Engineering Careers Blog

Engineering Careers

The Engineering Careers blog features news and information about job placement, personal and professional development, and industries and locations that offer opportunity.

Previous in Blog: A Recruiter’s Story   Next in Blog: The Dreaded Internal Candidate

8 Ways to Great Engineering

Posted September 13, 2009 4:45 PM by DrDoug

What does it take to be a great engineer? Inspiration is necessary, but it's not enough. Practical tools and principles are needed. Consider the case of Henry Ford, the American automaker who was inspired to build a car that the average citizen could afford. Plenty of automotive engineers were inspired to build cars at the start of the twentieth century, but it was the Ford Model T that put America on wheels.

So how did he do it? How did the son of simple Michigan farmer build one of the most influential cars of the twentieth century? Henry Ford had practical tools and principles. The "car for the great multitude" was born of the father of the modern assembly line. And this method of mass production – a most practical tool – was complemented by principles. Specifically, Ford vowed to build a car "constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise".

The Power of Peak Performance

Are you inspired by your own engineering career? And is your inspiration complemented by practical tools and principles? I'm not an engineer, of course, but I've gotten to know many of you personally during my time with CR4. So, I'd like to share the following list with you. It's from a book I've been working on called "8 Ways to Great: Peak Performance on the Job and in Your Life".

In this list, I'll continue to use Henry Ford as an example. Although some of the automaker's pronouncements and publications have marred his many achievements, the focus here is on his career as an engineer and entrepreneur.

1. Let your true passion be your core motivation.

Could Henry Ford have been a successful farmer? Probably. But his true passion was for creating a better way for people to travel. Ford's father expected him to take over the family farm, but Henry didn't want to be a farmer. What he loved was tinkering, and that love led to a career first as a machinist, then as an engineer, and finally as an entrepreneur.

2. Develop self-awareness and use what you know about both your strengths and weaknesses.

Henry Ford didn't design the Model T all by himself. Despite his considerable talents, the automaker turned to engineer C. Harold Wills for the design of the vehicle's planetary transmission. Peter E. Martin, who worked closely with Ford on early models, was tasked with determining how to produce vast quantities of a new type of steel.

3. Set goals and game plans - and learn to love this process because it is all about the process.

"Obstacles," Henry Ford once said, "are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal." And he would have known. Henry Ford failed in business and went broke five times before finally succeeding. In his first car, he even forgot to put in a reverse gear. And the Edsel, a car made infamous for doors that wouldn't close and a hood that wouldn't open, was anything but the "car of the decade" that Ford predicted.

4. Identify your competitive advantage - what sets you apart and what will turn the odds in your favor.

When Henry Ford set out to build the Model T, he learned about a new type of steel with three times the tensile strength of alloys used by other American automakers. Rather than paying someone else to produce this vanadium alloy, Ford financed his own steel mill. For the next five years, the only cars in the entire world that used vanadium steel were French luxury vehicles and the Ford Model T.

5. Develop inner confidence that keeps you from judging yourself based on other's standards and expectations.

When Henry Ford announced a minimum salary of five dollars a day for his workers, other entrepreneurs called him reckless. The Wall Street Journal even equated Ford's wage increase with immorality, terming it a misapplication of "Biblical principle". But from 1914 to 1916, the Ford Motor Company's profits doubled.

6. Keep your cool - and don't let emotions dictate your decisions.

Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right". By remaining positive in the face of engineering obstacles and financial crises, he kept his company afloat through two world wars and prolonged economic depression.

7. Take risks yet act intelligently with imperfect information.

The first few Model Ts had a water pump, but its use was abandoned early in production. In switching to a cheaper circulation system, Ford risked having the Model T face overheating problems. Ultimately, however, this circulation system based on the thermo-syphon principle was more reliable.

8. Be accountable.

Henry Ford's critics described him as a tyrant. But at the end of the day, he remained firmly in control of his company – and his own destiny. His insistence on holding the Ford Motor Company to a higher standard enabled it to eliminate waste while adopting new manufacturing methods and enlarging its market share. On a personal level, Henry Ford remained accountable, too. As he wrote about one of his heroes, Benjamin Franklin, "The old American values of thrift and industry have no successors or substitutes."

As always, I look forward to hearing what you think.

Dr. Doug

Editor's Note: You can visit Dr. Doug online at or contact him by email at


Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.

Join Date: Apr 2007
Location: Hyderabad, India
Posts: 596
Good Answers: 12

Re: 8 Ways to Great Engineering

09/14/2009 1:10 AM

Dear Dr.Dough,

Thanks for your concern for engineers. There is lot of difference the engineers are used by entrepreneurs from the year 1914 to 2009. Engineers are forced to engineer what marketing people can sell and earn big quick money for entrepreneurs. For example a very good model medium size fuel efficient vehicle is withdrawn from the market to introduce a less efficient vehicle by a very large group for only "Business Interest". So an engineer's success depends on "Market" that is decided by business managers. Hence role of a good engineer with passion is diminishing. With this reply I request you to add something so that engineers can handle business managers to safeguard good technology.


Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: Bangalore, India
Posts: 725
Good Answers: 23

Re: 8 Ways to Great Engineering

09/14/2009 1:21 AM

I find that I seem to follow all except item 4 of the Ford's List.

I now believe that whatever creative ideas one gets comes from 'outside' and that the individual does not own them, For the past six years I have stopped putting my name to any patents or other IPR protection documents even if I were the main investigator.



Join Date: Feb 2009
Location: Tamilnadu, India
Posts: 836
Good Answers: 42

Re: 8 Ways to Great Engineering

09/14/2009 2:43 AM

An activity,project or product is the baby of the conceiver. Determine what you want to do based on capabilities and sustainability and carry on the game with final goal as target. Many successful people were who had the ultimate patience and guts. For those seek smooth walk/journey, accomplishment of goals is rare reality. Hardships and reversals are true teachers and one should know how to learn from them.It is commitment and one way can be geuine madness too, which means the depth of one's involvement and seriousness..

Nature is so graceful and naked. Human possession is ridiculous.

Join Date: Oct 2007
Location: Tulare, CA
Posts: 1783
Good Answers: 35

Re: 8 Ways to Great Engineering

09/14/2009 11:35 AM

Henry Ford was not the Father of the Assembly line. He was first to establish the assembly line for the automotive industry and that's as far as it goes. Henry Ford Benchmarked his assembly line after the processes used in a meat slaughterhouse.

Why is there never enough time to do it right the first time but always enough time to do it over?
Anonymous Poster

Re: 8 Ways to Great Engineering

09/26/2009 9:56 AM

T hank you for your idea.

phone Myint Aye.


Reply Off Topic (Score 5)
Reply to Blog Entry 5 comments
Interested in this topic? By joining CR4 you can "subscribe" to
this discussion and receive notification when new comments are added.
Copy to Clipboard

Users who posted comments:

Anonymous Poster (1); bioramani (1); Janissaries (1); kvsubramanyam (1); s.udhayamarthandan (1)

Previous in Blog: A Recruiter’s Story   Next in Blog: The Dreaded Internal Candidate