Engineering Grads: Making the Transition from Classroom to Job

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You're a new engineer just out of school, and you finally landed a job so you can start paying back your parents and the bank for those student loans. Unfortunately, you're discovering that the job of engineering entails more than what you learned in EE 409, or ME 502. 


Unless you’ve been interning or working part time as a junior engineer, you’ll soon discover that working as an engineer is a far cry from the lab work you’ve been doing in school. After a few days of orientation and getting to know your team and boss, there are some things you’ll have to get used to. Here are some major changes you can expect:

Working jobs in parallel. This practice falls apart because projects may start in parallel, but diverge into limitless chasms of unrelated work. While a single job will demand multitasking of related elements, the focus will always be on a single job’s timeline and linear tasking. 

Task uncertainty. The two-minute rule--getting something small out of the way--doesn't work like your instructors said it would because most tasks eat up more than two minutes. There are always interruptions, changes brought on by sudden budget limitations, new design protocols, and other unpredictable factors not found in the vacuum of academia. 


"Micromanage-itis." The tendency to make every task overly complicated. This is an affliction that affects new grads who want to cross every "t" and dot every "i." You must resist this urge, and talk to your supervisor who can focus your energy on what’s important.

Documentation disconnect. Doc systems in most firms are often archived and housed in sophisticated data silos. Engineers rarely "own" their documents and must confront complex filing systems for retrieval and organization. Organizing data or papers for current projects can be a hassle, in particular if proprietary data is locked up at night.

Production tracking. If you support a production line, you must prepare for the unexpected. That means tracking all projects until they're out the door, since little issues can quickly balloon to giant ones. 


Punch lists and GTD. Getting Things Done goes easier if you have your "punch lists" (list of tasks or "to-do" items) to review when you have a spare minute, say, between meetings. No need to create a punch list for every step of a design, but having a list of 'sub-projects' can help keep you organized. If you don't write it down and track it, you'll forget it until the design review. Not good.


As you can see, young engineers face an entirely different set of challenges once they leave the classroom. The best way to survive your first year is to listen more than you speak and ask questions—something you’ll be allowed to do as a newbie. 



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