Day 2 As a Graduate Engineer in Industry – Questions

Dear diary, Day 2, John the engineering manager was a very different person today, friendly and engaging. Yesterday must really have been a bad day for him. We talked through my first project, well he talked, I nodded along. I was really excited, an entire project all to myself. It was just a very basic, uncomplicated project, to help me find my feet. I’d assumed I would just be brushing the floor and making coffee. John told me it shouldn’t take me too long. I wanted to ask how long but that seemed like a stupid question to ask at the time. He hadn’t give me a strict deadline, I figured it was still part of my introduction so there was no real pressure, right?

He used a term I wasn’t familiar with, ‘Famia’. I wasn’t sure if it was a general engineering term I should know or something specific to this industry. I figured I could just google it after he left so I played it safe. Better to keep your mouth shut and appear a fool than open it and remove all doubt, right?

John had as good as told me how I should do the design and what he expected from me at the end of it. I decided however to do a bit of research and come up with something a little more innovative than he had asked for. A latching mechanism was needed and after a couple of hours I had found a similar application that used magnets. After another hour I had found a suitable supplier. I was really chuffed with my first mornings work on my own first project. I had come up with something quite novel, John was bound to be impressed, right?

Wrong! I was blissfully unaware of the dark clouds that had been forming. Black cloud number 1: John called by just before lunch to check on my progress, and to see the assembly model so far. I had only started creating the CAD model by this stage, he was shocked – “what have you been doing?” he asked impatiently. Ah ha I thought, wait to you see my great magnet latch idea. . . This is how the conversation went after I explained my innovative idea:

John: I told you to use the same latch we use on the other products

John: That’s because we hold a stock of those latches in the stores

John: We have never used magnets before, have you checked if they affect the electronics?

John: Do you know what is involved in setting up a new supplier?

John: I told you this was a simple project, I told you what to do, you have wasted the morning, I expected you to have it almost finished by now.

John: I have an important project I need you on, that you are delaying, this was a warm up

John: Forget your magnets, I want to see something I can recognise by the end of the day.

Wow, that felt like I was back at school and had just been told off by the teacher in front of the class.

This morning John had said I should use the Solidworks SheetMetal feature to create most of the parts and I would need to create .dxf files for the parts. Of course I had told him I knew how to do all of that even though didn’t. I’d figured I could just do a couple of tutorials over lunch, right? After that scolding however, I wasn’t about to waste any more time. I decided to just model the parts as ‘standard’ SolidWorks parts this time and I’d watch a few YouTube videos on SheetMetal at home.

Black cloud number 2: I had finished creating ‘standard’ models of all the parts but couldn’t figure out what .dxf files were or how to create them. I was getting stressed! Thankfully Martin, the other junior engineer came over to check on me. He was very quickly able to tell me what .dxf files were and that they could only be created from SheetMetal parts, not from standard Solidworks parts. Having heard my previous interaction with John and on seeing the look of shear panic on my face, he said he would help me fix the problem. There was a work around that would take a little longer but at least I wouldn’t have to re-model everything.

John appeared back towards the end of the day, he had mellowed again which was a relief. I nervously showed him my completed assembly, Martin covered for me and told him he was helping me to produce the dxfs, (I don’t think I would have had a day 3 without Martin). John seemed happy enough, he even complimented my idea on the magnets this time but explained there was a lot more to design than just concepts and CAD. He said I had a lot to learn yet so I should be asking a lot more questions.

Then he asked about the femia. Ahh, I’d forgotten about that, panic struck me again, I could see the dark cloud forming, I started to sweat, I wanted to speak but my mind had gone blank, I think all I managed was a painful groan. John must have felt sorry for me because he started to explain a bit about why a Failure Mode and Effect Analysis was important. Of course, not “femia” it was “F . M . E . A”, I had only ever heard it referred to as the acronym spelt out. “No problem John, I’ll do it first thing”

Phew, that felt like a lucky escape. I had made it to the end of my second day and that was one I wouldn’t forget it a hurry.

Lessons from day 2:

Ask questions!

Ask more questions!

You can’t look anymore foolish than if you have screwed up because you didn’t ask simple questions.

Listen and do what you are told – if you are unsure, ask questions: How long should this project take? Do you want me to do a bit of research and come up with some ideas or keep it simple? What is ‘femia’? I’m not familiar with SheetMetal or .dxf files, can I spend a little time on some tutorials?

Don’t take being told off personally, brush it off, learn the lesson and move on. Managers generally don’t hold grudges (or they shouldn’t).

And oh yes . . . ask questions . . . but try not to ask the same question twice.


This is day 2 in a series of 10 articles uncovering the challenges a Graduate Engineer can expect in their first two weeks in a new job in engineering. It includes some insider insights and some useful hints and tips to help you survive. To compliment these articles we have compiled top ten lists of useful resources that engineers have come to rely on in industry.

Today we have released the list of the TOP TEN ENGINEERING TOOLS. It is available for download inside our new LinkedIn Group ‘Graduate Engineers Entering Industry’ Feel free to join up, join in the conversation and share your own stories and experiences.

Leave a Reply