Your second most important technical skill is Awareness.
Of yourself. Of what’s going on around you. With your colleagues. In the department. In the company. The industry, the world, politics, new technology, etc.
Again, not so much of a skill as a habit.
What I do know is that as you stay aware of how you and the world around you is changing, you stay ideally positioned to seize opportunities and avoid problems.
Techies tend to prize themselves on being just that, technically-minded.
The business side of things, finance, politics, sales . . . . that’s for the low-life’s, the lesser mortals.
I wrote a blog post about this once, arguing that engineers should be educating themselves about finance, marketing, communications, and other supposedly non-technical fields. One reader told me off, saying he had a better idea: Stick to engineering.
(Curiously, he had strayed away from simple engineering himself, otherwise he wouldn’t have known to read my blog or comment on it.)
I’ve seen a lot of narrowly-technical-minded engineers miss opportunities for career advancement, just because they weren’t watching, and they weren’t talking with anyone else.
Others were unpleasantly surprised by sudden layoffs or organizational changes. They hadn’t been “keeping their ears to the ground”.
Don’t you be like that.
Read your industry trade magazines and blogs.
Learn how to use LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google Alerts, etc, to inform you, not just to chat with friends.
Network like crazy.
in my earlier days, I would network hesitantly.
I had been raised to think that you get paid to keep your head down, focus on the screen, and do what your boss was expecting you to do. Anything else was shirking my work, time wasted, and stealing from the company.
If that’s all you do all day, then yes, you are shirking your work.
However, I doubt that’s your problem. Most engineers, and indeed most knowledge workers, are fairly self-motivated. They come to the office every day wanting to get something useful done.
I argue that if you don’t spend any time networking, then you are shirking your work. A well-informed employee is an opportunistic one, and more valuable than a poorly-informed employee.
(In fact, when writing this, I had difficulty deciding whether the second most important skill was Awareness, or Networking. They are two sides of the same coin.)
Learn who are the movers and shakers in your workplace and industry.
Who are the people everyone respects? Why are they respected?
Get to know them if you can. Can you see a way to help them? It can pay big dividends down the road. For you, them, and for your employer.
Any employer (or manager) that sees things differently, that only ever wants to see you with your head down, getting to work . . . . . . . is an employer (or manager) that you don’t need.
In the next post, I’ll give you my perspective:
- On what’s happening in the aerospace industry today;
- How it’s changed over the 15 years I’ve been in it, and,
- How I see it changing in the years to come.