The thing about engineering you haven’t learned at University!

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!Dunning-Kruger Effect

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!

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:

Free nonlinear FEA course!


38 Comments

  1. jeremy theler March 17, 2017 at 8:56 am - Reply

    Completely agree with you! Nice post!

    • Łukasz Skotny March 17, 2017 at 11:54 am - Reply

      Thanks Jeremy!

      I’m glad you like it 🙂

  2. Kamal sandhu March 19, 2017 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    nice post I hope this is helpful for me ..

    • Łukasz Skotny March 20, 2017 at 9:39 am - Reply

      Dear Kamal!

      I also hope you will find this useful!
      Thank you for kind words.

      All the best!
      Łukasz

  3. Anonymous March 19, 2017 at 5:19 pm - Reply

    Nice Post…but i have doubt on the question you showed in this blog
    as an example.How does the weight of the monkey and humid air properties
    going to effect the distance it covers to jump over the river?

    • Łukasz Skotny March 20, 2017 at 9:42 am - Reply

      Hey!

      Well… I’m definitely not a specialist on monkey jumping but I would assume that the heavier monkey is “bigger and stronger” and therefore can jump higher.
      To be perfectly honest with you I don’t remember the whole explanation of the problem – it was few pages long! I just wanted to illustrate how complex the problem was 🙂

      Also, thank you for a kind comment!
      All the best
      Łukasz

  4. barmin March 21, 2017 at 8:42 am - Reply

    Awesome and honest blog entry. Waiting for more ;).
    Oh- and a list of “those books, that get you to wake up at 5 A.M” would be nice 😉

    • Łukasz Skotny March 21, 2017 at 10:03 am - Reply

      Hey Barmin!

      Thank you, I greatly appreciate your kind words. It’s nice to know someone enjoyed it. To be honest I was struggling for a long time about writing “not only technical” stuff. It feels great to get a positive feedback 🙂

      The books – this is obviously a topic for another blog post, but to give you a short answer:

      In morning I read “technical stuff” mostly about FEA and stability. Right now that would be prof. Rykaluk book on stability (in polish sadly) and NAFEMS book about FEA fundamentals (I’m a member of NAFEMS and I got like 25 books as a starter set – it will take some time to dig through them all 🙂 )

      In the evenings I read (or at least try to) more soft-skills self-developement stuff. I just finished (well it is a one-evening book) Jim Rohn “Philosophy for successful living”. Nice, but since I have heard a lot of lectures from him I already knew most of the things 🙂

      I will try to make a post about interesting books I have read so far sometimes in the future… it might take a while however 🙂

      Have a great day!
      Łukasz

  5. Guillermo Luna March 22, 2017 at 8:17 pm - Reply

    This article remains me when once I tried to calculate the reaction forces in a beam for a FE analysis, but this beam had like 5 fixed points and only two applied forces. Whit the classic formulas; Sum of forces in Y and momentum I couldn’t solve this problem. I checked in my school books and I didn’t find something useful, in fact and the fanny moment was when I realized that the book excesses (I don’t like to call them problems because for me a problem is have a lethal disease or kind of) are very easy to solve but in my student times it were not.

    • Łukasz Skotny March 23, 2017 at 7:58 am - Reply

      Hey Guillermo!

      Thank you for the comment! I had similar experiences with what I thought was difficult and what I think is difficult now… this is incredible how perspective change with time isn’t it?

  6. Anonymous March 23, 2017 at 6:32 am - Reply

    I have just 2 years of experience in FEA field, I want to get expertise in this domain. I hope, I would get benefited from you.

    • Łukasz Skotny March 23, 2017 at 7:56 am - Reply

      I hope you will get it too 🙂 For sure I will do my best to help out 🙂

  7. Anonymous March 23, 2017 at 3:25 pm - Reply

    Totally loved it !! (Y) I myself am an FEA Major Masters Mechanical Engineering Student

    • Łukasz Skotny March 23, 2017 at 4:15 pm - Reply

      Hey!

      I’m very happy you liked it 🙂

  8. Steve F March 24, 2017 at 4:33 pm - Reply

    This is a really great post that in my humble opinion addresses many principles, not only how to be happy and succeed at work doing FEA, but great principles on how to be happy in life as a whole. I too am a FEA enthusiast and enjoy the subject, although I have much to learn. As an R&D engineer it has been my experience that although there is many people whom can preform FEA, there is still a great need for good training and guidance not on specific software, but on core concepts of FEA that deal with the practical implications of correctly applying this method of analysis. As a mechanical engineer working in industry FEA really combines theory, complex math, software knowledge, and most importantly practical application knowledge. FEA encompasses so many aspects that I find it very exciting but it can also be frustrating and confusing especially when there are not others around to help guide you to avoid the mistakes before, as you put it, the deadline is due or the part is manufactured. It is really cool how you want to share your knowledge and experience with others. I know I can always use people who are very knowledgeable and want to help.

    Thanks for the post
    I look forward to more of your future posts.

    • Łukasz Skotny March 25, 2017 at 8:14 pm - Reply

      Hey Steve!

      Thank you so much for kind words 🙂 I’m very glad you enjoy my blog.

      And I admit, even after all those years FEA still frustrates me on occasion (how I wish I could write “on rare occasion” but that is not the case!).

      Have a great day!
      Łukasz

  9. Michal March 26, 2017 at 6:42 pm - Reply

    Great article Lukasz! Engineers, same as other specialists should never stop expanding their knowledge, that’s the only right way to keep their strong position on the market and be confident about their work. Regards!

    • Łukasz Skotny March 26, 2017 at 6:52 pm - Reply

      Hey Michał!

      I’m glad you liked it 🙂 Thank you for the kind words 🙂

  10. Ammar Al-khafaji April 3, 2017 at 8:13 pm - Reply

    awesome blog .. all the best for you

    • Łukasz Skotny April 3, 2017 at 8:46 pm - Reply

      Dear Ammar!

      I’m very glad that you like it 🙂

      All the best for you as well 🙂

  11. Michael Petropoulos April 4, 2017 at 6:18 am - Reply

    I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.
    Socrates – Greek Philosofer

    • Łukasz Skotny April 4, 2017 at 8:51 am - Reply

      I myself am more fan of Seneka and Marcus Aurelius but how could I disagree with a great philosopher 🙂

  12. Niño Gem Ngo Lee October 10, 2017 at 6:15 am - Reply

    Amazing thoughts. (Y)

    • Łukasz Skotny October 10, 2017 at 7:43 am - Reply

      Hey Nino!

      Thank you! I’m very glad that you like it!

      All the best
      Ł

  13. arturo n. salgado January 27, 2018 at 7:31 pm - Reply

    how about the reverse idea, you had received the best tech and knowledgements but in your media or people nobody need this tech

    • Łukasz Skotny January 27, 2018 at 9:40 pm - Reply

      Hey Arturo!

      I’m not sure if I understand what you mean here.

      Sure, there are a lot of things one can learn. And while they may not be useful in your current situation – In most cases you control your situation to a certain degree. If what you have learned feels right for you, you can always change your position to actually use those skills. Sure this is scary, and should be considered deeply – but it is doable for sure!

      Have a great day!
      Ł

  14. Zoran February 12, 2018 at 12:34 am - Reply

    Hey, Lukasz,

    I always envied those who had answers to all questions up their sleeve.
    Simple teasers turn to be challenging to me occasionally.

    Like this “monkey jumping business”; somebody simply ignores the obvious and digs deeper to find real challenges, since they don’t want to be confronted with a banal issue, or they don’t want to believe it… Of course, the part, ” it was a primary school task…” is a part of the problem definition in this case, but…

    Don’t take fun out of our daily routines, please. That fun is what stimulates our growth the most.

    In real life, it is unfortunately so often that “problem solving skills” is equalized with knowing 3-4-5- type triangles level of problems.

    And, yeah, some people necessarily feel like they were “Ikea” superstore where everybody comes only for their breakfast or brunch needs. Their real place was already taken by somebody “better skilled”.

    Cheers,

    Zoran

    • Łukasz Skotny February 12, 2018 at 12:04 pm - Reply

      Hey Zoran!

      I really hope that you don’t think that I take the fun away from your work – this is definitely not my goal! In fact, I think that having fun is critical in developing your skills (just as you wrote).

      I agree that not every task needs a super in-depth analysis, but on the other hand, I do my best to try and find the tasks that do – to me, those are the most rewarding ones (and they bring the fun!). Also, usually things really are more important than people think, and sometimes “problem definition” is the most challenging part of the entire project. If you are responsible for choices like that being aware of what you ignore (and what can be ignored) is actually critical I think!

      Let me know what do you think : )

      All the best
      Ł

  15. Z February 12, 2018 at 3:39 pm - Reply

    Hey, Lukasz,

    I am sure we share views on close relationship between the “serious” thinking and fun:)

    In my response, I just wanted to avoid using words “management” and “the best candidates” for their succession…, which is always “serious business”.

    Regards,

    Zoran

    • Łukasz Skotny February 12, 2018 at 7:33 pm - Reply

      Serious thinking and fun… sounds about right 🙂

  16. Cormac February 23, 2018 at 12:44 pm - Reply

    This is a very important post that everyone starting out in any profession or path of study should read.

    Also, unless the problem with the monkey takes place in zero gravity and a vacuum, the only certain thing is that 5 m is the wrong answer for the length of the path taken by the monkey. Anything in free-fall in a gravity field will follow a parabolic curve (Which will be slightly modified by air resistance, though given the density difference between air and a monkey, it’s not unreasonable to neglect this) rather than a straight line. The distance traveled will change depending on the direction and speed the monkey pushes off in, which would allow the trajectory to be calculated. The path will tend towards a straight line as the monkey’s speed tends towards infinity…

    • Łukasz Skotny February 23, 2018 at 1:07 pm - Reply

      Hey!

      I’m glad that you like the post!

      Be cautious – the monkey problem can get in your head… and you will catch yourself thinking what else is there! This is a dangerous thing this monkey 😛

      All the best
      Ł

  17. Karthik October 26, 2018 at 9:21 am - Reply

    I agree. Great and insightful article. Thankyou

    • Łukasz Skotny October 27, 2018 at 4:16 am - Reply

      Hey Karthik!

      I’m really happy that you like it : )

      All the best
      Ł

  18. Alex January 29, 2019 at 6:49 am - Reply

    another excellent article… i want to add one thing , the real engineering we learn in only when we come to professional practice ,

    the engineering school is just a society where we can see & experience what engineering has to offer ,
    frankly most of the engineering schools fail to teach student on how to enjoy learning , butstill many few like lukaz come out the same society and show the world how they enjoyed learning .

    great article!

    • Łukasz Skotny January 30, 2019 at 4:32 pm - Reply

      Hey Alex!

      I’m really glad that you like the article – always nice to hear 😉

      Indeed often times university has no real chance to teach you how the “engineering is done”. Simply because problems there are pretty basic and straightforward. Such jobs rarely happen as far as I know 🙂

      All the best
      Ł

  19. Paweł August 8, 2019 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    Hi Łukasz
    Fully agree with the post. School’s/ Universites also present some of the “most” hard softwares in very dificult way. I recall that we had labs in use of Ansys and this was nightmare…
    I have experiance the same way in clases for DOE at university until I was so stubbor to lern it myslef 🙂
    Even know I’m saying that I need to lern more but technique I use to develop process windows for molding/extrusion processes.

    Yuup self learning is fun and I see a lot’s of benefits in FEA , but the most benefitial one is that feeling at the end when You can say : challagne accepted and acompished 🙂

    BR
    Paweł

    • Łukasz Skotny August 8, 2019 at 7:54 pm - Reply

      Hey Paweł 🙂

      Yea, that is true that stuff gets overcomplicated unnecessary, but I usually do not connect it to software as such. It’s more about many teachers not being practitioners, so they don’t really know what is important in “simple design”. Sure, there is a LOT more knowledge about everything, bud dumping that on students will only make them confused and frustrated.

      And yes, accomplished challenges are fun. If only Customers handed diplomas and medals not NDAs 😛

      See you around
      Ł

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