The Best Teachers

In my career as a mechanical engineer, I have been fortunate to have a lot of teachers.  The best teachers I have ever had have always been the guys who work with their hands.  During my first job, I had two engineering mentors, but the guys I learned the most from were the machinist and the welder.  They taught me what was needed to make a design constructable.

As I have moved from company to company, the best teachers have remained the doers.  The guys that did actual assembly, actual welding, actual machining, actual testing, were always the ones with the most knowledge to impart.  It isn't always easy to get these folks to share this knowledge, especially when coming in as a "know it all" engineer.  The key is to admit that just because you spent four five more years in college than they did, you don't know a damn thing.  If you are humble, the knowledge to be gained from these folks is invaluable.

That is one more reason that the decline in people going into skilled labor such as welding and machining concerns me.  Who will the engineers of the future truly learn from if there are no welders or machinists to look at the design and say, "What the hell are you thinking son?"

A surprising source of support for the trades is Mike Rowe.  Yes, the Dirty Jobs Mike Rowe.  He has started a website focused on promoting skilled labor.  It is highly entertaining and enlightening.

I will end this rambling with this.  If you know someone who is handy, who understands the meaning of hard work, do not discourage them from entering the workforce through the trades.  These folks are among my, and the country's most important resources.


  1. I wish I'd written this. I've linked to it on my own blog, you've really made a good point. I've seen this issue from both sides. I was thirty hours short of a civil engineering degree when I realized, "Hey, I've learned a lot of really useful stuff here, but there is an attitude being taught that's going to lead to a miserable life if I keep it up."

  2. as a Solidworks designer/engineer I 100% agree with this. The problem is that trade jobs do not pay anywhere near the amount that we as 'engineers' do.
    I work in a fireplace design and manufacturing company and the people that I have learned the most form are definetly the people on the lines, the minimum wage workers, they put the shit together, they know what actually works on the designs.... unfortunatly they have been 'trained' to keep their mouths shut around the other engineers because everyone elses designs are perfect and how dare you as a line worker say otherwise, I prefer to take their advise on redesigns becuase if its easier to put together, they'll build it faster which means more units built which means more profit, happier line workers, and happier bosses.....
    I honestly dont understand how the other guys I work with survive in life with their attitudes......

  3. Buff,

    Unfortunately, most of those "other guys" you are talking about get promoted to management.

    Sounds like you, on the other hand, have exactly the right idea. Keep doing what you are doing and you'll continue to improve as an engineer.

  4. yup, they will, just as my boss did.... that doesn't stop me from getting all the Solidworks training and knowledge that I can so that when I leave this company I can upgrade my position then. I know that getting a promotion at this sinking ship is about as likely as my boss admitting that he's biased about his workers....

  5. i've been on the machining end of this for just over forty years...(i had to pause when i saw that in print) and have seen many new engineers start their careers. like you said, the best ones are the ones who are asking questions and listening.
    i've always thought a requirement for new engineers and designers would be at least six months in the shop.
    thanks for the atta-boy.