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Influencing Young Engineers

Influencing Young Engineers

Influencing Young Engineers

How many of us have stories where we were influenced by someone when we were just starting out in the business world or maybe got some advise that you found to be great advise.

I will start.  My dad (an electrical engineer) gave me a little bit of advise after I was put into a position of supervising some young engineers.  He told me that sometimes the best way to teach someone is to let them go down the wrong path even when you know they are making a mistake.  He said that they will eventually figure out that they made a mistake and in that process they will have learned more than if you would have corrected them in the beginning.

RE: Influencing Young Engineers

Sounds better than going down the wrong path (approach)that your supervisor sets for you, even though I new better!!
(wasted time = 1 YEAR)

RE: Influencing Young Engineers

I agree, my boss let me make a very basic mistake in my first job - I spent a large number of hours doing some analysis only to be told just before I was to submit the report that I had worken in the wrong units - the customer was american (imperial) and I was using metric!!!
It really annoyed me when I first found out that he had known early on what was wrong but had kept quiet. Subsequently it now means I double check a lot more than may be I need to. Have I made the same mistake again - NO!!

RE: Influencing Young Engineers

I suppose we become good engineers by learning the hard way, then to be shown the easy way. The downside with this, is the amount of money and time wasted in becomming a good engineer.
Does this method always make you a better engineer, the japanese dont learn this way. Maybe one reason why an engineers role is worthless nowadays.

RE: Influencing Young Engineers

GOTWW... I'm right there with you.  Too many times I've had to humor a manager down a ridiculous path, which I new was a waste of my time.  And when it came down to review time, I was basically told, "You know, I'm not sure that was the best way to go...." DUH.  It came to a point where I had to have my own separate covert operation to get the jobs done right.  As far as leading myself down the wrong paths and learning from mistakes, I guess I can give credit to my undergrad Unit Ops labs... For never ever really getting the right answer on any project, but being able to at least identify the reasons. (Ohh... Rotameters read lower at higher process temperature... Dang it all)... Thank goodness for partial credit.

Aaron Spearin, EIT
ChemE, M.E.
"The only constant in life is change." -Dan Andia; 1999, Chemical Engineering Progress

RE: Influencing Young Engineers


I must strongly disagree with the any teaching method that lets new employees "go down the wrong path" in the hopes that they will learn more from the experience.

When I am training a new employee, I take pains to stress the most important parts of their job, and I show them any time saving shortcuts I have come across.  I feel that I must do this to fulfill my responsibilities as a mentor.  To do otherwise would be a disservice to the new person, to my company, and to my company's customers.

I guess that the point of view you have on this issue is determined by the nature of the industry you work for. In my company we simply cannot afford the wasted time and effort that is lost by letting new employees "reinvent the wheel."

RE: Influencing Young Engineers

Beware of old acclaimed icon engineer-scientist. They carry around alot of Not Invented Here and Pier Jealousy baggage.
The greatest, Edison and Tesla are good examples (ie. DC is the way to go, and power transmission through the air), May be true someday, but not at the time pursued.  

RE: Influencing Young Engineers

Unfortunately, if you are not given the opportunity to re-invent some portion of the wheel, you will never learn how to make the wheel better and you've done nothing more than follow someone else's SOP.  This is the work of production operators, some techs and soldiers...doing what they are told without knowing why.  Well, for scientists and engineers, the question "why" will always come up... And since we are taught to (rightfully so) question authority, how else can we truly learn the value of "because" without learning it ourselves? Training new engineers to be automatons does no service to them or the future of the company.  Helpful hints are good, but let them reach the conclusions.

Aaron Spearin, EIT
ChemE, M.E.
"The only constant in life is change." -Dan Andia; 1999, Chemical Engineering Progress

RE: Influencing Young Engineers

GOTWW and aspearin1:  I could not agree with you more.  I have never liked or agree with someone setting you up to fail.

My dad’s advice would not apply to all situations.  Sometimes you would correct them before making the mistake. It all depends on the gain vs. time and effort.  I have had instances when I thought someone was going down the wrong path but they ended up making it work. I ended up being the student and learning.  As we all know you never stop learning.

Of course I'm sure we all have stories that were bad experiences due to a bad supervisor.  I would like to hear these stories also.

RE: Influencing Young Engineers

This requires balance.
Somebody once said (Newton?)
“ The reason I can see so far is that I stand upon the shoulders of Giants”

Without the hints and guidance of others, progress becomes difficult because everyone has to start from scratch, but it is also good to look at the foundations on a regular basis to see if there is a better way.

As for watching someone go down a wrong path, I try to hint there may be a better way and if they want the advice, I give it, but let them make the decision on how to do the job they are doing.   This goes for not just us engineers but it includes the craftsmen who are building the item I designed,  the craftsmen will then suggest changes in the design or construction methods the improves the item.


RE: Influencing Young Engineers

"...Pier Jealousy baggage."????

According to Encarta:

"pier [ peer ] (plural piers)
1. seaside structure: a platform built on stilts jutting out into a body of water, used as a boat dock, a place from which to fish, or as an entertainment center"

I don't even want to own a boat, so I'm certainly not envious of anyone who owns a pier!

But seriously, the direction this thread has taken seems to indicate that there are young engineers who are not at all happy with their mentors/supervisors.  That is unfortunate, because I only became happy in my career when I was assigned to a more experienced engineer who's knowledge I respected and who's guidance I valued.

I hope that the young engineers who participate in this forum will eventually be so lucky.

RE: Influencing Young Engineers

yes, funny, peers.

lo siento, mia culpa.

Yes I to have appreciated working with some extremely good experienced engineers, makes the business worth doing.

Funding is tough, The R&D field has evolved to a lone wolfe endever, never being able get good dialog with "peers" as everbody is on there own seperate goose chase. Young engineers will sink or swim, if you are lucky enough to get one to help, many seem clueless.

Sad sight when two old men come to blows over accusations of my ....idea's ... stolen, no credits, name on patents ect., etc.

RE: Influencing Young Engineers

Right now I believe I am in the 'mistake' stage of my profession.  I just started an internship last week and at times feel discouraged and overwhelmed by the task at hand.  I know I'm making mistakes and wish the pm would correct me.  In the long run, however, I believe it is these mistakes that will be most rewarding.

RE: Influencing Young Engineers

Lets get this thread back on track.  I will give another technique I have used to mentor young engineers.

When explaining something with a lot of detail ask the person to explain it back to you just to make sure they really understood the intent of your explanation.

Nine times out of ten if you ask the person if they understood your explanation they will tell you yes but honestly they did not (I have been guilty of this myself).  If they explain it back to you, you will be able to find out were you lost them and correct them.  I have found that sometimes I explain things more clearly the second time around.

RE: Influencing Young Engineers


I agree with you completely that sometimes people will just tune out and not actually 'get' the point that you are trying to describe. But, do you think having them repeat it back can be a little patronizing though? Is the mentor/protege relationship meant to be like parent/child relationships? It's a teaching style that can work though.

I think there's a gap between teaching and molding, and I guess another question could be 'should young engineers be taught or molded' once they are outside of the university setting.


RE: Influencing Young Engineers

Mabn:  It all depends on your approach as to whether you patronize them.  I ask them to explain it back to me telling them that I want to be sure my explanation was correct and clear.  Sometimes my explanation was not clear enough to get my point across.  It helps both parties involved.  Again, this method is dependent on the situation.  You can tell when you loose someone or that they have drifted off the subject.

I guess no one is willing to share any of their experiences.  I started the thread to hear some stories about how someone influenced them or how they have influenced others.

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