You are good with numbers and can even do some complex calculations in your head. You understand modeling software and can create just about any geometry, part, or assembly. You have no trouble with stress and fluid analysis and can simulate many conditions using various tools and software. You can write scripts and automation aids like there is no tomorrow. You can derive formulas, use MATLAB or Mathcad, or analyze circuits because that is what you enjoy and that is what you are good at. What about the rest though?
You may have the experience, the talent, and the aptitude, but to be well rounded and effective, you have to utilize those non-technical skills. People around you have to understand what you are talking about, especially those with no background in engineering or technology. You have to be able to plan and manage time well, because the entire world is on a schedule. You also have to want and do the right thing, especially when no one is watching. Working well with others, as well as independently, is paramount when it comes to coworkers, clients, and cross functional teams. Of course creativity and innovation will pave the way to new designs, ideas, and solutions.
The assembly of your linear actuator, that took two months, is now complete. You are proud of you work. All parts are modeled, constrained, and have the proper configurations. All components within the assembly are mated correctly and the actuator can cycle through its movements on the screen. You are ready to start cranking out drawings for production, but your manager informs you that you will have to present in front of the entire company. This is a brand new product line after all. This is where you have a chance to shine. Communicate to the non-technical crowd. Explain the functionality to those who are not engineers. Let everyone know how the new actuator will function and what the new features are. Make sure that even the newest person, that walks through the door for the first time, leaves with a sense of total understanding.
Down in the laboratory, you are working on some valve cycle testing. You create the experiment, you set up test stand, you document the parameters, and of course follow all safety precautions. The specific test calls for 50 thousand cycles of a ball valve. You come to the realization that you just might be here until the early hours of the morning. After all, you have to monitor and verify if the actuator encounters any errors per procedure. You know, for a fact, that the valve will open and close, but the actuator only has an LED to indicate a partial seal. Now is the time to show some ingenuity. Engineers are supposed to solve problems. This one is yours. You quickly write a short script and add a relay circuit to the LED indicator. This allows the computer to record any partial closures of the ball valve. You can now leave and come back tomorrow when the experiment is complete. You will also have to make an amendment to the instructions manual. Creativity, Innovation, and lateral thinking. This is what engineering is all about.
You speak with the clients, you talk with the project manager, you have a meeting with the sales team, and it seems that everyone is on board with the proposed design of the new electrical charging port. You and your team have the green light. As the project engineer, you know what components and parts of the project need to be completed. You have a good grasp of the concept and are ready to put together the new design. You understand that the electrical team will do the majority of this task, while the mechanical team picks up the housing and casing designs. You understand the what, the how, and the who. What about the when? You just heard that you have a two month deadline for completion. This is where planning, delegating, and time management come into play. You will have to figure out tasks, priorities, milestones, and allow for any contingencies and setbacks. This is your opportunity to lead, to push through issues and delays, to make sure that everyone and everything is on track and on schedule for the client. Time management and planning will be your best friends here.
Of course there has to exist a balance between the technical and the non-technical. That balance will vary depending on what role you are in and what goals you are working towards. Probably one of the most important soft skills is one’s the ability to see the big picture. As you move away from working on the lowest levels of engineering, you start to head towards leadership, projects, and ultimately management. This requires you to understand that even though you can do the work yourself, it might be best to take a step back, think, plan, and delegate the work to other teams and members. This could be the natural progression of your long term engineering career. As times moves on and you gain more experience, be sure to keep diving into the soft skills as much as you involve yourself with the technical aspects of the job.