One thing you may think about when starting a new engineering job is how you are going to integrate yourself and "hit the ground running" so to speak. You want your previous experiences to give you a head start but by the same token you know that there is so much unknown you can't exactly directly apply as if you are just continuing what you were doing before.
So you ask yourself the question "what's the quickest way to learn this new job?"
I broke this down into 4 main steps that will allow you to learn the new job.
1. Listen and Learn
I realize this may seem like an obvious, lame answer, but is true nonetheless. The fastest way to learn anything is to empty your cup. We've said this before but if your cup is full, e.g. you think you already have all the knowledge, when you add water to it it just overflows. It's better to assume you know nothing.
Be a sponge, a fly on the wall and assume you know nothing. You never know when someone may tell you something you never knew or gives you a perspective you haven't thought of before.
On that note if you do prefer to listen - no worries, we've got you covered, tune in to the episode here or by your favorite podcast app.
2. Do Your Research
Google some stuff, everything on the interwebs and download everything you can into your brain. If that includes you finding out that the new job uses certain software or uses a particular architecture, go and use the software. Download the free trial, maybe its a 7 day thing and just get yourself exposed to it. You can quickly pick up jargon and ask better questions then the basics of "what is this thing", "what does that stand for?" and get to the nitty gritty of the learning with better questions.
3. Ask Questions
Now that you've done the public 3rd hand research, make sure you are asking questions of everyone. Employ your Socratic method. Ask, for your own curiosity, why things work a certain way. Even if you may have an alternative, fully explore the idea, take it to a certain point until you have a more detailed question to ask.
Now, I know there are some of you out there that think asking too many questions could make people think you don't know what you are talking about and/or you may feel that you might become annoying. The truth is, an advantage for a company to bring someone in is the fact that they will have a fresh perspective.
They will ask questions that for the longest time the company answers "that's just the way we've always done it" and never really revisited, questioned or came up with better ways to do things.
This divergent thought is exactly where innovations can be born, and if you're in an engineering space, a technology space, I think innovation is quite important.
You are doing a disservice to your new company by NOT asking questions.
Look, if you really are worried about it, I have a guide on how to ask questions without being disrespectful of senior engineers, and it will give you a break down, a few ideas, psychology and philosophy on dealing with it.
4. Make a drawing
A drawing of what you believe the whole scope to be. It's essentially a representation of what you think works, what you think the job is, what you think the role of the company is and then finding where your role fits into this picture.
This will guide you in knowing which gaps to fill in. To see where do you need to ask more questions, or get more training, or have someone walk you through to complete that picture of understanding.
Otherwise you end up just wandering around blindly filling in the gaps over time. I mean, you will eventually cover it all, this is why after a year of working somewhere you really get into the swing of things. But remember, we are trying to start things really strong here.
Treat this as a blueprint of sorts. How can you prove you are on the same page as your company, or team when you don't know what the page is to begin with.
Don't get me wrong, there will be training, inductions, conversations with leaders and all that and these are necessary. This is in addition to those things. Think about the best way to know if you understood what someone is trying to say is to repeat what they said in your own words and see if they agree with your premise. If it is the same they will agree. Or they will add something, take away something, make some kind of distinction so that your image starts to become more clear.
The drawing should either be a short workflow of how things work, how it goes from customer or client to your company, then it gets to your team, then your team does what and then feeds that to who, and then finally customer gets thing.
Somewhere there you fit in and the way this picture looks depends on the company, industry, etc. So I don't have a sample drawing for you, but just reach out maybe I can come up with something to help.
Another drawing could be a block diagram of how you think it all works. This is quite high level so it has the utility of the drawing but it also doesn't go into such details that you shouldn't know at this stage anyway.
Do this and discuss with your managers or peers if it makes sense. You will be showing enthusiasm, fresh perspective and knowledge. And all of a sudden you know exactly what's going on because you drew it. I implore you to try this. There's no excuses either because this can be a pen on paper thing - a rough sketch or a drawing. I prefer something like Microsoft Visio for this exercise, object oriented, nothing needs to be to scale.
Woohoo you made it this far and not only are you looking at starting an engineering job, you are looking to thrive. Congratulations to you.
Think about these 4 steps and let us know what you think, perhaps there's a step that should be added?
Just remember to listen and learn, do your research, ask questions and draw a picture! The first 3 steps really are inputs to you as the machine with your drawing as an output that can receive feedback and go back into your thought machine and final result is you can output exactly what the Engineering Job is and now you have a blueprint to making sure you both can fulfill your duties and exceed them too.
Don't get caught thinking you did a good job and deserve special recognition only to be told that "it was your job".
Take note of that last point. To exceed your duties. You can use it to have a strong career and is part of the reason why I was able to immerse myself and climb relatively quickly in previous engineering jobs in the article "An Engineering Career: What I learned in the first 8 years". I have an infogram and stats on what I achieved with some tips that might be able to help you get to your next level.