Followership: An Introduction

As engineers, we are routinely told to develop leadership skills as a means to set ourselves apart and further our careers. We’re told to learn how to win friends and influence people, how to negotiate, speak in public, and defuse frustrating situations. While those are all valuable skills, I feel most leadership programs leave out a fundamental layer of being a good leader, and that is first being a good follower. Continue reading

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Earned Value Management: Issues and Complications

For an overview to Earned Value Management, please refer to this article.

My company adopted Earned Value Management in earnest just as I moved into a mechanical engineering lead role, so I found myself in a position where I was being asked to give percent complete estimates of my teams’ many tasks. However, I commonly found the tasks I was asked about weren’t those we were actually working. To compensate, my team leads implemented a lot of hand waving and fuzzy accounting to produce numbers they could report to the program managers without getting asked a lot of difficult questions.

EVM is a textbook example of a “garbage in, garbage out” system. It heavily relies on its parameters being written correctly from the very beginning. Any inaccuracy at the start is magnified later. And unfortunately, the people determining those initial parameters sometimes don’t know what they’re doing, or more accurately, they know EVM but they do not know how to properly apply it to the work ahead.

Through several programs, I noted two main weaknesses in EVM.  Unfortunately these weaknesses are also the main factors in its calculation. Continue reading

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The B-21: A Case Study for Design Reuse and Technology Advancement

defense_news_B-21

Figure 1: DefenseNews image comparing B-2 (top) to B-21 (bottom).

Today, the U.S. Air Force and Northrop Grumman (NG) released concept art of their Long Range Strike Bomber, now known as the B-21. As Defense News and other outlets point out, the B-21 closely resembles another Northrop aircraft, the B-2 Spirit (more commonly referred to as the Stealth Bomber).

Why are media outlets acting surprised by the two aircraft looking “eerily similar”, as DefenseNews proclaims?  It makes perfect sense to me.

After all, Northrop Grumman was awarded the contract because its proposal was deemed less costly and less risky than the proposal from Boeing-Lockheed, so it only makes sense to use an incredibly successful and battle proven platform as a starting point. Continue reading

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The Mechanical Engineer’s Electrical Equation

I’ve been asked by mechanical engineering students which equations or concepts I use most often.  I’m sure they imagine I’ll give them a deflection equation or something from a mechanics text, but as much as I hate admitting this, the equation I use more than any other in my career as a mechanical engineer is straight out of Electrical Engineering 101, and that’s V=IR. Continue reading

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3D Modeling: Philosophy Before Software

Back in the day, mechanical engineers could get away with not knowing how to build a 3D model. Instead, a designer or draftsman would take the engineering and output the model. In most companies today, those engineers are all at retirement age, and the younger generation is expected to at  least be familiar with 3D Modeling.

Unfortunately, familiarity doesn’t automatically mean they’re good at it. I’ve seen too many young engineers enter the industry as poor modelers, which is expected, but continue to be poor modelers several years into their career, which is not what’s expected of them.

This series of posts will pass along my observations and advice to make young engineers better modelers. In this post, we’ll start with a question I’m often asked: which 3D Modeling software package is the best to learn? Continue reading

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Promotions: Effectively Using Standard Appraisal Tools

Engineers of all ages and experience levels place a lot of focus on getting promotions, and rightfully so.  Everybody wants to earn more money or receive more recognition and prestige.

But here is the most important thing to remember: It doesn’t matter how many years you have worked at the company or at your current position. It doesn’t matter how smart you think you are, or how much experience you think you have. And it certainly doesn’t matter how many of your peers have been promoted ahead of you, because you are not entitled to one. Period. End of story.

Instead, you need to actually earn that promotion, and unfortunately, you can’t expect your actions on the job to speak for themselves, because unless you have an awesome manager, he’s going to be too busy with the hundreds of tasks dumped on his desk to always pay attention to what you’re doing.  Therefore, you’re going to have to proactively show your boss why you’ve earned a promotion.

There are many methods and tools one can use to increase the likelihood of a promotion. But in this post, I’ll discuss how to use your company’s performance appraisal tools to get value from them and why you should take them seriously. Continue reading

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Earned Value Management 1 – Introduction

Program management philosophies routinely change, and with those changes come new tools and metrics. One of the recently accepted philosophies is Earned Value Management (EVM).

Wikipedia has a fantastic article with all of the equations if you’re interested in learning the details. But in the simplest explanation, EVM tracks progress by comparing the budget consumed and claimed accomplishments against what the schedule says should have been spent and what should have been completed. In other words, it determines if the program is on time and on budget. Continue reading

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PowerPoint Engineering 1: Titles & Take-Aways

As engineers, we will constantly use Microsoft Powerpoint.  Yet, I find it strange that a program so widely utilized is used so poorly.  “PowerPoint Engineering” will be an on-going series of posts, in which I’ll discuss my keys to creating successful presentations.

In this post, I’ll demonstrate the appropriate use of slide titles and take-away statements, neither of which in my experience, do engineers use appropriately.

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Resume Crafting 1: Ditch the Objective Statement

Writing the perfect resume is a tricky, if not obsessive, process. There are countless articles, tips, and examples online at Yahoo! and Lifehacker for your consumption, so this will not be a “seven tips to improve your resume” type of post. Instead, the focus will be on what I have and have not seen from engineering resumes during recent hiring tasks.

In this post, l will discuss why the “objective” section, found in nearly every resume template, is a waste of space, and what should replace it to add actual value to your resume.

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Does Grade Point Average matter for engineers?

Does Grade Point Average matter for engineers? That is a question oft debated – or perhaps obsessed over – by students as they get closer to graduation. Like all questions of philosophy, there is no one-size-fits all answer.  It depends on many factors including the unique abilities and experiences of the individual asking the question.

My answer is obviously based on my personal experiences as a student, a new hire, and ultimately as a seasoned engineer who interviews new graduates and young engineers for his department.  While the your proverbial mileage may vary, I believe you’ll find the following flowchart to be an accurate overview. Continue reading

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