When I started my career those 10 years ago I literally thought I knew everything! Some successes and few charts and averages from university backed me up in this feeling, but in reality, I was just an ignorant beginner. I can honestly say that I am a classic example of Dunning–Kruger effect. Today I worry far more about my skills than I worried then!
Let’s start from the beginning
You see, during studies I have decided that I will become one of the best engineers. I understood the effort involved and I was willing to pay the price in sweat. Since I was motivated enough I actually managed to place myself in the top rankings of any competition in my faculty. This sounds like a victory right…
… there are however few things that they don’t teach at Universities (or at least not at mine!). Sure I was able to solve most complex problems on a student level but they surely didn’t teach me how much I don’t know yet!
I finished my studies and started a Ph.D. completely certain that I already know everything and that I am the best. Both of which were obviously far from the truth 🙂
Below a thing I wish I knew then… it would save me quite a few sleepless nights!
Things usually are far more complicated than they seem
A few years ago in Polish schools (I think the primary ones) one of the tasks in the math exam was:
Look at the picture below. Monkey wants to jump over the river, how much distance it will cover in the air?
The intention of the task creator is obvious. The student should use the Pythagoras’ Theorem and calculate that the distance is 5m. This task, however, got pretty famous, as some biologist pointed out that if such a tree grows so close to a small river that must be a bamboo tree (or whatever). Based on that he suggested that this can be only a such and such monkey. Later on, some physicist actually calculated the correct trajectory for said jump (taking into account the average weight of said monkey etc.), someone helped with humid air properties and so on. After a very long debate, a “correct” answer was found. A guy who solves the problem (from primary school math exam) got accepted to one of the universities without required entry tests!
You should always remember this, because most of the time at your technical university they were telling you it should be 5…
Do you remember when they told you in school there is no such thing as the square root of -1? And the surprise when you learned at university that actually there is such a thing? Engineering is full of such surprises! Some of them are too complicated to discuss in class, some would take too much time, most are simply out of the scope of the course content. In reality, when you finish studies you won’t know about a lot of issues…
… issues I have “discovered” later on in my career! Those discoveries caused few sleepless nights each. Nights when I desperately tried to fix something before the deadline! I got lucky, I have discovered all the issues before the projects were executed!
Today I’m absolutely certain I don’t know everything. I’m also certain I won’t know everything when I die. The only thing I can hope for is to try to learn as much as I can, and hopefully “discover” issues I don’t know about before I make the mistake.
What can you do with this issue?
Learn! This is the best advice I can give you! Read good books and expand your knowledge. Attend workshops, take courses, try doing stuff by trial and error. If you have someone who is checking your work always do your best to understand the mistakes. Ask all the questions you can come up with and dig deep.
The fact that engineering is so complex gives you an enormous opportunity! If you will devote some of your time to learning, you will easily stand out of the crowd of people that don’t do that! This gives a huge advantage in your career!
There is a trick to this of course – it requires a certain discipline. To deal with it try to find something that interests you. The thing you like to learn about. You don’t have to love it, it doesn’t have to be your passion. When you develop skills toward something you will enjoy it more as a side bonus 🙂 My interest in FEA makes it easy for me to wake up at 5 AM each day to read some book about it!
I strongly believe that the complexity of engineering problems is what makes it worthwhile to be an engineer! There is always something more to learn about – and this is great!
When I started learning things that interest me, just for myself and my development I realized something:
Developing your skills is super fun!
It gives me tremendous joy and a feeling of fulfillment. I also noticed I enjoy my work far more when I completely understand what I do. It fills me with a sense of pride when I can avoid a problem because I managed to learn about it before I encountered it.
Since you read my blog I can assume you wish to learn about FEA and structural engineering – this is great!
I will do my best to provide you with as much information as I can… and hopefully this will help you to save some sleep somewhere along the way!
If you haven’t heard I have created a free nonlinear FEA course – a nice place to start learning new things! If you haven’t tried it yet give it a go by subscribing below: