So you just graduated! Or, your new hire just did. Either way, it’s a big new world; full of lots of challenges and questions. Questions like: “where do I even start…? Gulp.” Don’t worry we’re here to help. Here are some resources and tips to help any green engineer get settled in.
Paper, pens, and pocket protectors
When you are starting a new design or formulating a project plan, start on paper. Don’t just dive right into CAD work. Sketching is a great way to get feedback on a wild idea before investing a lot of time building models in CAD. It’s also a lot easier than trying to explain your idea in words alone. So get yourself a bunch of different colored pens and start sketching. If you are working within a small envelope, try sketching to scale. Ask for input on your ideas from people with more experience, and then keep sketching. Once you’ve formulated a couple of ideas, you’ll have a much stronger foundation for jumping into a CAD program.
And don’t worry, the sketches don’t have to be pretty. They just have to convey your idea. If you want to get a quick jump on improving your sketching skills, try looking at your past CAD models in wireframe and practice drawing them at different angles.
Did someone say free pizza?
Webinars, design guides, sales reps, samples. These things are all incredibly valuable. Even in the twilight of your career, you won’t always be the expert in every manufacturing technique or know about every new component that’s released. Design guides are frequently published by manufacturers and can help you get up to speed on a new manufacturing process quickly. Most of them will go into some detail about the type of features your design can have or should have. Here are some of my favorite online resources: design aids, mechanism library, manufacturing methods, medical reference, electrical engineering basics, materials, sealing.
Moreover, meeting with sales reps in person can help you answer specific questions really quickly. They can walk you through the pros and cons of a product line, hook you up with some free samples, or investigate the possibility of customizing a piece of hardware. They’ve also been known to give lunchtime presentations on a new technology or capability… pizza included.
Once you move from concept to realization, you’ll need to figure out how to manufacture your design. Touring a local machine shop is a great way to learn about the manufacturing capabilities in your locality. It is also a great way to build a relationship with a vendor that you can reach out to for quick manufacturing feedback.
There’s a solidworks world?!
Yup, there is.
There’s a tradeshow or conference for just about everything. Trade shows are a great way to learn about new technologies, view product samples, and meet with potential suppliers. Conferences usually center around one company or topic, and they provide workshops and seminars for your learning pleasure. Both are a good way to get up to speed on something new. MDM is a great show for those in the medical device field, and of course, CES is the show for those in consumer products. But really there are great events happening all the time, you’ve just got to look them up and find one that interests you.
Learn from those that came before you
You can learn a lot from the products around you. I make it a habit to tear apart anything in my household that breaks. M3 Design tears down products at the start of many of our new projects. It helps us understand what is typically done, where there is room for improvement, and expands our knowledge of various design practices and innovative features. Here are some great teardown sites (with a plug for M3!): M3 teardowns, M3 heuristics, ifixit teardowns, core77 teardowns.
Yoooou’ve got a friend in me
The people you work with… you’re going to see them every day. They may not all be your closest friends, but these are the people who are going to be around you as you go through some major life events: marriage, babies, promotions, turning 30! They’ll be the ones who can help you when you’re on a tight deadline or in a bind at work. They’ll also be the people who advocate (hopefully) for you as you move into new positions at new companies. Make friends. Gather a group for lunch on Fridays or trivia after work. If someone in your organization (or another) exemplifies a trait that you admire, ask if they would consider being your mentor. Most people are honored to be asked, just make sure you know what you want to learn, propose an unobtrusive schedule, and always have questions prepared.
5 till fluff
New engineers have a tendency to write long-winded and wordy emails. Upper management folks tend to do the opposite. It’s not uncommon to receive an email with 6 words in the title block and no content in the body of the email. The point, people are busy and they appreciate conciseness. Learn to prioritize information, only add information if it is pertinent to the point you are making, and leave no doubt or ambiguity about what you are trying to communicate. Use the 5 sentence rule. If your email is greater than 5 sentences: stop, reread, and delete the fluff.
Welcome to the fold.