9 Transferable Skills That Make Engineers Awesome Entrepeneurs
Not long ago, I used to worry if the skills I had would be transferable or useful for anything else – apart from being an engineer.
My industry is in a downturn. And as an engineer in the oil industry, I know first-hand just how difficult it is to keep a job, let alone find a new one.
So it’s no surprise that a lot of engineers are looking outside the industry and even outside the proverbial “box” at other options.
I used to spend all day scouring the job boards, LinkedIn, company career web pages, and recruiter websites.
It was pretty demoralising.
Yeah the industry is going to turn around eventually and another job will come along, but how long is that going to take?
And for what? Just so that I could get a job and work 9-5 for someone else again?
A lot of engineers that I speak to, complain that they don’t have the transferable engineering skills to get them another job. Personally, I don’t think they’re being open to enough to the opportunities available.
Yes, I know that they want to use the skills that they’ve developed and specialised in over the years, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have skills that are transferrable.
When you consider that engineers in general, are inherent problem solvers that are taught how to learn, we’ve probably got the best core of transferable skill sets out of everyone.
And sure, I could also use my transferable engineering skills to get a job in another field, people do it all the time.
But hang on – aren’t I just jumping from a job in one risky industry into a job in another potentially risky industry?
There’s gotta more to life than working a desk job right?
Wouldn’t it be great to build your own business? One where you could work from anywhere you want? *cue dreamy music*
The Engineering Entrepreneur, or Engipreneur
Yeap so apparently, the “engipreneur” is a thing!
Raise your hands if you’ve thought about being an entrepreneurial engineer at some stage?
Now keep your hand up if you’ve let fear of the unknown stop you.
Yes… I see you.
How annoying is that little voice in your head?
Logically, you know you can do it. But you’re scared of … well… lots of things.
Fear of failure? That’s a common one.
Fear of the entrepreneurial unknown? Where do you start? What do you do? How long will it take? Can I make enough to support my family?
But c’mon, you’re an engineer! You’ve got that logical brain that everyone envies.
Surely you can logic-the-hell out of this?
Goddamn right you can!!
You’ve got an ability to absorb knowledge, and you’ve been trained how to learn and adapt.
That’s all an Entrepreneurial Engineer needs.
Plus, with the internet thing, it really hasn’t ever been any easier for you to start a business (even a side hustle).
Personally, I love the concept of the side hustle because it’s all about you creating a side income that’s recurring and doesn’t need you to constantly work on it… like a job.
And, you can set it up even while you’re working a full-time job.
The internet and global economy allow you to reach millions of people you would have never been able to reach in the past.
There are new and exciting ways to create, communicate and innovate.
The digital revolution has also created new problems, problems that need to be solved. This is where you come in.
First, just remember that you aren’t limited to businesses centered around engineering.
Of course, it’s going to be safe and comfortable to stick within your niche, and that’s fine, but know you can branch out into just about anything you can imagine.
Take any knowledge that you have, hobbies or passions and turn them into profitable businesses using your strengths and skills.
Dammit Jim, I’m an engineer, not an entrepreneur.
You have skills! You have interests and passions! You can use these skills and hobbies to start something new and build a business from zero to something great.
Don’t believe me?
Maybe we’ll need to redefine your idea of a business person, or in this case, the entrepreneurial engineer.
“Are engineers better at business than business people? It’s debatable. Business people certainly seems to have bigger houses, drive fancier cars, wear nicer clothes and have better-looking mates. Engineers lack the time management skills to spend that kind of money. They waste all their time inventing ways to make the most money in the quickest, most efficient way possible. And then when they figure it out, they optimize the process.”
― Raul Perez
A lot of engineers that I speak to are really worried that their skills aren’t transferable.
They’re concerned that all their experience up until now has perhaps pigeonholed them into a career of Finite Element analysis, or subsea pipeline engineer or some other highly specialist skill.
This is called a self-limiting belief.
Self-limiting beliefs are not facts, even though we sometimes treat them as such.
Rest assure that as engineers, we all possess all the skills to create any business we want.
Here are 9 of those Transferrable Engineering Skills that will give you that entrepreneurial edge.
1. Planning From The Ground Up
As an engineer, you have planning skills in abundance.
You see a need and you create a way to fill that need.
Then you design a tool and put a plan in place to deliver it.
As a transferable engineering skill, this is golden.
People have ideas all the time, but executing those ideas requires the ability to plan.
That’s something you can bring to the table, either as a partner, consultant or solo entrepreneur.
For example, Chris Thornham is a co-founder of FLO Cycling. His company engineers aerodynamic cycling wheels using CFD software and wind tunnel testing.
Chris discovered that a combination of persistence, planning, and problem-solving skills, has allowed him to sell over 10,000 wheels across 51 countries in less than 3 years.
Not bad for an engineer. Needless to say, he’s ditched his cubicle for good.
What the heck is analytics? Everyone keeps throwing it around as a buzz word.
In a nutshell, this just refers to the ability to collect and use data, to give us the true story about what’s happening.
This could be with website traffic, just as it could be with banking and finance data.
Dealing with data in its various forms is nearly second nature to most engineers.
Being able to analyse data is actually in quite high demand in a lot of industries… but we digress.
In online businesses, this is particularly handy as it will let you understand how your customers behave. Super useful stuff for the entrepreneurial engineer.
For example, the founder of Krossover, Vasu Kulkarni, used data analysis to help the Cleveland Cavaliers analyse and improve their game, which made a major contribution to them winning the NBA Championship.
Sounds like a Brad Pitt movie.
Math isn’t everyone’s forte, especially not for this engineer Jay here, but some engineers are great at maths.
Regardless, our brains are uniquely suited to problem-solving of all kinds.
As an engineer, your general STEM knowledge means you have plenty to offer to those who are less mathematically and technologically inclined.
As a new-age engipreneur, your mission, should you chose to accept, is to package these skills and create a product or service to help other people solve their problems.
So how far can maths really get you as an entrepreneur?
Again, it pays to think outside the box.
To start, you can create a course, you can teach others, you can solve problems for other entrepreneurs and get paid to do it.
Just ask Khan Academy founder Sal Khan. A math engineer who used skipped classes at MIT because he thought they were “too long and boring”.
After uploading a handful of tutoring videos to YouTube to help his cousins with their algebra homework, his business now runs a massive digital classroom for the world to learn new skills.
4. Software Skills
Ok, so the type and level of computer skills you have will depend on what type of engineer you are.
But there’s a better than average chance that your computer skills exceed those of 90% of the working population.
Let’s get this clear. I’m no software engineer, but there’s plenty of you out there.
And if software is your thing, then you probably already know that you’ve got more opportunities than you could poke a stick at.
For example, Jeff Bezos was a computer engineer before he built one of the largest online businesses in the world, Amazon.
While this is a pretty huge example of an engineer becoming an entrepreneur, I only use it to demonstrate that there really are no limits in this world for opportunities.
I could also point to other engineers such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg as some *minorly* successful engineers in recent times.
5. Logical Thinking
When it comes to transferable engineering skills, the mother of them all is your logical thinking skills.
This is the cornerstone of engineers.
You’re able to think in ways that the average person just doesn’t.
And while, this may occasionally frustrate those more emotional folks in your life, that logical thinking part of your brain really does give you an entrepreneurial edge.
For example, Diana Hodgins is the founder of European Technology for Business (ETB) Ltd, which invents and develops medical technology.
She learned several important entrepreneurial lessons the hard way but has used a consistently logical approach to navigate her way through each obstacle.
Hodgins was “not a salesperson,” by her own admission. By making this logical conclusion, she accepted that she needed help.
By partnering with distributors who specialised in sales services, she has been able to grow her business into a thriving international market
Her products including the Pegasus-I gait monitoring device now help patients around the world.
6. Attention to Detail
Some might say that your high level of attention to detail may make you a bit of a perfectionist.
Do you remember the rivers flowing with red ink whenever you had to review a report from a junior engineer?
When you’re designing and engineering structures and stuff, that attention to detail is critical in ensuring that what you deliver is safe and practical.
So of course, this is super useful for when you’re designing a business.
That discerning eye of yours can be put to good use whether you’re creating a physical product, a software product or a service-based business.
By having every detail mapped out from start to finish, this allows you to get it right in your own mind.
Which coincidentally if really useful when you also need to explain it to other people too.
Which leads onto the next really useful engineering skill…
7. The Ability To Simplify Problems To Find Solutions
Do you remember when things use to break (and even when they didn’t), and you’d like to look inside things just to see how they work?
And as an engineer, you think up a way to make it better.
The same thing goes with problems.
There are problems and broken things everywhere you look.
There’s no shortage of problems out there.
There is, however, a shortage of problem solvers.
As an engineer, you’re a trained problem solver.
And to solve any problem, you first need to break it down into it’s simplest components.
This allows you to then figure out what’s broken and what’s not working like it should.
So by simplifying everything, it makes it easier to comprehend.
For you to understand. For everyone to understand.
This, my friend, is your super power.
For example, Pat Flynn was able to use his ability to simplify challenges to build his business and reputation from nothing.
After he got his dream job, Pat decided to blog about the experience of studying for the LEED exam (an accreditation for building professionals) and share his tips and meticulous and simplified notes online for free.
That simple website got so much traffic that when he got laid off from his job a year later, he was able to support himself by packaging up those very same tips and notes into an Ebook.
The Ebook made him $7,906.55 in his first month and was earning him over $30k a month at times.
This was a Niche product, and with hardly any marketing. The website still runs to this day at GreenExamAcademy.com
Pat Flynn now runs the hugely Smart Passive Income website and podcast and earns over $140,000 per month on a regular basis.
Check out Pat’s podcast for some entrepreneurial motivation.
As leads and project managers, engineers have strong leadership qualities that are focussed on delivery and execution.
Coordinating resources to get things done is a powerful trait in the world of business.
Especially for solo entrepreneurs (also called solopreneurs), you will find that outsourcing parts of your business to freelancers will be a necessity to accelerate your growth.
Having a plan and strategy in place to manage people in delivering your objective will set you apart from the wannabe entrepreneurs (wannapreneurs) out there.
People who are natural leaders often prefer entrepreneurial pursuits as opposed to employment. It just fits their personality better.
For example, Steven L. Reid is a natural leader and after a 20-year career with an engineering firm in Atlanta, was serving as their engineering manager and COO.
Despite this, Reid still felt unfulfilled because he was not in a position to make important, strategic decisions.
As a result, he followed his calling, founding of Industrial Environmental Systems, a contract manufacturer of stacks, ductwork, pollution control, and noise control systems—where he (happily) calls all the shots every day.
9. Presentation Skills
During my engineering career, I’ve had to get up on stage a few times to do public speaking engagements.
These included technical white papers, startup pitches, educational pieces or just hosting events.
Each time I got up to speak, it felt like someone had kicked me in the guts. The fear! The nerves! It was terrifying!
I’m feeling it right now actually, just but thinking about it…
Apparently, nerves don’t ever go away, you just learn to deal with them better.
The ability to put your own creations out there confidently, however, is a skill. It’s a skill that anyone can learn and practice.
As an entrepreneur, you will find things like self-promotion much easier if you’re comfortable with presenting.
For example, a confident presenter could easily appear to be an authority on a topic just because they presented it in public.
It doesn’t even matter that the presenter has no previous experience in that topic.
It requires guts and vision, something that engineers have plenty of.
While Natalie Jay isn’t an engineer, she identified a need in several niches and was able to make some connections by presenting a clear benefit her customers.
Despite having no experience at all, she’s been able to create several thriving businesses.
And, as this video shows, it’s not all about polish and smooth-talking, it’s about being earnest, authentic and delivering value.
Summary & Conclusion
Ok, so you’re clearly not short of skills.
You really are primed to be a successful entrepreneur, you just have to take the leap.
Remember, you aren’t limited to what your degree says you can accomplish.
And with the internet, you don’t even need to devote all your time or savings to starting an online business.
Sometimes the best way to start is just to start.
You don’t have to get all your ducks lined up to get going. One duck will do.
Still reckon you don’t have what it takes to be an entrepreneur?
Check this out, according to this Business Insider article, more CEO’s and business owners possess engineering degrees than MBA’s.
If statistics are telling you to do it – don’t fight it!
So apart from just skills, is there anything else preventing you from moving forward? What are your biggest hiccups or questions about being an entrepreneur?
Leave a comment below and I’ll find the answers for you.