Just moozing

Before you can check your notes, you must make them…

On greatness

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I have been thinking about how to become a great engineer (and probably everything else). For this, I find three key elements, tenacity, and strong troubleshooting and research skills. This blog post is may thoughts on this.

There are a lot of interesting theories and textbooks on how to be more efficient, getting stuff done and so on. Having been teaching young people (18+) for some years now, my conclusion is that they don’t get it. They are simply not experienced enough to know that efficient time management is important. A lot of people will never learn it, but the younger ones simply are not mentally ready for it. This is of course a crude generalization, and there will be some that will be the exception.

Having given up on that part – as in accepting that “but you are wasting your time now” is not an understandable argument with this group – we need something else. So I have identified the three pillars of becoming a great engineer.


Strong research skills

Technology is moving, and it is moving fast. The things you learned last year is good for understanding the overall structure or the built-in logic of systems, but the very detailed specific issues will change between, say, version 1,5 and 2.0 – this requires the skill of being able to find solutions online.

Knowing where to look for answers is the first part. There are a lot of very good resource sites, IRC channels, forum and so on for domain specific knowledge, and there is always google searching. Knowing where to look and who to ask online is half the battle.

Another good resource is people. Chances are that you have colleagues, friends, co-students or other people around that may give you input or help change your angle of approach. Also, people who are domain experts, usually reply when you ask them relevant and interesting questions.

The other half is to know what to search for and what to ask. You must learn how to identify the keywords that yields the good google result. This is from logs, crash reports and such, so you will need to know where to find it. The good news is that the location of such info rarely changes.


Strong troubleshooting skills

When you encounter a problem with your software, server, network, or other technical system, the answer is often not evident. Being capable of approaching any technical issue in a structured manner is the key to being efficient.

The alternative is to guess around, change some stuff and hope the system fixes itself, and when it does you are none the wiser. The structured approach will have a lot of built-in learning about the system, and will make the weak areas of the system more evident – maybe you even find a bug, so the problem is resolved forever.



Being tenacious, is the last key. This the ability to stay with it, and work your way through problems. In my view, having a problem a hammering it (with tech, ideas, math, …) for hours or days to finally crack it, and find the solution – that is intoxicating and you want more. I don’t think you can be a great engineering without knowing that feeling.

So staying at it, even when it gets difficult, and using all your available tools (and maybe finding new ones) is very important. I am not the only one who thinks that tenacity is important. A more for a more scientific approach look into grit like here, a TED talk and an official report.



So working in a structured manner, being good at getting relevant input and not giving up, will ensure that you become very good at what you do.

I would love to see a controlled experiment about this.




Written by moozing

February 9, 2016 at 12:00

Posted in Teaching

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