Believe it or not, being a great and successful engineer doesn’t always mean you are the smartest in the room. While technical skills are absolutely necessary, I would like to talk about the other side of the fence. In fact, some of the most successful engineers I have worked with haven’t been the smartest in the room, but they all did share a few non-technical traits that I have picked up to excel in my own career that has merit sharing.

Unmitigated Curiosity

Software engineering is built upon abstractions at multiple levels. High level abstractions conceptually are built on the idea that one can learn and manipulate a set of instructions or code with minimal understanding of what is occurring behind the curtain. Often times you are working in the context of a library or framework that was built as a high level abstraction to provide a user functionality without needing to know what is behind said curtain.

The trait of having unmitigated curiosity at its core is the having the innate want to decompose these high level abstractions to understand how the system works under the hood. The passion and desire to understand how the architecture of a system interacts with the bigger picture leads to a strong foundation of knowledge on how all the pieces of the puzzle interact. It’s this unmitigated curiosity and willingness to learn that sets apart one engineer from another.

Selfless Mentor

A “selfless” mentor is a mentor who is motivated and energized in dedicating their time in the interest of developing others. Mentorship not only develops the mentor, but also the mentee.  The reason this is so powerful is mentorship is a symbiotic relationship that cultivates growth for both parties. Successful engineers aren’t always focused on their own growth, but rather the growth of the team and organization as well.

The power of mentorship lies not only in the knowledge sharing on behalf of the individual seeking help. When you have to break down a concept to explain to others, it reinforces your own knowledge of that concept. The most successful engineers I have worked with are “selfless” mentors but not in the sense that they have no concern for themselves literally, rather they are passionate about helping others and developing trust in the eyes of their peers by sharing their interests and knowledge learned over time through their unmitigated curiosity and passion of their craft.


Interpersonal Excellence

One of the most underrated traits of a successful engineer is interpersonal excellence. Interpersonal skills consist of a combination of strong and competent social and people skills. A successful engineer is able to articulate clearly engineering architecture and how it interacts with in the larger scope of a project. Successful engineers have empathy and assume positive intent when teammates struggle to grasp a concept or when an incident has occurred. Successful engineers are able to network, collaborate, and provide value in a team environment when ideas clash. Successful engineers aren’t afraid to share their opinions and share their knowledge and accomplishments to others for the betterment of others.

It’s these traits that help set a regular engineer from a great engineer. There are plenty of engineers who can code circles around others, however, it’s the engineers with interpersonal excellence that really stand apart and shine. Engineers that are trusted by their colleagues and are easily approachable by others are the engineers others remember when they think about whom to look up to.

In brief, unmitigated curiosity to learn and share learnings, being a selfless mentor to others, and having strong interpersonal excellence are traits that every great engineer should have. It’s these traits that I have adapted and learned from others in my career that have helped me excel tremendously, and I encourage you to think retrospectively on how you can incorporate these into your own and the benefits they share.