A few weeks ago, I visited my daughter’s school for an event. After entering the school, I immediately visited the principal’s office to sign in. The date was January 11, 2013, however I noticed something very interesting on the sign in sheet. There were 7 parents that had already signed in earlier that day and the first parent to sign in wrote the date 2/11/13. Then the 6 parents that signed in after that person wrote the same wrong date of 2/11/13. I actually also wrote that date, but then caught myself and scratched it out and wrote the correct date.
My point in telling you this story is simple. The first person in this case was a leader who might represent an engineering manager in your case. They were first in doing this task and they set an example for people to follow. In this case, the leader made a mistake for whatever reason; they were hurrying, not paying attention to details, etc. In this example, this mistake isn’t very costly at all, however in your engineering career, a mistake that may result from following bad instructions or a poor example can have catastrophic implications.
If your engineering manager rushes through sample calculations when explaining to you how to design something and because of it, you make a mistake in the process; that mistake could cause a failure of that engineering structure and harm many people.
If your professor gives you a wrong formula or guideline to follow, it could affect the quality of your design beyond school.
If your mentor provides you with some out of date information whether it be related to an examination or other professional guidelines, and you follow them, you could stray months or years off track in your engineering career.
I know, it’s not your fault. Essentially, you are following the leader, and the leader is supposed to be right. BUT – what if he or she isn’t?
He are a few precautions that you can take as an engineering student or younger engineer to avoid a mishap:
- If something that a manager or professor tells you doesn’t sound right, ask someone else for their opinion. This doesn’t have to be done by going over their head or doing it publicly, simply check with another colleague or someone that you trust in the industry to be sure you have been given good information.
- Don’t automatically trust someone because they are older or have more experience than you. When someone gives you advice or orders, ask them questions to understand the logic behind it. As a manager, I always appreciated when younger engineers asked questions; it told me they cared about WHY they were doing something.
- Always remember that in engineering, while the right design can produce a historical structure or invention, the wrong calculation or recommendation can cause a devastating circumstance. Remembering this will make sure that you take extra care in carrying out your daily duties as an engineer regardless of who told you to do what.
Don’t be so quick to follow the engineering leader in your career without making sure he or she is leading you in the right direction.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
The Engineering Career Coach
Author of Engineer Your Own Success