Day 3 As a Graduate Engineer in Industry – Build Relationships

Dear Diary, day three, after dealing with yesterday’s dark clouds, including a public flogging from John the Engineering Manager, I was determined not to make the same mistakes today. Ask lots of questions and be 100% clear on everything before acting. I had to finish some work from yesterday’s project and John had given me a couple of tasks that would fill the rest of the day. I was clear about exactly what needed done and when. The day was planned out ahead of me, what could possibly go wrong!

Well while I was at the toilet, Steven, who I now know to be the joker in the team, downloaded a prank app to my computer. The app displays an update window with a very slow moving progress bar. Oblivious to the prank, I waited. Eventually I impatiently clicked cancel, the app then displayed a ‘blue screen of death,’ a fatal computer error. How could I have destroyed the computer on my third day? I couldn’t possibly be that unlucky.

I called the IT guy who clearly knew the drill and added to my increasing panic, telling me the computer had most likely been corrupted by a virus from a dodgy download. He started questioning my online activity warning “be honest because I can check”. In the middle of my desperate claims of innocence, he suggested I try pressing F3. I did so and was greeted by an image of a donkey telling me to ‘stop being an ass and get back to work’. Followed of course by of chorus from all in the room. They got me good. To be honest, I was pleased they were having fun with me, it made me feel welcome so I was able to laugh it off with ease.

My afternoon was much less entertaining. I reached a roadblock and needed details on a manufacturing process to progress. All the engineers were at a meeting, except for the two who had only grunted at me on my first day. I had been avoiding them since. I couldn’t afford to wait and needed answers so I timidly approached. Oliver told me he would not answer any questions until I had survived my first year as he was “fed up answering the same dumb questions from newbies”. James seemed more approachable, he told me to think of him like a genie, I get three questions and that’s it. He was light-hearted about it so I assumed he was joking. That was until I asked a fourth question. His answer: “If you have any more questions about manufacturing, go ask manufacturing”.

So I ventured out to the factory floor. Like a lamb to the slaughter! While I did come away with the answers I needed, every answer was preceded with a statement such as “did they not teach you that in your fancy degree?”, “I thought you were educated” or “you engineers already know everything anyway”. Their exact statements were a little more ‘colourful’ than I can politely repeat.

The shop floor is an intimidating place. Walking through it feels like running the gauntlet. I stand out like a sore thumb with my shirt and trousers and bright clean hi-viz. Everyone I pass has a jeer or comment to make. It’s their territory and they make it clear I don’t belong. I don’t like that but I do see the senior engineers on the shop floor a lot with new products. They get on well with everyone, joining in the banter. Perhaps there is hope, I just need to work on them.

Lessons from day 3

Building good relationships with everyone you work with will make you more efficient and productive and will make your job more fulfilling.

Be friendly with everyone, you never know who you will need to ask for help. Allies outside of your department are always useful.

Banter with friends can get you through the worst days and disagreements with adversaries can ruin the best days.

Don’t be scared to laugh at yourself, join in the office banter. You will end up spending more time each day with these people than with your friends or family.

Almost every engineering office has the same characters including, among others:

  • The friendly person who will happily help with anything, usually the next most junior,
  • The expert who can answer any question but who has a tolerance limit,
  • The ring leader, not necessarily the team leader but usually the loudest and a joker, win them over and you will be accepted by all,
  • The quiet grump who you shouldn’t be offended by, they just take longer to get to know.

Figuring out who falls into these roles and the dynamics between them will help you to build relationships.

It can be difficult for a graduate engineer in an established old-school engineering office. The senior engineers may actually encourage you to fail in order to demonstrate their own value or for companies with a high turnover of junior engineers, the older guys may just be fed up explaining the basics over and over again. You may have to just grin and bear it but the longer you survive, the more respect you will earn.

Generally speaking, most people in production think that engineers are arrogant and believe they know everything and are therefore superior. Prove them wrong. One of the best ways to do this is to ask their advice on designs, even if you already know what they are going to say.

Finally, a lesson I learned at school, be it a canteen, café or deli, make friends with the people who serve your food!


Day 3 of our Graduate Engineer’s first two weeks in a new job in engineering. Included are insider insights and useful tips to help you survive this new challenge.

To compliment this series a list of the TOP TEN ENGINEERING TOOLS 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