Ask an Engineer! Commandments of Engineering

Apr 15, 2010

Every month we at  ask our panel of engineers a general question from a reader. Have a question? Send us an email!

April, 2010

Zroya asks via email:

"What are your "Ten Commandments" of engineering? Infinite honorable mention positions are allowed. :-)"

Great question! As we’ll soon find out, there are no core commandments (other than the ones that all engineers swear to as professionals), but there are definitely common themes. Overall, this month’s post is LOADED with good advice and you should definitely check out the full-version pdf! (12 pages!).

(Also welcome to Thomas L. from France, who brought along his father Jean-Louis for the ride! )


Jim - Cement Industry, Pennsylvania, USA


Can the mumbo jumbo. Call things by their right names.



Jean-Louis - Transport Research - France


You shall remember that humans are much harder to manage than any other technical device.




Scott - Semiconductor Industry - Massachusetts, USA

“If it hasn't been tested, it doesn't work"- In any large complex design there are a huge number of interactions between all the different parts.  Many of those interactions happen all the time (the common cases) but then there are also some that only happen rarely (what we call corner cases).  Corner cases usually involve strange things happening.  During testing, corner cases won't get covered without explicitly aiming for them.  This commandment is a reminder that we really do need to make the extra effort to test them all.


Dan - Diesel Engine Manufacturing - Illinois, USA


The old adage about "It's not about what you know, it's about who you know"? It's more true than you want to admit. Don't abuse it, though.



Justin - General Contracting/Construction Management - International


Don't bring your feelings to work.  Deal with people professionally, no matter what, and you will always come out looking good.




Thomas L. - IT Architecture - France


You shall let the complex problems thoroughly permeate your brain and not rush to find a half-baked solution, as haste is often rewarded with sticky issues, frustration and sometimes failure.




J. Thomas - Software Consulting – Taiwan

Be able to function in the morning(aka Waking up early and liking it).

If you can master being into the office before all of your collegues AND be wide awake and alert during their "groggy" phase, you will be able to do so much more in your workday and be able to more easily sway company direction in your favor.


Dyson - Mechanical Technologist - Yukon Territories

Be a rebel, actually enjoy your work.



Johan: Software, Domotics Industry, Netherlands

There will be bugs.

Anything more complex than a 'Hello, world!' will have bugs. You could see this as a bad thing, but it's just a fact of software development. The important thing here is how you handle your bugs. If you don't know (or deny) how many bugs there are in your software, they will never be fixed. If you acknowledge the bugs and fix them, your software will be better for it.


Bruno - Polytechnique - Junior Software Engineer - Quebec (OIQ)

Thou shall respect your neighbor

... and by neighbor I mean your fellow engineers. If you have to work on a project another engineer has worked on before you (either reviewing a plan or just taking charge), you need to check with the other engineer to see if he is done before starting your own work on the project.



Trian - Groundwater Monitoring Industry - BC

Garbage in, Garbage out.

Often quoted by engineers who run simulations - you may have the most beautiful mathematical model in the world, but if you plug in crap numbers you can only expect to get the same out.  Your answers are only as good as your data.  This goes for any decisions or judgments you make as well.  Be mindful of the data upon which you base your decisions.  Understand what the data reveals and what the limitations are.  Understand the limitations in your answers.  We do error calculations for a reason.  To me this stresses the importance of the practical and theoretical in engineering.  You have to the tools deal with a situation-- make sure you completely understand the situation in the first place.

Robert - Oil and Gas Industry - Texas, USA

Speak plainly when talking to non-engineers, but not in a condescending manner. Just because you understand something doesn't mean that everyone around you will (actually this can apply to other engineers as well).



Kimberly - Computer Science Undergraduate - United States

Question Your Assumptions:

Sometimes, when jumping headfirst into solving a problem - even one which is not engineering-related - you are not aware of assumptions which may impede success.  In The Art of Problem Solving by Russell L. Ackoff, the author continually emphasizes that to solve a problem, it's often necessary to go back to the basics. 

Though it seems simple enough, sometimes forgetting a basic concept becomes the source of a much bigger mistake.  With that in mind, take some time to write down and confront all of the self-imposed limitations you can think of.  In doing so, you can often discover a better way to solve your problem!

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