Day 5, Graduate Engineer’s New Job: Mind Reading

Dear Diary, Day 5. Urggh, my biggest challenge this week by far has been getting up early every morning. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. We start work at 7am . . . why?! I made it through three years of university without ever getting out of bed before 10am. I have my morning routine almost perfected now, 20 minutes from my alarm goes off until I am on the road, not bad. That said, I did have two different socks on yesterday.

After a slow start on a big project yesterday, I was feeling a lot more positive today, ready to get stuck in. I had struggled with a lot of new information but to be honest a lot of the systems I am designing are actually quite simple, now I have got my head around the basics.

Today’s first problem was missing information. Information that should have come from John the Engineering Manager or, I suppose, from the customer. Things like required dimensions, performance details, proprietary information that I would have no way of knowing or finding out by myself.

John keeps telling me to ask questions and these seemed like well justified questions. His responses to them ranged from “Oops, I should have told you that” to “I’m not sure, I’ll find out” and even a  “we won’t know that until next week”.

I am very conscious of the time pressure on me given my own knowledge gaps. Now I have the added pressure of chasing information and mind reading or reading between the lines, just to figure out what is required of me. All because John is skipping details and failing to explain things thoroughly.

I don’t think he took enough time to think about what information I would need and has only given me the information he thinks he would need in my place. I don’t know how he expects me to get stuff done without giving me the actual parameters needed. Still, keep my head up, stay positive. . . for now.

Today’s second problem was much worse. At the end of a conversation with John this afternoon he casually added “oh, I know I told you 800mm would be fine for the housing but I talked to sales and we decided it should be as small as possible at this stage, no larger than 600mm anyway, ok?”

What the …! I had been working on the housing all morning, it wasn’t easy and now I am right back to the start. Why would you not talk about it before I started? What are you actually asking me for now? Do I try to get it to 600mm? Do I try to get it less? How much time do I spend trying to minimise it? . . . Those were the questions that quickly went through my mind. I didn’t let them out of my mouth for fear of my frustration coming across. I just told him it had been awkward working out that geometry so it might take a bit longer. “So long as it is still finished by the deadline” was his response.

Is he intentionally trying to sabotage me, has he decided I’m not working out and is he trying to make me fail so he can get rid of me? This week has been a real mix of highs and lows, today has finished on a definite low

Lessons from day 5:

While they want you to succeed, you are still a distraction to your manager’s day to day work, also, engineers quickly forget what it was like to be a graduate. For that reason they don’t tend to have the time or inclination to iron out every last detail for you.

Design requirements can change at any time for any reason. A product is designed to meet a customer need, if that need changes, the design must change. The company who is quickest to adapt to customers changing requirements is the most likely to get their business. You don’t work for your manager, you work for your customer.

This is the nature of the beast and something you won’t be able to change. You can however adopt some methods to help you cope better and allow you to be more flexible.

Keep a list of the stuff your manager/supervisor isn’t routinely giving you. Then when you start another project, you will have a checklist of what you need to do the job.

Draw up a Product Design Specification (PDS) at the start of the project. The process of creating this structured record of the requirements of the design process will often highlight gaps you need to fill.

Make an effort to better understand the market your company operates in. Offering customization and flexibility in product options is often how companies secure many sales.

Manage the frustration, this is the job, there will be lots of highs and lows. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it!

Requirements changing mid project is known as scope creep. It is very rare that deadlines will move accordingly.

There is a common statement in the industry that your manager is well aware of but will never tell you: The Golden Triangle is made up of low cost, short time and high quality but you can only ever pick two. If the work load has increased but the time target must still be met, then realistically, either cost or quality of design will suffer. That is not to condone cutting corners, it just means you will have to spend less time perfecting or cost cutting. (Don’t repeat that and you didn’t hear it here!)


To support this series, a list of TOP TEN ENGINEERING KNOWLEDGE RESOURCES 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.

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