Hello, guys. Cyprien from FEA for All. Today, I prepared a very interesting video. At least I think it will be, and this will be about how you can become a better engineer.
So the purpose of this video is to share with you some of the insights I had all over the year by doing an engineer job. I came from curriculum from a French high university where I learned a lot of stuff, and then I went into the software programming world for Finite Element Analysis.
I learned a lot of stuffs, but I realized also that there were a lot of lessons along the way.
And I felt that because I can share that with you and my blog and my YouTube channel. I think this would be valuable for you.
If you think it is, please give it a thumb up and subscribe to my Youtube channel.
Now, let’s start with the content. I’ve prepared a few points that I think are very, very important. Let’s start with the first point.
1- To be an engineer, you have to be data driven.
A lot of young engineers start by looking at problems and they see things that maybe they’ve seen in university, in theory, or surely as simply they don’t know those problems, but maybe because they think they have some kind of intuition. So the problem should be solved like that. And they have a method in hand that is already decided when they go through this.
I think this is a big mistake to think that you are always right without really investigating the actual data. So to be a good engineer, you have to be a really data-driven, which means that you should put your own thinking and your own judgements away and look at the actual data.
In order to look at data, you need to have measures. You need to have things you can actually investigate and look at. Just to give an example, if you are looking at a mechanical system, then you have to know what you want to look at.
Are you looking at the maximum displacement under certain type of loads? Are you looking at the energy generated by the system?
All these kinds of things, you need to first decide what data is important for you, and then find a way to get this data.
Then you have to make some simple tests to verify your assumptions. So never think that you are right before even doing simple bunch of tests, that will actually show you the reality behind.
So you should actually start from the point that your emotional thinking is wrong and you should leave the place to the logical thinking.
Look at the data, look at the equations, look at the system. Which brings me to my second point.
2- To be an engineer, you have to understand the system.
What is a system? A system is a set of methods, a set of let’s say, set of strategies or functions or whatever it is applicable in your area. That’s as a whole make the system, make the what’s your investigation work together. You have to understand how it works from A to Z. Z being the output of the system.
So you have to go from the input to the output:
- What data is brought into the system?
- What are the hypothesis on the system?
- What is that changing outside the system or inside the system?
All these kinds of things, you have to understand it and sometime you have also to break down the system into smaller parts. You have to look at the bigger picture and then tell her yourself, “How can I break this into smaller parts that I can actually understand?”
Because sometimes the system is so big that you’re not able to really understand how the whole is working together, because just too complex, there’s too many undefined behaviors that you will not be able to quantify.
Just to give you an example, think about a nuclear power plant, for example. If you have a bit of experience of how thermo-dynamical system work, you realize that there is a loop of heat, of fluid that is going hot and cold, and you have a bunch of different assemblies and system in between that help you to actually do this.
So you have a heat exchanger, you have some pumps, you have a lot of stuff along the way, and you can look at the whole system and understand how energy comes in and how it comes out and calculate the yield of the whole system.
But to understand how the whole works, you have to look at each individual component as well. You have to look at the pumps. You have to look at the heat exchangers. You have to look at how the heat is generated by the irradiation of the neutrons or all this kind of things. You have to understand it as well.
So really being an engineer is really being someone who is driven to understand how thing works.
Never think that you know everything. It should be the contrary. It should… Well, it’s actually a funny, because when you start to think that you know everything, that’s usually when you’re wrong. You have to start from a position of humility that, “Okay. I started all this for so many years, so I kind of know the theory, but how does it work in practice?” Then you have to do as if you started from zero and hear what people who are really expert in this domain think, learn from them, and basically, never think that you are right. Just look at the data, look at… And ask a lot of questions.
That’s also very important:
Always ask questions. Don’t be afraid to be wrong. Don’t be afraid to sound stupid. If you don’t know something, just ask a question and you’ll know it.
So that’s how I do, actually. Sometimes when… I always start by, “Okay, the question I’m going to ask probably will sound very stupid to you, but I don’t have this experience.” So I just ask it, “How do you do this?”
But when you ask a question, try to do your homework first.
That’s also something very important. If this is something you can find on Google, well, do this Google search first. Go on Google and spend a few hours to list of the things you find and what you can learn by yourself. Learn by yourself. The things you cannot learn by yourself, or who are just too complicated, you don’t understand, then you can ask those questions. But do this homework, because this is very important, especially, when you ask questions to experts because they will look at you and say, “Okay. Well, the question you’re asking me, you could have found the answer in just doing to Google search.” So there is, you can ask questions but do your homework first. That’s important as well.
So I really told a lot of stuff, but there’s also some stuff I want to talk about. So I talked about systems.
3- Now, I want to talk also about the scientific method.
You must be very clear about what is the scientific method and how to use it, and then use it over and over in your work. For me, the scientific method is very simple. It’s you do some tests. You look at the results. If it’s wrong, if it fails, if it doesn’t give you what you want, just correct your assumptions, change what you calculated and just do it over until at the end you get what you want.
The scientific method is basically a process of repetition of the same things over and over until you understand how it works and you find the right hypothesis for the right functions until you find the right results.
That’s also called a “Trial and Error” ;-)
And this goes very well with the first point I mentioned to be data-driven because if you do not know what you’re looking at, you will never have a goal. So when you do some tests, you fail, you don’t even know that you failed because you don’t know what you should be looking at. Basically, when you design something, when you do something, just do a lot of tests and just find out what works, what doesn’t work, repeat, and then one day you will find the right answer.
That’s how science has always progressed, I think. That’s also why I like computers because when you’re doing programming and stuff like this, you can have this feedback look very quickly.
4- Let’s talk about the next point, which is continuous learning.
As an engineer, I think it’s very important to keep learning every day.
That might seem obvious for some person, but from new, let’s say, new engineer or people who just graduated from university, you might be thinking that, “Okay. I’ve studied so many years about the theory, about this and that. Now, I’m getting a real job. I have to do some real work and use what I learned. I don’t need to read any more books. I just need to practice and get experience.” Well, it’s true that you need to gain experience because that’s a very important point, but in order to be able to do your job efficiently and to be a good engineer, you need to, let’s say, apply more practically all the things you know, and you need to learn everything else that you don’t know yet.
Because every company uses different system and very specific methods that basically are not in the textbooks. So you need to be ready to level up, to look into some new books, maybe to ask some experts and to learn about all the things that you don’t know. And this is actually something I like about engineering. I love learning new things every day. And what I found out is that’s only when you start learning something new, and you gain a bit of knowledge about a topic, that you realize how much there is still to learn about this topic. So this is really, really important to have the humility to say, “Okay. I don’t know anything about this topic, or maybe I just know a little, I need to level up, I need to read three, four more books and to understand how it works.”
Then you become progressively, you start to acquire by doing projects. At the same time, you start to acquire a practical experience and you start to behave like a really good engineer by looking at the system, looking at the data, using the scientific method, and also always learning to acquire new skills and to understand more things. So learning continuously is very important.
Now, the last point for this video, which I think is probably the most important here:
5- Admit your mistakes and stay humble, whatever you do.
What do I mean by that? It’s mean, that no one is perfect, whatever you do, you will do some mistakes somewhere. You will design something that will not work. You will think that something will work, but you realize that at the end, it doesn’t.
You shouldn’t stay strong into your positions and say, “Okay. Everything is wrong. I’m right. I will continue to do these things.” This is called arrogance and this is something that is very, very dangerous to an engineer because it basically stops you from learning and improving and basically being able to engineer.
So you have to have this humility and say, “Okay, I learned so much. I know a lot. That’s true, but there’s still so much more I don’t know.” And whatever the product I start, I start from, let’s say, the starting position that I don’t know anything about this.
And when you start from this position, you start to ask yourself questions that you wouldn’t ask yourself before. Instead of thinking, “Okay. This problem is so easy because I saw that before here and there. I knew exactly how to solve it.” Instead of thinking like this, just think like, “Okay. That’s a problem that might be similar to something I see, but I have to stay careful because there are some hypotheses that are different here. There are some things I’ve never seen before, and I might have to learn a new domain, a new area. I might have to learn a new framework or develop new tools to be able to do this, who knows. But basically, you have to stay open to the fact that there is much more that you don’t know than the things you know.”
Then this also opens you to asking a lot of questions to everyone, especially, to experts. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t try to solve a problem in your own corner of the world as if you were in isolation and the only person trying to know or to understand about these things. It’s never like that. Don’t be afraid to go and ask someone who knows more than you do.
Try to formulate what is the actual problem in your lack of understanding and ask out ask for some help on some things. If you don’t have the humility to accept that you might be wrong and that you might not know about a lot of things. Then that’s when you get stuck as an engineer, that’s when you stop learning and you better start worrying about some things that you’re not able to do, but you should be able and you don’t know how to solve them.
That’s why I think be humble is very, very important. I think I talked a lot today in this video and actually have much more to say, but I think that’s already a lot.
So I would like to hear what you think. If you think what I’m saying here is make sense. If it’s correct or not, if I’m wrong, maybe I’m wrong, and some of those things. Leave some comments in this video, on my blog. Let me know what you think, and maybe we can share some ideas together. Why not?
I read all the comments I get. I tried to answer as much as I can. And give this video a big thumb up if you think this can help someone’s because this will definitely be helpful to promote the channel. And it will also help me to make more videos like this.
Thank you very much for watching again, as always, and see you in one of the next videos.
Cyprien “Becoming a better Engineer” Rusu
PS: I am starting to do some development in C++ lately, so just got my own big lesson in humility, and a lot of ideas to improve… thus this video!