anyone?).
  6. When another engineer comes asking for advice about how to solve a particular problem, the engineer gives their information freely to the other, and even goes above and beyond to point out problems that likely will be encountered.
  7. They also possess an internal locus of control which allows them to be very self motivated and directed, while accepting that things that happen are controllable by them.

Are there some I’ve missed? Are these actually good traits?  What are your thoughts?  Please leave them in the comments below!

UPDATE: Please read my followup post entitled “Treat great engineers like gold”