What makes the best engineers?


How do some engineers manage to be so much more effective at their jobs?

Ever found yourself thinking “what makes that engineer so much more effective at his job than the rest of us?”

Well, you aren’t alone.

In the world of infrastructure, there are utilities, consultants, operators, suppliers and even public servants. Is there a common factor for all these jobs that you could improve on, in order to be better at planning, building and operating infrastructure?

How do you stand out?

We used to think the answer was to work longer hours. But loads of studies have shown you end up becoming more inefficient, so there are diminishing returns as you increase your hours. Besides, all work and no play makes for a dull person.

Then there is the old saying, “its who you know, not what you know”. There is some merit in this, but eventually even being best mates with the CEO won’t save you if you don’t deliver any results.

In fields where it is all about talking and ideas, like advertising or marketing, you can get away with just talking the talk. But when you are literally working with concrete, you do have to deliver something more and really be able to walk the walk.

Prioritisation: The new paradigm

For a long time, there have been self-help books for managers and workers to improve their productivity. Many have mantras like “more is not indicative of better”, “attend and organise only important meetings” and “progress not perfection”. But they all end up being different versions of the same concept:


But how do you know what to prioritise? You need to understand the context you (or your client) work in, so you focus your energy on work that will make an impact.

I know it’s not catchy. I know it sounds too simple. Let’s face it, it sounds pretty boring.

But think about it for a second:

  • Did that colleague get return work from her client because she was excellent at calculating the bending moment of the beam?
  • Or because she saw that the biggest barrier to the development was going to be getting the environmental approvals, so from the start she made sure the concept design included various measures to appease the environmental regulator?
  • Or did that colleague get the promotion because he was able to run the traffic model and get the results quickly, or was it because he saw there was a gap in the organisation’s approach to some planning requirements and he came up with a solution?

Managers and clients don’t want you to just do as you are told, they want you to find problems and provide solutions.

How do you find out more about the context you (or your client) work in?

They don’t teach that at uni or TAFE, do they?

Well, actually they do in some places. A little bit. But let’s face it, when you are there you just want to know how to do the equations to pass the exams so you can go the pub. Learning about all the ‘soft stuff’ doesn’t really seem as important as being able to pass the differential calculus exam.

You can learn lots from colleagues who have been around awhile and have learnt by trial and error. But that takes time, and you want to be better at your job now.

Welcome to the new learning experience at The Questioning Engineer.

We are practitioners. We have worked in utilities, regulators, the public service and consultancies. We know what actually happens, not the theory.

We are online and interactive. You can determine when and where you do the training, as well as how fast you want to complete it.

We try to make it as interesting as possible. We know that all you really want to do is your ‘real’ work, not the soft stuff. At least if you aren’t bored, some of it might stick in your mind after the exam.

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