How to get real Engineering work

Updated: Jul 15

You've spent years getting your degree, you work hard, improve your knowledge, show up on time and get your job done and yet you feel like the work isn't exactly "engineering" work.

How do you get allocated some real engineering work? You may think that working for an engineering company, naturally there is plenty of engineering work to go around, so why hasn't any of it come your way? Whilst there might be external factors impacting this ranging from poor management, organization skills of the senior engineers, lack of structure or a real "program" to balance engineers tasks, maybe people knew others, or suck up or got lucky. Maybe the current industry as a whole is struggling right now.


Perhaps, so. These are all valid reasons but none that we have any power over. So what are the things we can do to get our hands on bigger and better engineering tasks?


Over deliver on the current tasks, enthusiastically.

You have some tasks right now, maybe it is only reading through some manuals, or printing off some documents, and before you ask - yes, you can over deliver on these tasks too.

The second part of this is enthusiastically, you are definitely not an actor and you don't have to be fake about things, but considering that the current tasks you are working on aren't particularly difficult, then what your colleagues may remember is that you were happy to get the job done - because it certainly isn't that they are impressed with the technical portion of the task.

The main thing people want is no extra stress, and happy is yet another step away from that. Senior Engineers and management don't mind surrounding themselves with some extra energy, particularly when they are feeling a little low on it.


Do you have the problem solving skills to over deliver?

Engineers all have to problem solve, but some seem to do it faster and more consistently without needing as much direction or help. This could be just an experience thing that you will gain in a few years, but could you do anything to help it? How does your process compare with the steps outlined in the 10+1 Steps to Problem Solving book? Make sure you reduce your mean-time-to-solve so you can over-deliver in the first place.


You put your head down (figuratively), you keep over delivering, keep increasing your scope, by the time you look up again you will find you are deep into delivering the real engineering work.

Put your intentions out into the universe

You need to ask. The basic version of this is simply saying to the person that gave you the task, "if you have anything else, just let me know" and since you are over delivering you increase the number of times you can offer to help on another task. But don't stop there. First, make sure you have extra capacity and if you are allowed by your manager to ask around to see if you can assist anyone (you don't want to over step here, so clarify). If the answer is yes, and it hopefully should be, then go for it. Extend your hand, show you have capacity and even if there is nothing in that moment, the next time there is a task, someone may come up with your name when asking which resource should be allocated.


If you don't ask?


It is assumed you are either:

a) already too busy or;

b) not interested


Insert "seek and you shall find" equivalent quote here.


Build rapport

You've put yourself out there and are trying to over deliver on whatever tasks you are getting. We also make sure we are building rapport. Who seems like the "go to" engineer that is getting approached and working on many different things in your workplace? Go to them and build some rapport, ask them how they are going, how they balance all that work, just talk to them as humans. Don't ask for any favors just check in on them and try to understand their perspective. The key to this step is to do it on their time. Meaning - If they are busy all day and end up working back late, don't bog them down during the day at their busiest peak, work back late as well and put yourself in a position to have a casual conversation.

This isn't luck. Luck is actually when opportunity meets preparedness.

Be prepared.


Layer on slightly more scope from current tasks

Another trick you can look at is, understanding how your task fits in the bigger puzzle. You aren't just randomly printing reports, these get generated somehow before coming to you for print and they also have to be checked and go somewhere else. You may only currently be involved in your step, but you can start by offering to do the next step in addition to the one you are on, in order to save that next person the burden of time. If its faster for the other engineer to do it themselves, they may not take you up on the offer. But they might one time. If they do, make sure you over-deliver on this. It doesn't mean rush it means doing the job well, enthusiastically.


Enable another Engineer to do more "important" tasks

You can use this in combination with the previous step, but in either case you might not be able to get an entire task handed over to you. It may be another engineer who has to do a task specifically, but there may be a few pre-steps involved or organizational/setup type parts of the task. Take this tedious task off their hands. Say, "I can compile all of that and prepare it for you while you get the details done" or equivalent.

Every engineering task has associated "bloatware" that can be cumbersome, do these for them, enable them and then all of a sudden you become indispensable. You build rapport and gain the trust to take on more or at least be part of some bigger engineering work.


Over-deliver on the these small tasks

I re-iterate this point because all of the above really help you to just get that 1 extra level of scope, the tiniest bit. You can quickly build a reputation of someone who gets things done successfully by doing these small extra things successfully. If you are not too sure how you can over deliver I got you covered but this is just one area you can over deliver on.


Repeat

The cool thing is that everything mentioned is repeatable. As Aristotle said "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit". I read this quote every day thanks to the Engineering Quotes notebook cover I use. How it relates to this situation is:


You put your head down (figuratively), you keep over delivering, keep increasing your scope, by the time you look up again you will find you are deep into delivering the real engineering work.


Don't Forget

The overall procedure for you to follow is simple:

  1. Execute (Over Deliver)

  2. Communicate (Speak Up)

  3. +1 Task (Big or Small)

  4. Repeat (Enthusiastically)


Change your Perspective

You may be craving for some more "impactful" work but remember to appreciate the work you are doing. It may actually be engineering work, it's just your perspective. Maybe the real thing you want is to get the credit for pulling off some task, or a reputation, respect, job security or a pay rise!

Be true to yourself, but even the boring engineering tasks are still engineering tasks. The obstacle is the way.


If this is something you've been struggling with and this helped you in some capacity, let us know! Become a member of Engineering IRL and get more like this along with other member benefits such as free online access to 10+1 Steps to Problem Solving: An Engineers Guide or simply DM on social or send an email.

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