One of the best investments I ever made in my basic skills was learning to touch type thirty years ago (yes - on a typewriter). A mere 20 hours investment, has been worth tens of thousands  in terms of a real payback. There are many other basic skills which we tend to neglect but are critical to our engineering careers and personal lives.

 

Dear Colleagues,

One of the best investments I ever made in my basic skills was learning to touch type thirty years ago (yes - on a typewriter). A mere 20 hours investment, has been worth tens of thousands  in terms of a real payback.

There are many other basic skills which we tend to neglect but are critical to our engineering careers and personal lives. Obviously, you do need solid engineering expertise and skills in which to perform your job competently. From welding, to power system protection relay settings to electrical design and designing a PLC program. But these basic skills, listed below, can make an enormous difference to you in your day-to-day engineering work. Read on to see what these other basic skills are (not necessarily in any priority order):

Manage your time ruthlessly. Each day, write down an updated list of tasks with strict deadlines and work through them in priority order (esp.the unpleasant ones).

Basic finance and bookkeeping. How many times have you looked at a project costing and wondered whether it has been realistic (esp. software). Always be super conservative and underestimate sales revenue and overestimate costs. Assume costs will hit you immediately and sales revenue will come in a lot later. Ensure you can read a simple Profit and Loss and Balance Sheet. Ensure your real assets are “real” and you know the true extent of your liabilities. Finally, remember in your personal and business life, that Cash is King. No matter how much the reported profits are; the key to your project and firm is always (sadly) having access to immediate cash.

Negotiate effectively. Much to the horror of my kids (all Y-Generation), I reckon I save $3000 to $4000 per year by negotiating for everything from fruit, veggies to a computer to circuit breakers for a project. You should try this. Always make it a win-win for both parties in negotiating and give the other party a reason to give you a discount. Try and look for a lateral thinking solution where you can exploit assets the other party may have but which don’t cost her anything (but are worth a lot to you) to throw into your “deal”.

Write simply and powerfully. Write in simple English and keep it short and powerful. Avoid big clumsy words. Use digital graphics, sketches and photos which are so easily produced these days and integrated into your text to add life your words and make the whole document easier to understand.

Make simple but powerful presentation. I am not referring to clever animations and gimmicks but simple presentations which are understandable. I was surprised by a presentation on surge protection (by someone who shall remain nameless) where they brought in a ton of equipment to demonstrate to a very interested group of 60 odd engineering professionals, but didn’t explain in simple English what they were planning to do with the demonstration, what they were doing and what actually happened. Resulting in a completely wasted exercise. Speak to your audience in simple English and assume nothing in terms of understanding. Don’t lecture but chat to them with passion and enthusiasm.

Capture your environment by photographing powerfully. How many times have you had to take a top class photo of a substation, control system installation, project or piece of equipment and wondered if you were providing the best picture? There are two simple steps to ensure a great photograph from even the most amateur photographer:

1.  Design – most good photographs adhere to the “the rule of thirds”. Imagine the frame of your photo is split into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Position the elements of your photograph long these lines. i.e. the horizon would sit on either the bottom or top horizontal line and the subject would line up with one of the vertical lines.

2.  Lighting: to guarantee a good shot ensure the subject in the foreground is lit to the same F-stop (light exposure) as the background. i.e if your subject is in the shade or has the sun behind them. Fill flash will be required to give the correct balance.

These are all basic skills but an investment in these skills will save you hundreds of thousands of $, make your professional and personal life so much more interesting and satisfying.


When acquiring knowledge and skills, we always need to ensure we get the right ones. As Alec Bourne so rightly remarks: It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely uneducated.

Yours in engineering learning,

Steve

Mackay’s Musings – 3rd February’15 #550
125, 273 readers – www.idc-online.com/blogs/stevemackay

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