Electrical engineering professionals require more than just technical aptitude and the right education to be successful. Engineering is a complex field with many sub-specialties, each requiring specialized expertise. Electrical engineering, along with other engineering specialties, requires critical thinking skills, a willingness to look at problems from varied perspectives to uncover ideal solutions, exceptional communications skills in order to interface with team members and stakeholders, and much more.
To find out what traits set successful electrical engineers apart, we asked a panel of electrical engineering professionals and recruiting professionals to answer the following question:
“What is the top trait of successful electrical engineers?”
Find out what our experts had to say below.
Meet Our Panel of Electrical Engineering Experts:
Sylvain Kalache is the co-founder of Holberton School, a software engineering school in San Francisco. Kalache has worked in the tech industry for 10 years, including a previous role with SlideShare as a DevOps engineer.
“A good engineer is obviously someone who is…”
Technically good, but a great engineer is someone who has soft skills: communication skills such public speaking, knowledge transfer, and team spirit. A great engineer will be able to:
- Communicate well with their peers, not only verbally but also via email/documentation
- Share knowledge by onboarding new employees or writing blog posts or other documentation about the latest project they worked on
- Promote their solution to a technical problem or convince a candidate to join the company
- Respect their deadline and fully commit to their responsibilities
These traits are what makes the difference in big companies such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google between those who get promoted and those who do not. In a startup, it makes the difference between leaders and simple contributors.
William Dockery is founder and CEO of Aegis Power Systems, a custom power supply manufacturer in North Carolina. He has over 35 years of experience in the design, development, manufacturing, and marketing of power supplies and other electronic equipment. Additionally, Mr. Dockery is a registered Professional Engineer (PE) and IEEE Life Senior Member.
“The most important traits to look for in electrical engineering professionals is…”
You’ve probably heard the saying, “An engineer doesn’t see the glass as half empty or half full, but rather as an inefficient glass.” This joke effectively captures the thinking of successful engineers. Their top trait is to-the-point filtering – the ability to see beyond presented information and get to the best solution.
Bob Hadick has a BSEE from Ohio State. He started his career designing analog and digital board level electronics and worked himself up to a Director of Engineering role in which he oversaw 55 engineers. For the past 17 years, he has been recruiting Engineers, including Electrical Engineers, with Russ Hadick & Associates, Inc.
“The top trait of a successful Electrical Engineer is…”
Attention to detail. Whatever kind of electrical engineering field they are in, board level design, controls engineering, power, etc., an EE is striving to get the design right the first time. This can involve timing analysis, power calculations, noise suppression calculations, trace routing, FCC, UL and CE approval, etc. Every detail in the design and the environment the design will be in must be carefully thought out and taken into account before the first prototypes are made. And during the prototype phase, an EE’s trouble-shooting skills are tested if there is a problem where attention to detail is also needed. As EEs must systematically and logically figure out the cause of the problem and then come up with a solution.
Xinwen Zhang and Ninh Tran
Ninh Tran is a Co-founder and CMO at HireTeamMate, which is the Uber for Hiring. HireTeamMate’s CTO, Xinwen Zhang, has been a principal engineer at multiple companies as well as Senior Director of Engineering at Samsung and the next in line to become VP of Engineering at Samsung.
“There are several key traits to look for in successful electrical engineers…”
1. The best engineers have big-picture vision. They understand their product, architecture, and solution from the early moments of starting it to the end user experience and beyond. It’s very critical for a successful engineer to possess a global view of what he or she is building and how it interacts with users, business clients, other technology, and the market. This trait is not only critical for their code but also for the ability to lead others engineers and product development. For example, Mark Zuckerberg is a visionary engineer who builds his product from the ground with a strong vision of Facebook.
2. The best engineers are passionate. They are courageous and possess a can-do attitude. They are confident in their ability to figure out details and their ability to implement the most complex details into any project. Most successful engineers write clean and efficient code even when they take on projects requiring them to acquire a lot of knowledge, down to the most minute details. Imagine the confidence of Tony Stark in the scene in The Avengers movie where Maria Hill asks, “When did you become an expert in thermonuclear astrophysics?” and Tony Stark, the top engineer, simply states, “Last night.” You can’t argue with that.
3. The best engineers are hands-on geeks with excellent execution skills. They think of something, and they have the capability and drive to finish it. Engineering can be frustrating and also challenging at times, but the best engineers have developed a love for the process of innovation and have the ability to connect the dots and create solutions to overcome any obstacles to advance their product.
4. The best engineers are almost always very ambitious and motivated individuals who are often the best team members you can have on any team.
John Vespasian is the author of seven books about rational living, including When everything fails, try this, (2009), Rationality is the way to happiness (2009), The philosophy of builders: How to build a great future with the pieces from your past (2010), The 10 principles of rational living (2012), Rational living, rational working: How to make winning moves when things are falling apart (2013), Consistency: The key to permanent stress relief (2014), and On becoming unbreakable: How normal people become extraordinarily self-confident (2015).
“There are three top traits common among the most successful electrical engineers…”
1. A long-term commitment to their field.
All successful engineers share the trait of having a long-term commitment to their careers. Since engineering takes many years to learn, especially when it involves multi-disciplinary technologies, it is inconceivable that someone could become a successful engineer without having a long-term commitment to learning the best practices in his field. The conclusion to be drawn from this fact is that if your company has a policy of high turnover in your engineering department, you are throwing money down the toilet and won’t be able to attract high-quality engineers.
2. Constant search of fast-growth opportunities.
Successful engineers (or those who are on their way to success) do not waste their time pursuing prizes, awards, and commendations. This is because successful engineers have long realized that those goals are seldom worth the effort. Instead, successful engineers prefer to look for environments of fast-growth and vast opportunity. And I mean real growth and real opportunity. They want to work in an environment where they can quickly rise to system manager or project manager. They want to work in highly innovative environments where creativity and results are encouraged and appreciated.
3. A technology vision for the next decade.
This is the character trait that separates truly remarkable engineers from the rest. Great engineers possess a technology vision for the next decade. They follow closely new technology trends and try to keep current with the latest innovations. They have a clear idea of the additional skills they want to acquire in the next ten years, and they foresee which trends are going to dominate the technology markets in the next years. Such a vision is something that engineers can only develop if they are deeply interested in their field and in new technology applications.
Stanley Tan works for Owl Guru, a company that specializes in career data.
“The following five skills make a successful electrical engineer…”
- Active Listening — Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, and asking questions as appropriate.
- Complex Problem Solving — Identifying complex problems and reviewing related information to develop and evaluate options and implement solutions.
- Critical Thinking — Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions, or approaches to problems.
- Reading Comprehension — Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in work-related documents.
- Writing — Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.
Bruce Harmon, Ph.D.
Bruce Harmon is dean of Colorado Technical University’s College of Engineering. He served as an executive at Hewlett Packard and Synopsys and helped research and develop more than 10,000 products. He is a member of IEEE and SEMI and holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Colorado, a Master’s in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University, and a Bachelor’s in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy.
“The top trait for a successful electrical engineer, or any engineer for that matter, is…”
A commitment to grow professionally throughout his or her career – to be a lifelong learner.
Electrical engineers face a business and technology landscape that changes dramatically over the decades of a career. The foundational knowledge is there from the start, but the application changes; electrical engineers have to be committed to both staying current and ramping up their competency levels. The best way to achieve that is through advanced degrees and industry certifications that will bolster the direction of one’s career, whether it is research, development, or product management.
Rory Briski of Briski Consulting is a Senior Management Executive successful at partnering with core business operations to significantly expand market share, generate sustainable revenue, and grow profits. Briski is a strategic visionary with strong domestic and international management experience with a track record of building high-performance, multi-cultural teams. Having traveled throughout the world meeting with clients and governments, Rory brings extensive international experience and well-honed presentation and negotiation skills within a multi-national environment.
“The top trait of a successful Electrical Engineer is…”
If they are not continually learning new things, playing with new technologies, and digging deeper into the why and how of things, they will be left in the dust. When you stagnate, you die.
The best engineers I’ve hired have been inquisitive both on and off the job. Encourage and support that curiosity and your engineering team will be unstoppable.
Eric Miller is the Principal and Co-Founder of Phoenix Analysis & Design Technologies.
“The number one trait that defines success for modern electrical engineers is…”
The latest software has made electrical engineering simulation easier than ever before. Where once a specialist was required to run simulations, new tools make it possible to integrate simulation into the workflow of every engineer.
In 2005, one in 22 engineers were using simulation. Today, that number is one in six. It is estimated that by 2020, all engineers will be using simulation in their work.
Simulation allows problem solving to happen on a computer, where ideas and methods can be rigorously reviewed and rapidly iterated. The flexibility to embrace emerging tools to systematize simulation in the workflow defines engineers who are on top of this trend.
Jim Lee runs a small product development company, Left Coast Development.
“One trait that you DON’T want in your electrical engineer is…”
A good software development ability. The two skill sets are very similar but the mental foundation of each is opposite of the other, making the thought processes for one incompatible for the other. I’ve found that EEs typically make pretty poor software engineers and software engineers typically make pretty poor EEs.
Why is this?
In the software world, your thinking process is focused on general solutions for any possible cause of a given problem. The problem lives alone in its own mathematical universe. Your good SWE gains most of his/her ability to solve complex problems using this as a way of breaking the problem down into digestible pieces. An added benefit of this is that the pieces can be easily reused.
The electrical engineering world is founded along completely opposite lines. It’s all about handling the end cases of the problem at hand. Meaning that an electrical engineer is focused on the environment of the problem. How much voltage? How much heat? How much power? Cross talk issues? This is a process of tying outside parameters together to create a unique solution.
The math is the same, but the approach is different.
Because of this reversal of thinking processes, the two have a really hard time doing the other’s type of work. Give a software engineer a circuit to design and he/she will want to create reusable modules that work poorly because they won’t take advantage of the environment of the problem. Give an electrical engineer a software project and he/she will typically give back complete spaghetti code. It may work, but it will be usually be an unmaintainable nightmare.
Neil Bondre is the Founder of The Interview Professional. Neil has been mentoring students for almost a decade now throughout the entire interview process including areas in accounting, finance, consulting, engineering, investment banking, private equity, sales, and medical school.
“Electrical Engineers need to be…”
- They will be encountering a host of complex problems.
- They need to be able to prioritize and organize the problems into buckets.
- They must think critically by using reasoning and logic.
- Electrical engineers then identify strengths and pain points for the current situation.
- They then draw up a number of possible solutions and outcomes.
- Ultimately, they present a viable solution and come up with their own conclusion.
Bill Leatherbury is a Senior Associate at Thornton Tomasetti. A leader with many years of success building and motivating dynamic teams, Leatherbury cultivates a culture where both associates and staff members are comfortable voicing questions and concerns, as well as contributing new ideas to drive growth. He has over 40 years of experience as an electrical engineer managing and leading maintenance, engineering, production, and manufacturing operations in petrochemicals industries and consulting engineering businesses.
Note: The following information is from Quora.
“The most important traits for successful electrical engineers include…”
Leadership is certainly a quality I have sought in engineers, particularly electrical engineers. Unfortunately, I have often been disappointed because few electrical engineers seem to have that quality. They can lead a project and guide it to a successful conclusion but may often leave the others on the team feeling neglected, abused, or over-looked and lack the ability to communicate with others.
Communication with other people and with both their peers and their superiors becomes an important part of their jobs, and many engineers are frightfully delinquent in these areas. So much of electrical engineering is regulated by adopted codes and leaves a lot of room for proper and good communications between the engineer and the installer. It is a rare engineer who can climb down from his warhorse and speak with the common worker. Few graduates can really communicate well in writing or speech.
The electrical engineer must have a vision of the completed installation; however, he must be willing to accept modifications and changes to that vision. Those modifications always come from someone outside the original design team and it is very easy to deny that there is more than one way to install a safe and functional electrical system. The best visions are always developed by a team and are seldom the dream of one individual. Even Steve Jobs had lots of help developing the iPhone, iPad, and other electronic gear we take for granted.
Most really good electrical engineers are seen as nerds with pocket protectors full of various colored pencils to use to identify each major step of the problem at hand. Unfortunately, the real world requires someone who can paint a problem on the canvas of a project in terms of its benefits to the owner and its safety for those who will use and operate it. This is where the electrical engineer often fails to combine his talents for communications with his vision of the project and convey them to his benefactors.
Engineering Schools is a part of the Monster.com network, providing resources on education and careers in engineering, from electrical and mechanical engineering to computer programming.
Note: The following information is from Top 10 Qualities of a Great Engineer via Engineering Schools.
“A great engineer has…”
Top-notch logical skills. They are able to make sense of complex systems and understand how things work and how problems arise.
Wasted Talent is an autobiographical web comic by Angela Melick. JAM, or Angela, is a mechanical engineer who draws comics. She lives in Vancouver. Likes cats, silly hats, coffee. She recently graduated from UBC and now works for “energyWise”.
Note: The following information is from Scott – Semiconductor Industry – Massachusetts, USA, responding to Ask an Engineer – Engineering Personality Traits via Wasted Talent.
“The first, and probably most important trait is…”
Curiosity – wanting to know how and why things work. I think every engineer I know got in trouble as a kid for taking things apart. If you see a tamper-proof screw as a challenge instead of a warning, that’s a good sign.
Engineering requires a healthy dose of creativity. So much so that most of my coworkers have an artistic hobby: some are musicians, some draw or paint, some sculpt, and some write. This creativity is needed at work to come up with new approaches to solving problems.
The flip side of that is that you also have strict methods and processes that need to be followed. I’m sure that this is way more important in something like civil engineering, where if you mess up a bridge or a building might fall down, but even in computers mistakes can be costly. Remember that divide problem on the original Pentium chip back in 1994?
The most famous personality trait is our sense of humor. I don’t know why, but Monty Python and puns seem to be way over appreciated by engineers.
TryEngineering.org is a resource for students, their parents, their teachers and their school counselors. A portal about engineering and engineering careers, TryEngineering.org includes descriptions of the lifestyles and experiences of engineers, information on the different engineering disciplines, search tools for schools, information on summer programs, and more.
Note: The following information is from What skills do I need to develop to become an effective engineer? via TryEngineering.org.
“One of the most important traits for successful engineers to develop is…”
To be an effective engineer you will need the ability to work in a team environment. Volunteer activities will also allow you to gain experience in team working. Problem solving skills are also important. As an engineer your job will be to come up with the answers, and to do that you need the ability to think, to look at the issues, and come up with a solution. Good engineers must therefore be able to think critically, analyze options, and create great solutions to problems that they have not encountered before.
David Butcher via ThomasNet
ThomasNet is a free supplier discovery platform that connects buyers and engineers with 700,000+ North American manufacturers, machine shops, and distributors.
Note: The following information is from 5 Must-Have Soft Skills for Engineers’ Career Success, by David Butcher via ThomasNet.
“Technical acumen alone is insufficient for engineering career success. ‘Soft skills’ play an increasingly important role in differentiating STEM professionals for employment and advancement, including skills such as…”
Creativity is arguably the driving force behind innovation and therefore increasingly gaining recognition as the new capital in uncertain and challenging economic times. Innovation thrives on breakthrough thinking, nimbleness, and empowerment. Organizations often depend on big ideas and creative employees to develop innovative products and services.
In the mid-aughts, IEEE Spectrum noted the frequent accusation that engineers are uncreative – a myth that persists today. Yet, as IEEE Spectrum explained, “every engineer’s core mission is to try to improve the utility of things, to design products or processes that will solve problems better, faster and cheaper.” This mission would rarely be achieved if not for engineers’ ways of thinking, which often lead to problem-solving opportunities that would otherwise remain hidden.
In the engineering fields, creativity can be as valuable to solving a problem as the technical skills to identify and troubleshoot the source of the problem. As such, creative thinking is a soft skill that engineers, scientists, and others in the STEM fields should cultivate in order to become invaluable members of their organizations.
Auston Matta via Chron.com
Auston Matta is an experienced engineer who has worked in the packaging industry since 2003. He holds a bachelor’s degree in bio-engineering and a master’s degree in engineering management. Auston has also contributed to “Pharmaceutical & Medical Packaging News.”
Note: The following information is from What Personality Qualities Do Engineers Have?, by Auston Matta via Chron.com.
“One of the most important traits for any engineering professional to have is…”
Critical thinking skills.
Engineers are problem solvers. They are the people who figure out how to make your smartphone smaller, laptop faster and car more fuel-efficient. For example, in order for a smartphone to become thinner, an electrical engineer must determine how to redesign existing electrical components. Once the concept is developed, a manufacturing engineer must determine how to mass produce the new components for the consumer market. These new iterations of products and processes require engineers to solve problems and think critically about possible solutions.
Paul Hummel via HowToBecome
Paul Hummel is a professor of electrical engineering at Louisiana Tech University. He earned a Bachelor of Science in engineering with a computer concentration at LeTourneau University, and went on to earn a PhD in engineering with a concentration in micro/nano electronics from Louisiana Tech. His dissertation was on manufacturing electronic devices using carbon nanotubes.
Note: The following information is from How to Become an Electrical Engineer, a Q&A with Paul Hummel via HowToBecome.
“The most important personality traits for students interested in pursuing electrical engineering education are…”
Work ethic is probably the most important quality needed in a student. You do not have to be incredibly intelligent to get a degree in electrical engineering, although it does help. You must be willing to work hard though. The typical work load for an engineering course is four hours of outside work for every hour you are in class.
The next most important ability is problem solving. When solving an engineering problem, the actual work to solve it is not all that difficult. The difficulty is knowing what steps are needed. Knowing how to solve the problem is typically the most difficult part of actually solving it.
Lastly, I would suggest students get the best mathematics background they can before going to college. At college, engineering students are expected to be able to jump into calculus. In practice, many students are not ready for calculus in their first term because they were not prepared. Math to an engineer is like a wrench to a mechanic. The mechanic doesn’t need to know all of the intricacies of how a wrench works, but he does need to know how to use it to fix things. The engineer doesn’t need to know mathematics on the same level as a mathematician, but he does need to know how to use it to solve problems.
Steve Large via Jobs & Careers Mag
Steve Large is technology director at POD Point and is a pioneer in the field of electric car charging point manufacturing.
Note: The following information is from What personality traits does an engineer need? via Jobs & Careers Mag.
“The most important trait for a successful electrical engineer is…”
You need to be tenacious. Sometimes people will tell you that what you want to do isn’t possible, or that you ‘can’t do it like that’. You shouldn’t let other people’s opinions stop you. Engineers over the last 200 years have been looking for new ways of doing things with new materials and new pieces of technology.
Careerride.com is a leading career portal helping career aspirants in their endeavor. The site publishes the best guidance and the latest reading material to help readers in their upcoming competitive exams and interviews. Careerride.com provides core articles on national and international issues which are highly useful for exams like Civil services, Banking, MBA etc. The website’s online test section is well equipped to help a candidate test his preparation for the exams.
Note: The following information is from Personal qualities required to be a successful electronics engineer via Careerride.com.
“The most important characteristics for successful electronics engineers include…”
If you want to be an electrical engineer, then you need to have a sharp, analytical, and practical mind capable of paying attention to minute details. You should be able to grasp and adapt to new and changing concepts. Good communication skills are also very important, as you will be required to communicate your ideas to others in this field. You should be good at organizing and solving problems as these skills would come in handy while working in a team. You may need to work under pressure and should have the ability to keep calm during crisis. Along with various other personal attributes, you must also have dedication and commitment towards the profession. And most importantly, you should be focused in what you are doing as the whole organization is affected by the good or bad decisions that you make.
A successful electrical engineer should not only possess an understanding of his area of concentration, but also a broad grasp of engineering in general. An electrical engineer is expected to have detailed knowledge of electrical networks, electrical energy converters, and equipment that uses electromagnetic field theory, electrical energy distribution systems, etc.