(The following guest blog is an excerpt from Onshape’s career advice eBook, “3 Things Executives Value Most in a Mechanical Engineer.” Dave Wajsgras is a Raytheon Company vice president and president of the Intelligence, Information and Services (IIS) business.)
One of the most vital qualities we look for in an employee is integrity. I use this term broadly – and it goes far beyond engineering – but what I mean is don’t try to fake it.
Just because you have deep domain expertise in mechanical engineering, doesn’t mean you have the same level of expertise in electrical engineering or software engineering. Even though you might know a little bit about other areas, it’s important to be realistic with yourself and with your team about what you’re an expert at and what you are not. It doesn’t mean you can’t weigh in. It doesn’t mean you can’t have an opinion. But I think companies or organizations run into problems when they rely too much on people who are providing input that is not necessarily in their area of expertise.
I think it’s incumbent on individuals to be honest about the information or guidance that they are conveying. As long as they do that appropriately, everyone wins and you will usually arrive at the best solutions.
Integrity with your colleagues means not being afraid to ask questions. It’s not a weakness to say “I don’t know.” It’s a strength and shows an enormous amount of self-confidence. Although your experience and knowledge may have some overlap with different silos, you need to be thoughtful about how you communicate technical solutions, how you frame suggestions, and make sure you separate fact from opinion. I think that’s critically important.
Along those same lines, I also value engineers who are passionate about learning and ask genuine questions about how their piece of the puzzle fits into the broader deliverable. It’s refreshing when I hear that and it always makes those people stand out for me. Candidly, I wish I heard this all the time from younger and mid-level engineers. But frankly, I don’t hear it as often as I would like.
So at Raytheon, that would mean asking: How will this particular solution be used at the mission level? What will the Warfighter be doing with this particular capability? And when you work from the tail end backwards, you really see how your deliverable works into the bigger picture. I think this motivates people from both an effort standpoint and a quality-of-delivery standpoint.
If you’re an engineer who wants to move up into either a technical management role or a nontechnical management role, one of the best ways to do that is to understand that broader picture as early as possible. Of course, you’re still expected to deliver on your specific objectives. But making an effort to expand your knowledge base lets senior management know that you’re able to think beyond your individual role and focus on the company’s needs as a whole.