Skip navigation

From the Head: 03/07/2016

Unwritten Laws of Engineering - Part I

The Unwritten Laws of Engineering by W. J. King was first published in 1944 as three articles in the ASME magazine, Mechanical Engineering. These "laws" for professional conduct have been reprinted several times since and an updated edition with revisions and additions by James Skakoon was published in 2004. Over the next few weeks, I will highlight parts of this wise and seemingly timeless advice contained in a small volume. I want to acknowledge Alec Hartman, an MDE student, who brought these gems to our attention.

Although written with young engineers just starting out in mind, much of this advice is more broadly applicable. 

In relation to work.

  • However menial and trivial your early assignments may appear, give them your best efforts
  • Demonstrate the ability to get things done. This quality is achieved by various means under different circumstances, but it can probably be reduced to a combination of three basic characteristics:
    • Initiative, which is expressed in energy to start something and aggressiveness to keep it moving.
    • Resourcefulness and ingenuity, or the faculty for finding ways to accomplish the desired result.
    • Persistence or tenacity, which is the disposition to persevere in spite of difficulties, discouragement, or indifference.
  • Develop a "Let's go see!" attitude
  • Don't be timid — speak up — express yourself and promote your ideas
  • Strive for conciseness and clarity in oral or written reports; be extremely careful of the accuracy of your statements

In relation to your supervisor: 

  • One of the first things you owe your supervisor is to keep him or her informed of all significant developments
  • Do not overlook the steadfast truth that your direct supervisor is your "boss."
  • Be as particular as you can in the selection of your supervisor
  • Whenever you are asked by your manager to do something, you are expected to do exactly that

Regarding relations with colleagues and outsiders:

  • Cultivate the habit of seeking other peoples' opinions and recommendations
  • Promises, schedules, and estimates are necessary and important instruments in a well-ordered business
  • In dealing with customers and outsiders, remember that you represent the company, ostensibly with full responsibility and authority

These are just the headlines. I encourage you to read the original article in which a more nuanced exploration of these ideas is developed. A copy of the full article can be found in Mechanical Engineering Oct 2010, Vol. 132 Issue 10, pp42-46, available online via the Purdue Library web page.

David