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8 Must-have Skills Engineers Need To Succeed

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An engineer's education doesn't end when they graduate. In a field where technology seems to age in dog years, the best engineers continue to evolve their skillset. Unfortunately, it takes more than technical know-how to be able to keep up with such a shifting environment—soft skills are just as important as hard science. Here are the eight most important hard and soft skills a good engineer needs to succeed in their field:

1. The ability to communicate.

No one is an island. Most engineering projects involve working with multiple people on different components of the whole, which means coordinating and communicating with a number of individuals who have different levels of understanding. This means more than just being able to give instructions to team members, it means knowing how to communicate clearly, efficiently, and with tact. Diplomacy is just as important as the ability to present an idea, because nobody works effectively in a stressful, toxic environment.

2. An understanding of statistics.

More and more facets of engineering involve working with machine learning algorithms, which are highly dependent on statistics. Algorithms collect data and observe patterns, then apply different parameters to either provide the most accurate data they can, or formulate an appropriate response. While they aren't exactly synonymous, machine learning algorithms are an outgrowth of statistical data modeling. With more engineering fields expending to include different machine learning algorithms, it's imperative that engineers understand why and how they work.

3. The ability to problem solve.

Engineers solve problems. Even employment interviews for engineering fields often include questions or riddles intended to test a candidates problem-solving abilities. When something goes wrong, the best engineers don't just keep hammering away to try to brute-force a solution—they're able to take a step back, identify and analyze the issue, and formulate an effective solution as efficiently as possible.

4. An understanding of system design.

In large projects, different engineering teams might each be working on one small component of the whole. Understanding system design means being able to have a bird's eye view of how these pieces will fit together. This is true whether it involves software or hardware—all of the components have to work as a whole, and having a grasp of system design is integral to making the design, testing, and implementation process run smoothly.

5. The ability to give and receive criticism.

Alongside an ability to communicate, engineers need to be able to give and receive criticism. Honest, actionable, empathetic feedback is what makes a project successful and keeps teams functioning smoothly. A good engineer should have the emotional continence to receive feedback without taking it personally or acting frustrated or angry, and the empathy to give effective feedback in a way that isn't condescending or demeaning.

6. An understanding of computer science basics.

It doesn't matter if you aren't in a computer science field, chances are your job will intersect with it at some point. Even if programming isn't part of your job description, computer science entails a lot of essential skills—like problem solving and statistics. That's why it's important to have at least a little working knowledge of computer science skills, like algorithms and data structures. You don't have to devote a lot of time to learning computer science, either. Some basic programming knowledge and some practice problems will still help you hone your skills.

7. A natural curiosity.

Most engineers are curious people by nature. How many started taking things apart when they were little kids, just to see how they worked? Since technology ages and changes so rapidly, and there are always new problems to solve, a natural sense of curiosity is a fantastic asset when it comes to keeping your skills sharp and your resume competitive. Unlike something like problem-solving skills, curiosity isn't something you can really develop with practice—find continuing education programs or new tech that interest you, and never stop learning.

8. Organizational skills.

When you're working in a team—especially if you're leading one—nothing is more frustrating than dealing with disorganization. Whether you're working with parts, diagrams, pieces of scratch paper, or software files, create a system for keeping everything straight. Like a chef's mise en place, it'll make things smoother, faster, and easier once crunch time happens, and your project heads will feel better knowing that there's some kind of system in place. A lot of interviewees don't mention their organizational skills during interviews, so sharpening yours could give you a competitive edge in the hiring process.

Whether you're leading a project or working as part of a team, being an engineer is a tough job. There's always new technology to learn, and your skillset needs to continually evolve to keep on top of the changes in your industry. No matter how sharp your technical skills are, these eight skills will help your projects succeed and keep you marketable in a competitive employment environment.