Skills to develop after an engineering internship
(5 min read) Skills/Courses list to become an all-round high-output engineer.
It’s the end of summer and soon our interns will be heading back to school. They have demonstrated their skills, completed their project, and delivered an amazing presentation. Before we say our goodbyes, the only thing left is to share feedback on their performance. After that, we wait in hopes for them to join the team and the company as a full-time employee.
So in this post, we focus on the last feedback. The most important feedback of the internship.
My feedback consists of two parts. The first part focuses on their internship. The second part focuses on what they can improve to become an all-round engineer. Let's go over each.
The first part is backward-looking. It contains complete 360-degree feedback about their performance as an intern. This includes feedback about their work. Their collaboration with peers. Their ownership of the task. And any other metrics around their core skills such as programming. Things they did as an intern.
The second part is forward-looking. Its a list of soft skills interns can learn and develop while in school. Soft skills are as important as core skills in becoming a great engineer. They are a major part of day-to-day engineering work. Developing these skills at school is cheaper and has no cost of failure.
The biggest advantage of the second part is realized when they join as full-time employees. Having developed those soft skills in school gives them a huge edge over their peers. After joining, they can focus on developing work-related skills. The soft skills help to speed up their growth. They win by excelling at work. Company/Team wins by having an all-round engineer. It's a Win-Win.
As a result, the last feedback is more effective and stays actionable post-internship.
Below is the list of soft-skills that I share as part of the feedback.
Some skills are learned better with a fully structured course. While others can be learned via youtube or other learning platforms such as Udemy. However, practice is the key to developing them.
That said, in no specific order here they are:
Clear writing: Next to coding, a major chunk of engineering work is writing. At research labs, we write emails, papers, and funding proposals. In the office, we write emails, tech-specs, one-pagers, idea communications, peer feedback, self-reflection, etc. Everyone can write. But writing well is an important skill that everyone should develop. Taking a course that teaches writing short, medium, and long-form goes a long way. Writing is one of the skills that engineers do more of as they progress in their careers. Clear writing that others can understand is often a multiplying factor for career growth.
Project and time management: At the workplace, being able to manage tasks and your own time is crucial. Learning to manage a project/task helps with execution and demonstrates ownership. And the ability to manage time helps with deadlines. A project management course can help with both.
Startup 101: A course in starting a company teaches key skills. Skills that benefit the engineer and the team. A team is like a mini-startup in the company. Like a startup, a team has services/products that it creates/maintains. They serve their customer needs in return for company benefits and growth. As a result, various skills required to start a company translates very well when joining a team. The skill we are trying to develop during the startup course are:
Evaluate projects as business opportunities: Teams work on many projects. Being able to identify and work on projects with the highest business impact is the key to faster growth.
Understanding and solving customer problems: All products made by any company are solving customers’ problems. It could be an internal or external customer. Either way, identifying, understanding, and solving for customer problems is taught well in startup 101 courses.
Visualizing the bigger picture: Often engineers are only interested in their task. Visualizing how the project fits in the team, the Org and the company helps clarify the impact of work. This leads to better decision making. Something that teams/companies can use at all levels.
Public speaking: Fear of public speaking ranks higher than the fear of dying. Although public speaking can be scary, you cannot avoid it forever. As we climb the career ladder, we have to present our work to an audience. The audience can be the team, Org, or the entire company. Especially as we step into leadership roles, public speaking is a sort of required skill. Public speaking can be learned after joining the company. But a course can help you speak clearly. Using hand gestures to make a point. Omit ums’ and aas’. Modulate your voice to emphasize a point, and become a confident speaker. It takes a lot of practice. School is the best place to practice with zero cost of failure.
Debate: Debates/discussions are everyday workplace activity. At work, we often have to debate on various topics. Topics such as technical solutions, strategic decisions, project direction, etc. Being able to debate on a topic while listening to other points-of-view is a hard skill to develop. School is the best place to hone this skill as the cost of failure is low.
Creative thinking: New college grads bring a fresh unbiased perspective. They are the freshest pair of eyes paired with a thoughtful brain. Creative thinking courses teach mental models to think outside the box. Look at problems from a different perspective. It's one skill that is very helpful in every project.
Learn to design: Not every engineer has to be a designer but being able to design helps. Learning to design helps simplify things and make them easy to understand. A good design is intuitive and simplifies user’s interaction with the product. This is often the thing that engineers miss. Engineers build useful projects with complex interfaces. Being able to think about user interaction takes system design skills up a notch.
The next two skills are bonus skills. They are important as you become a senior engineer or a leader. They are mentioned here because most schools offer courses to learn and develop these skills.
Philosophy: You may be wondering what philosophy has to do in an engineering company. Engineers design products/services that interact with society. Some products even change how society interacts. Example, social networks. As an engineer, it is our responsibility to gauge the impact of the product on society. And build products for the betterment of humankind. Engineering philosophy can help with designing better products for tomorrow.
Storytelling: Every product/service that is built has a story behind it. A story that explains why a customer should care, what is the product, and how will it solve their problem. Being able to tell a good story can often determine the fate of the project. Engineers have to tell stories about their work and its impact. Stating facts is not enough. This skill is something that is not required for new college grads but school is the best place to learn it.
As with anything, the best way to learn and develop any skill is by practicing it over and over. Schools provide amazing opportunities to do so. Hence my rationale of sharing them with interns before they head back.
If you find this list useful, share it with your interns. I would also like to know which skill you find most useful to share. Also, if you have different skill recommendations, please leave them in comments. This list is a work in progress. Let’s build it together.
P.S: Although the above-mentioned skills are a must for engineering interns. In all honesty, any seasoned engineer or a professional will benefit from developing these skills as well.