Saturday, 21 October 2017

Between the Details

Adrien Gallet, SELA Cohort 2016

What do you make of the following paragraph?

A fine undrained soil at the end of a jacked displacement pile is preloaded beyond its in situ conditions. Hence, the now preconsolidated soil exhibits an unload-reload loading pattern with a slight hysteric loop, resulting in higher Young’s Modulus values.

Chances are that unless you’re a practising geotechnical engineer who designs pile foundations, you did not understand much of it. That’s perfectly reasonable. It’s full of technical jargon that takes students an entire year to fully understand. And yet therein lies the largest problem engineers face.

The world of engineering lies between the details. It lies in the specifics, sometimes minute differences of enormous importance. And amongst engineers, such technical jargon is crucial to avoid failures and foresee immediate design challenges.

However, everyday life does not operate in the details, especially in the world of leadership. When trying to convince an investor for example, it is rarely done through details, but whether or not that investor trusts you with his or her money. And when engineers sound confusing with their jargon, they don’t come across as very trustworthy either.
This is just one simple example, but there actually exists a multitude of situations where engineers lack effective communication. Engineers are used to speaking to other engineers using technical terms to facilitate communication. Already there, effective communication is crucial, not only in speech, but also in its written form. A geotechnical engineer reading a well-communicated brief will normally immediately be aware of the associated design challenges. But effective communication does not stop there.

Real engineering leaders are also able to communicate effectively with a large variety of audiences. This is why for the “Inspiration” attribute of the SELA programme, the ability to “communicate with a range of technical and non-technical audiences, through different media and channels” is listed as a requirement. Consider for example that numerous solutions often have associated dangers to them; when properly addressed do not present any real issues. Yet when a small detail is overlooked, or worse, misunderstood, accidents prevail.

Luckily there are various ways of learning these skills. One of them is by following the online MOOC course called Technical Report Writing for Engineers, which will start on October 16th, and is free to join by anyone in the world. Education has never been more accessible than today.

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