As alluded to in previous posts, engineers are being called upon to be leaders in today’s increasingly high-tech world. Engineers looking to become leaders in this ever-changing technological frontier will need to be able to not only communicate with others in technical and non-technical settings, but also solve problems that others cannot.

The so-called “engineer of the future” was described in a paper published by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. Written in 2004, this paper summarized the attributes that will be most necessary for engineers in 2020. A lot has changed since 2004, but this text still seems relevant for the engineer of tomorrow. The paper states that these engineers must possess strong analytical skills, practical ingenuity, creativity, the ability to communicate effectively, dynamism, agility, resilience, and flexibility. None of these skills and traits have anything to do with technical abilities such as coding and programming, technical writing, or even thermodynamics. The NASEM paper describes the engineer of the future as follows: “He or she will aspire to have the ingenuity of Lillian Gilbreth, the problem-solving capabilities of Gordon Moore, the scientific insight of Albert Einstein, the creativity of Pablo Picasso, the determination of the Wright brothers, the leadership abilities of Bill Gates, the conscience of Eleanor Roosevelt, the vision of Martin Luther King [Jr.], and the curiosity and wonder of our grandchildren.”

In 2012, Google decided to unearth the reasons why certain managers were more successful than others. The company unearthed a very shocking discovery on what traits successful employees and managers possessed. Surprisingly, technical skills were last on the list of eight successful traits revealed by the multiyear study. The first seven traits of highly successful managers were:

  1. The ability to be a good coach
  2. The ability to empower a team without micromanaging
  3. Being able to expresses interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal well-being
  4. Productive and results oriented
  5. Able to be a good communicator who listens and shares information
  6. Willing to help with others career development
  7. Able to have a clear vision and strategy for the team and the key technical skills to help them advise the team

Seven of the eight skills are what most would consider soft skills. Even in a highly technical workplace such as Google, soft skills are extremely important for employees to be successful.


Life of an Engineer Wk. 1

As an engineering student going through college, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had little exposure to the day-to-day activities of engineers and especially Civil Engineers. Most of the general public don’t even know what Civil Engineers do either which is why I’m going to write this ongoing series on top of my regular posts.

I think this would be a great opportunity for “outsiders” to get an inside peak at the life of an engineer to clear up any misconceptions that you or any others might have. I would love if more engineers of different backgrounds also chimed in on their day-to-day activity especially for the young highschool or college kids that are unsure of the path they would like to take. On this journey, I’m going to describe what engineering is and most importantly, what it is not.


So without further adieu, my background is in site development. In other words, I layout private developments such as restaurants, office buildings, multi-family developments, and even the occasional residential subdivision. Basically I design the existing site to allow for the construction of the development. Such design includes, grading (adjusting elevations), utility extension, and storm runoff relief.

My day-to-day work is very diverse due to the large amount of different people needed to successfully complete a development including; contractors, architects, developers, city staff, mechanical engineers, structural engineers, property owners, citizens, stake holders, and the list goes on. Hopefully you enjoy this series, and please feel free to comment with any questions you may have along the way!

Teamwork Building

About a year ago, the finishing touches of a ten-story office building were being made. This tower stood as an homage to the late J.B. Hunt, the founder of J.B. Hunt transportation services. This structure was the tallest of its kind in northwest Arkansas. It still stands as a beacon for development and prosperity to the people there. Most of the people in the area don’t realize the teamwork that took place to make this building a reality though.

A little over two-years ago, my previous firm got the civil engineering contract to handle the site work on this 9-acre campus. A local architecture firm would be handling the building interior and exterior. A local structural engineering firm would be handling the building support and foundation. A local mechanical engineering firm was brought on to design the utilities within this behemoth. After the team was assembled, collaboration too began. Each participant was using their unique skillsets to bring this structure to life. Each member had a stake in something that was much bigger than themselves.

After the design was completed and the construction company was selected, the discussions continued. The meetings were held at regular intervals. Each member of the team were called upon for their expertise. Often times, there were problems that came out of construction that affected multiple disciplines. In this case, the members would utilize their individual strengths to discuss the issues and how it would affect their designs. Then the team would discuss ways to remedy the problem without affecting another element of the design. Each team member respected the experience brought by each of the other members. Although each member brought a unique skillset, the common goal of building the structure, brought us together.

Oftentimes, there was disagreement between disciplines. This regularly happens when you have several people from different values and backgrounds adding input into a certain process or problem. Our group was very diverse, so disagreements happened all too often. It’s what we did with these disagreements that made our group, and thus, our project successful. Collectively, this was the first “high-rise” structure that this group had designed. With this designation came many unique requirements not normally seen with smaller projects. Most of the disagreements came from conflicts associated with different aspects of the mechanical systems with certain architectural and civil features. Each party involved in the conflict would discuss their need for the space or location and then all parties in the construction meeting would give input on alternatives as a whole. This gave each designer a different viewpoint to see the conflict through.

After about 18-months, the tower was completed. The structure was constructed on-time with very few complications. The design team exhibited collaboration, communication, accountability, and the team member’s individual strengths. Collaboration was necessary to ensure that each piece of the puzzle would fit into place. Communication was utilized at every step of the way. If effective communication was not in place, this story could’ve ended badly. Communication was necessary to transmit the ideas of each discipline to each other in a language we could all understand.

Accountability was paramount in this project. If a certain member or firm did not take accountability, the results could be disastrous or even deadly in the case of a ten-story office building. Each member maintained a sense of ownership on the project. The construction company even created apparel with the finished product for their tradesman to wear. It gave them a sense of possession on the project. They became proud of the work they were doing and would understand that it was much bigger than their individual tasks. Individual strengths were exploited often in between disciplines to make this project a success. Each team member brought their own individual knowledge to the table. This allowed the team to identify conflict that might have been overlooked.

That office building still stands as a testament to success for the individuals in that region, but for me, it stands for much more. It stands as evidence for the effectiveness of interdisciplinary teamwork.

Look Good, Feel Good

When you look good, you feel good. The same rings true for your performance at work. Studies show that a healthy worker is a productive worker. A study from the Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO), the Center for Health Research at Healthways, and Brigham Young University (BYU) reflect that employees who maintained healthy diets throughout their day were 25% more productive than their peers that didn’t. The same is true for those that maintained 30 minutes of exercise at least three times a week. The participants that maintained an exercise regimen were shown to be 15% more productive. I try to exercise at a nearby gym at least three times a week at lunch time. If you can’t be guaranteed a lunch time to work out, mornings are a great time to get it done. That is usually the only time I can guarantee without interruptions.  While this is not a blog on health and nutrition, there are many other great resources to be found on the subject. A few of my favorite nutrition and exercise books include; Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, Strength Training Anatomy, and Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. In addition to a healthy diet and exercise, sleep is paramount.

According to a 2008 National Sleep Foundation poll, one-third of all Americans say that daytime drowsiness affects their daily work activities at least a few days of each week.

I can admit to the fact that I probably don’t get the recommended amount of sleep (7-9 hours for adults). It’s hard to find time in the day to reach all your goals and sleep for nine hours. There are ways to get more sleep. I’ve listed a couple habits below that can help regain time for sleep and make you more productive and alert. These habits below require discipline like every other habit listed previously, but like the rest, they can be very rewarding when followed.

  • Manage your time well
    • This goes without saying but the reason you might not be getting enough sleep is that you aren’t managing your tasks efficiently throughout the day.
  • Set hours that you will not work
    • This habit goes along with the aforementioned item. Set hours from 7-9 PM for example that you will not work.
  • Reduce your stress
    • Oftentimes, stress at work causes you to stay awake late. Try adding some stress busting techniques like meditation or yoga to your schedule. I’ve supplemented yoga into my schedule on occasion. It does wonders for my sleeping hours.
  • Establish a bed time
    • I know you’re not 10 years old anymore, but setting a bet time (and sticking with it) can be liberating. Having a schedule for your bedtime allows you to schedule your evenings for maximum production so that you hit this time.

These habits are just examples of ways that you can regain your precious sleep time. I challenge you to come up with some more ways to get your 7-9 hours of recommended sleep. I can guarantee that you will notice the benefits of this habit soon after you begin.


As the marathoners plan to beat the two-hour marathon record, I reflect on a trait that will make this possible. No trait was ever as important as this last one that I learned in Engineering school. Persistence. Engineering school is tough, period. If you’re going through it right now, I feel for you. It does get slightly easier though as you delve more into your interests and applicable studies. Persistence, grit, determination, perseverance, whatever you want to call it. This one attribute became paramount.

Before I started school in 2008, my dad and I drove up to Fayetteville for the Freshman Engineering Orientation. This was an exciting time for both of us. My father got to send me off to college, and I was more than happy to experience college. When we arrived, they maneuvered us into one of the large auditoriums in the Bell Engineering Center where we would be having most our classes. We found a seat among the hundreds of other eager prospective students and their parents. After they described the various engineering disciplines and courses, they laid it on us hard and heavy. They described that most of the forthcoming students would not make it out of the University with an Engineering degree. Wow! This was tough to hear for many of the kids and parents alike. There was a lot of nervous shifting in chairs and anxious coughs while everyone digested what the Engineering Dean just stated. This is exactly what I needed to hear though.

Like most engineering students in college, high school came easy for me. I studied rarely, but never really knew how to study. I hadn’t had to understand how to study in high school. I would say that I learned quickly when I made the leap to higher education though. With classes like Chemistry 2, Calculus 2, and Physics 2, I had to learn quickly. I began to enjoy the grind associated with getting decent grades. Not everybody had the same affinity for the “grind” as I did though.

As I continued through the freshman and sophomore years of the engineering school, I began to see what the Dean was talking about. Many of my friends that I encountered in classes started to slowly drop out. They decided that they didn’t quite enjoy the pressure of maintaining good grades, while the classes got tougher and tougher. Not to mention the fact that a lot of the engineering classes took place in the “early” morning. Guess they figured the engineering students wouldn’t be partying as much! I’m not going to say that I took the hardest classes on campus, because there were far harder ones in the Chemical and Biological engineering schools. Most of the ones that dropped out, did so in the first two years though, when everyone in engineering takes the same core classes. After this two-year period, you start to branch off and become more specialized in your degree.

Throughout the program, your moxie was tested. There were late nights studying, missed parties, and missed social opportunities. I did my best to balance my scholastic life with a social life. I joined a fraternity my freshman year, in hindsight, this might have been a bad idea. I did my best to maintain my educational standards while enjoying the social activities involved with the Greek system and succeeded. I maintained my grades and had a good time doing it. Needless to say, sleep came at a premium freshman year. Throughout all the struggles, including thermodynamics, I came out on top and graduated with my Bachelors of Science in Civil Engineering. Azim Premji, an Indian business mogul and engineer once stated, “You have students in America, in Britain, who do not want to be engineers. Perhaps it is the workload, I studied engineering, and I know what a grind it is.”

I am grateful for my experience at the University because of the skills I learned along the way. The hard work and determination needed to pass the classes was probably the biggest take-away from my education.  The classes were meant to teach about the various aspects of engineering, but they ended up teaching much more than that. Once I graduated from school, this became ever more apparent. I would like to restate the quote I inserted at the start of this chapter because it has meant so much to me and my goals. Calvin Coolidge has been attributed to this “persistence” quote but has never actually been confirmed to have written it. Regardless, the words of this familiar quote resonate with all those who are working toward a seemingly unobtainable goal. The quote goes like this “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” I challenge you to reminisce on these words when you need them most. I guarantee that they will help through the “tough times”.

Starve Your Distractions

Welcome to the 21st century. Distractions are literally everywhere you look. How can we not get caught up in distractions when everything we own seems to buzz, beep, or flash at you? This habit may be the hardest to pick up, but I guarantee it will be the most lifechanging.

Distractions come in the form of emails, texts, phone calls, co-workers, and other variables in your environment. In a study produced by Michigan State University, 300 participants were given a task to complete consisting of a sequence-based on a computer. This chore mimics the usual work tasks of a majority of office workers. They then produced distractions with various intervals. They found out that it only took a distraction of less than 3-seconds to result in twice the errors to their original effort. Less than 3-seconds! That’s similar to just glancing at your phone to read a text message. So why would this very short distraction cause so many errors? According to the lead researcher, Erik Altmann, “the answer is that the participants had to shift their attention from one task to another. Even momentary interruptions can seem jarring when they occur during a process that takes considerable thought.”

As I’m sitting here typing the book, my phone’s notifications are constantly drawing me away from concentration. So how do we take back our attention from the technology that now surrounds us? One strategy to remove distractions from our electronic devices is to simply turn off the notifications. This sounds maybe too intuitive, but without that little pop-up to check an email or the ding of your phone saying that you have a message, I can guarantee that you would not check your messages nearly as regularly. That “little” notification is intoxicating. It sends a rush of dopamine to your brain. Like that of drugs or sex. The unpredictability of the message triggers your brain to produce dopamine. You can actually become addicted to these alerts. Scary, right? I suggest picking two to three times a day to check emails and respond to calls or messages. You may miss a few “important” emails now and then, but your productivity will increase exponentially with just this small shift.

As a student at the University, we had various study groups that would meet to trudge through thermo’ homework or study for the next big test. These groups were great when you didn’t understand a topic because you could often get someone else’s take on a subject. They were not so great when you failed to grasp the concepts, because of the distraction caused from your peers. This takes place in corporate offices throughout the business world. Many distractions are in the form of questions or requests from co-workers, managers, or clients. How do you eliminate these distractions without abolishing the company’s culture norms and maintaining relationships? The key is communicating your needs up front. Tell your roaming colleague (oftentimes looking for a distraction their selves), that the best way to ask a question of you is to email you and you will get back to them. You may lose a few friends at first, but you are becoming more productive and taking your time back. You shouldn’t feel bad for this. They will eventually respect your requests and will start to make it a habit of sending an email first. You will then answer emails when you originally prearranged to. This will significantly cut back on distractions in the workplace.

With all of the distractions taking place these days, it’s a wonder anything gets done. You now have the advice and tools to reclaim your day from the power of disruptions. All of these distraction elimination techniques require discipline. Discipline to turn off notifications, discipline to confront diverting co-workers, and the discipline to block certain websites.

Marketing Oneself

In business school, we are taught the five Ps of marketing. The five “Ps” were known as the five attributes of a marketing campaign that can be altered to make a product launch or marketing campaign successful. The five “Ps” are as follows; Product, Price, Promotion, Place, and People. These attributes can be used to describe your “market share” in a given space. Your “product” is your knowledge and skillsets that you bring to the arena. This can constantly be improved through lifelong learning. Your “price” is how much value you bring to your organization. Your “promotion” is your ad campaign. What are you doing to broadcast your “product” or your skillsets? Your “place” is commonly referred to as the channels in which you utilize your product. Do only the people in a small town know your accomplishments and understand your talent or is it known throughout? Your “people” refers to the human element that is inherent in the market. Do you know and understand people? Are you respected in your market? These “Five Ps” can change the way you look at the marketing of your own skillsets. With engineers, the hardest part of this marketing equation is “promotion”.

Many engineers do not selfishly promote themselves. As someone that never promoted my own accomplishments before, I can relate. I always thought that people that “tooted their own horn” were arrogant and irrational. This is your career though and many of your colleagues won’t take note of your accomplishments unless you broadcast them. I’m not saying that you should constantly remind your peers of the numerous accomplishments you have achieved, I am simply saying that you should be proud of your accomplishments and not be bashful of letting others know what you are capable of. As with accomplishments, your values should also be visible to others. Your values will be challenged often in your career. It is essential to be able to stick to your values to gain respect from your peers. This is extremely important in not only engineering, but business as well. With the advent of social networking, marketing your own brand and values has never been easier in history. In the following pages, we will discuss ways that you can build your brand that others will identify immediately. Similar to the colorful Google icon, your brand will be sought out for answers if you follow the next steps. See below for a flow chart on the natural progression for building your own personal and professional brand. Now, this is not set in stone. These processes can be done simultaneously and should be. When added together, your marketing reach will multiply.