6 Life Dilemmas Every Engineer Can Relate To

Every person is faced with challenges and dilemmas, but the dilemmas engineers face are particularly daunting. The job of an engineer requires skill, grace, and careful navigation through social, scientific and political situations. Some of the most pressing life dilemmas engineers face involve the struggle between personal ethics and private goals. The list is long, but it ultimately can be simplified into 6 categories:

 

1. Do I truly explain what I do in tech terms or give an example people will understand and forever tie me to?

One of the most common topics of conversation relates around what people do for a living. However, this line of questioning may cause engineers to become anxious, break out in a sweat and want to bury his/her head like an ostrich. Engineers are the minority – in 2012 scientists and engineers made up only 5% of the entire workforce. Creating the scenario of 5% of the people having to explain what they do to the remaining 95%. So what approach should an engineer take? The scientific approach or the simplified approach leaving out the multisyllabic words and providing an example?

So what approach should an engineer take? The scientific approach or the simplified approach leaving out the multisyllabic words and providing an example?

The scientific approach or the simplified approach leaving out the multisyllabic words and providing an example?

By all means, answer the question in a way that your audience will understand, an answer like, “you wouldn’t understand” will not earn you any points - besides it sounds arrogant and off-putting. This may mean you are forever identified as the person who understands the temperature at which a computer will stop working, or the wind speed that may cause a bridge to be shut down, but there are far worse things you could be known as. Now, if you happen to be in a situation where you are talking to someone in the 5% of the population who shares your interest, by all means – get geeked up, tech up, and drop your most impressive vocabulary words.

Now, if you happen to be in a situation where you are talking to someone in the 5% of the population who shares your interest, by all means – get geeked up, tech up, and drop your most impressive vocabulary words.

 

2. How do I make the engineering triangle linear?

Every engineer, designer, project manager, writer, producer, etc., knows the phrase, “You can have good, fast, or cheap. Pick two.” Very rarely, can an engineer achieve all three but there are instances in every person’s career when they do. These times show their exemplary work but can lead to a danger zone - the request and expectation that you can deliver all three, every time. By finding that balance and repeating the factors, you can dig yourself a rut, stuck in a process that works until it is obsolete. Your best bet is to keep all traits in mind and work to achieve all three, but focus on the two most needed by the client.

 

3. Do I show them the better way to do that - or let them do it their way?

The best way to answer this is with another question. Is it hurting anybody? If their process is slowing down production, causing further work for others, or affecting someone or something other than himself or herself then absolutely show them the light. If it isn’t causing any problems then you are free to ignore it or offer to show them a different way.

 

4. Do I have to explain myself all the time?

This depends on the situation. In most cases, periodic updates  and regularly scheduled meetings may suffice. If you find yourself having to constantly provide step-by-step details you may be doing yourself a disservice. First, you are spending too much time explaining versus doing the actual work, and second you could potentially be explaining yourself out of a job – as you are providing DIY steps.  There is value in stating what you are doing and why, for example, “I had to rewrite some code because the old code was calling on an old script”, or “I had to redesign the hardware because it was creating more heat than is optimal". However, even with these explanations, you should be prepared to deliver a step-by-step report, in full tech terms, that documents your progress.

 

5. Do I always have to do things the best way - or can I sometimes just do them the way that works for now?

If you don’t have time to do it right, you won’t have time to do it over. If you can take this to heart now it will save you time, pain and grief down the road. You never know when a temporary solution will fail, and what projects and overall workload you will have when that does happen. Avoid chaos in the future; give it your all now.

 

 

6. How to balance big dreams and paying the bills?

Always remember the dreams and aspirations that started you on your path to engineering. Maybe you want to design the first robotic dog walker, or you just want the respect that comes along with being in the 5% of engineers and scientists. Regardless of what you do or why you do it there are still two things that are unavoidable – death and taxes. Let’s talk about taxes, the cost of living, paying bills, making a living, income, cash, dinero, Benjamins – whatever you call it – you need it. Before you can balance dreams you need to make money. Until you are confident you have your bills covered without and you won’t suddenly fall into poverty you will want to stick with prudent financial planning, make money, get settled. Work on that dream – but do it in your free time. When you are financially ready to pursue those dreams, do it – full force; make your dreams your reality!

No matter what questions you are struggling with or dilemmas are weighing you down, make a right turn and go straight. In other words, focus on what you believe is right; do not second-guess yourself. And if the same or a similar dilemma reemerges, address it with a different approach. In the words of the brilliant Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”

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