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What makes a good engineer?

If you’re good at maths and physics you could have the makings of a great engineer. But there’s far more to being an engineer than top grades.

'5 signs you could make a great engineer'

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Want to know if engineering’s in your DNA? Here are 5 signs to look out for:

1. You’re great at solving problems

Rubix cube
Love solving puzzles? You could make a great engineer

Engineers come in all shapes and sizes. Structural and civil engineers design buildings and structures (like bridges, roads and tunnels), and mechanical engineers design things like engines, while software engineers programme computers. What makes them all engineers is problem solving.

Engineers are professional problem solvers. A structural engineer may be faced with the question “how do I build a rail tunnel through this mountain?” while a chemical engineer might be asked to halve the amount of sugar in a chocolate bar without compromising on flavour.

Do you have a knack for getting your head around mathematical and physical principles? Maybe you’re a fan of arts and crafts, needlework, woodwork, Meccano or Lego. Or perhaps you just can't get enough of strategy games like Settlers of Catan, Carcassone or Ticket to Ride. Any creative hobbies you have involve solving problems to achieve goals – just like engineering.

2. You’re curious about the world

Engineers are naturally inquisitive. Curiosity is what motivates an engineer to answer the questions they’re faced with. No engineer worth their salt is happy until they’ve beaten a problem into submission through the relentless application of logic.

If you’re always looking at the natural world and the built environment around you and asking yourself “why?” and “how?”, you’ve got the makings of an engineer (you may also be attracting the occasional funny look).

Man standing on his head
Engineers constantly seek new perspectives

3. You’re always looking out for new ways of doing things

Many of the problems engineers face crop up again and again, which means a fair amount of an engineer’s work involves adapting tried and tested approaches to new situations.

Other problems are unique or on a totally different scale from anything anyone has ever worked with before. For example, the Millau Bridge in southern France was such a big project that new techniques had to be developed to bring it to life.

Engineers think creatively not just to tackle problems on a new scale, but to make our approaches to familiar problems more efficient. When you’re asked to do a task, is your first reaction to think of a way to do it better and more efficiently? If it is, there just might be an engineer inside you trying to break free.

4. You don’t rest till you’ve got it figured out

There’s no such thing as half a solution to an engineering problems. Engineers are almost obsessive in their drive to craft the best solution using the materials, budget and other resources they have to hand.

If there’s a whiff of the perfectionist about you, this is another sign that you could make a great engineer.

5. You have great teamwork skills

Engineers almost always come in packs. Engineering projects are generally broken down into parts and shared out among a team, with each team-member taking ownership of their bit of the project. To ensure the project goes smoothly, you need to be able to communicate clearly and work together to make sure your work is compatible and joined up.

Depending on the size of the project and the nature of your team, you may be working with different kinds of engineers on a multi-disciplinary project. For example, if you’re designing an aircraft, you could be working with mechanical engineers, mechatronics engineers, software engineers, electrical engineers, chemical engineers and many other specialists. You’re likely to work with colleagues at your own company, but could also work alongside other organisations with different specialisms.

This means you need to be able to get your ideas across clearly but also listen carefully to others. You’ll need to have the patience to work alongside others, help each other as you work towards your end goal, and be willing to react positively to feedback and constructive criticism. Read more about teamwork skills here.

Want to learn more about the different types of engineering? Check out this article.

Image credits

Lead image via Freepik, Rubix cube via Pixnio, Upside-down man via Geograph