How to Think Like an Engineer
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Engineering and Instrumentation Blogs

How to Think Like an Engineer

  Dec 19 2019

# Engineering and Instrumentation

Do your engineer colleagues talk about things you don't understand? Have you ever wondered why they ask you for so much information? Or why they can be so pedantic about small details?

You could take them to one side and ask for an explanation, but they'll probably start at too high a level and you'll end up even more confused. Another solution would be to register on the 'Mechanical Engineering for non-Mechanical Engineers' course where experienced mechanical engineers will take you through the terminology, concepts and principles that will make you more confident and productive.

There are great examples of people with enquiring minds asking the right questions thereby preventing well-qualified engineers from making silly mistakes. That could be you, if you have the confidence to speak up. Sometimes groups of engineers succumb to ‘group think’ and having an independent, external person to ask the right question at the right time, makes the output from the whole team much more robust and reliable. A good example of this was when Richard Feynman (Nobel prize-winner and theoretical physicist) was asked to join the committee investigating the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster. He concluded that engineers “fooled themselves into thinking they had such understanding and confidence” that their designs were robust and satisfactory. (1) If only someone had asked them to think again, before finalising the specification of the O-ring that failed.

What are the areas of your job where you could contribute more and help the team come up with better solutions? What is holding you back – confidence? knowledge? not wanting to look silly? not understanding? All of these can be addressed in this week-long course.

Within five days we will identify the main subject areas of mechanical engineering and explain the key terminology and fundamental laws and principles. We will look at how to analyse engineering problems and make a greater contribution to mechanical engineering projects. This is a small investment in your time to make you a more effective member of the team and help you achieve your career goals.

This course has been specifically designed for people without a mechanical engineering background, who work closely with mechanical engineers. We go through basic engineering principles, terminology and language, so that you can be more productive and contribute further to the work of the team. We start with looking at units and what they mean and how we measure them, working through to codes of conduct, standards and specifications. We look at how to read engineering drawings, what tolerances and fits mean and how computer-aided design can help the mechanical engineer.

The kind of people who have benefitted from similar courses in the past have been in roles such as technical sales, engineering support, purchasing, project management, quality control and inspection etc.

One person who attended a similar course had a background as a technical clerk and had built their career to a level where they were managing and providing direction to a small team of engineers. They came on the course as they felt that they needed more support and understanding of engineering principles to be able to provide guidance to the team and ask the right questions. It was clear that the team had the detailed engineering skills and knowledge, but still benefitted from other points of view and different ways of looking at problems. After attending the course, the team leader was more confident in asking for further explanation and quite quickly, expanded their areas of influence to take on a wider role.

Previous attendees have said “This is one of the best courses I have done in a long time. Not being an engineer, I was afraid that I would be left behind. I was not and found I was also able to contribute to the conversations, but also understand the subject matter.”; “I now am able to understand the terminology and basic principles applied in my role in supporting the Mechanical Engineers on site.”; “This has given me a basis for understanding mechanical engineering and being more receptive to participating in mechanical aspects of projects.”

Come and join us, use your critical thinking skills to help your engineering colleagues produce better solutions!


(1) What do you care about what other people think? Richard P. Feynman (London, Penguin Books 2007)

About the Author

The author has over 25 years of experience in mechanical engineering and project management, including within senior management positions at Rolls-Royce and Alstom. The author has been delivering engineering and project management training for multinational companies such as Shell, Total, Petrofac, E-On, Jaguar Land Rover and many others.

The author is a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), a Chartered Engineer and a Chartered Environmentalist. The author has earned an honours degree in Mechanical Engineering, has an MBA from the Warwick Business School, and is a Chartered Manager and Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute. The author is on the Council of the IMechE and sits on the Strategy Advisory Committee.

The author has worked with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) in the Philippines, in partnership with Renewable Energy and Environmental NGOs, on the technical management and program administration of micro hydro power and renewable energy systems. The author is a judge for multiple technical awards and is a published engineering author.