Thanks for the great response last week on basic skills for engineering professionals - many of the responses listed at the end.

Virtual Engineering Groups
In varying degrees, most of us are working virtually in groups undertaking our engineering work. From use of email to skype and sometimes, web and video conferencing; we are all moving to working together with colleagues and friends at far flung locations connected only over the internet. You might be working in a virtual group building a plant, a mine or designing a new electronic controller. Your group members may only be across town. You may only form a virtual group for a few hours whilst troubleshooting a problem with a vendor or client. We all love and hate the virtual groups we work in. It is often hard to get the other group members to pull their weight and collaborate effectively. As Jean-Paul Sarte says in his play No Exit: ‘Hell is other people’.

Technically, a virtual group requires little face-to-face interaction and is scattered throughout the world with its members communicating through the internet intermittently and often not simultaneously (or asynchronously).

Building trust
One major challenge is building up trust in an online environment with group members perhaps from different cultural and national backgrounds  to  yours and some suggestions to get your group off to a strong start are as follows:

  • Communicate openly and frequently
  • To receive trust; give trust
  • Be frank, open and honest
  • Demonstrate strong business ethics
  • Do what you say you will do
  • Be consistent and predictable
  • Set the right tone in the beginning to support future interaction
  • Be accessible and responsive
  • Keep confidentiality
  • Create some social time as well

References are from an interesting book Virtual Groupwork edited by Robert Ubell with references to Christine Uber Grosse.

Basic Skills for Engineering Professionals
Thanks to many suggestions and skills received from you dear readers:

Photography (thanks to Patrick Richards)
I would like to add to the photo-graphy suggestion that layout and adequate lighting are indeed important, but something that I find is often overlooked by engineers when they photograph in the field is scale.  It is not always possible to appreciate the size of objects in a photograph.  Whenever I take photographs of a technical nature I try to include something in the photograph of a recognizable size.  For example if photographing relatively small objects I will often include a dollar bill or a coin.  If the object is larger, I will include a person or a vehicle for scale.  The reference object should be about the same distance from the camera as the subject of interest is so that they receive the same magnification.  The reference object should not be used to infer accurate dimensions, but it does offer a “feel” for the size of the subject.

Not touch typing but one better (thanks to Patrick Moore)
Thanks Steve for that input. I didn’t learn the touch typing but invested in a Pen Tablet PC. It takes my handwriting and gives me text at good typing speed.

The other inspired advantage in Word is being able to Review Documents with handwriting mark ups.

Statistics and Probability (thanks to Laurie Reynolds)
The other one I would add is basic statistics and probability, the ability to understand a normal distribution and what a 1 in 1000 risk feels like.
 
Learning MS Project or equivalent (thanks to Paul Dippie)
It is very powerful software, but 20% of its capabilities gives you 80% of the benefit., and that 20% only takes a half day or so to pick up.

Learning to listen more effectively (thanks to Tony Paterson)
Amongst the skills that are well worth cultivating is learning to actively listen, not be thinking of a reply to part of the problem whilst ignoring the rest. Active listening and cross questioning to ensure adequate understanding of the message saves time and money.    There is no purpose in solving problems that don’t exist. Whilst engineers are quick to offer solutions, social workers tease solutions out of the communicator by asking relevant focused questions. It is not easy to actively listen.

A piece of advice relevant to us working in the various specialist engineering activities today, from Sidney J. Harris:

Never take the advice of someone who has not had your kind of trouble.

Yours in engineering learning

Steve