getting things done

Top 7 books every engineer should read

1.The Four Hour Chef — Tim Ferriss

this book outlines some key frameworks for thinking about structuring complicated problems, and optimizing learning of new and difficult concepts. He applies this particularly to food, but his techniques apply to anything.
If you’re going to be an engineering student, which likely leads you to being an engineer for the next 30+ years of your life, you had best learn to cook. It is easier than multi-body dynamics, and as quick to learn as any physics concept. Learning to feed yourself, properly, and doing so 2–3 times per day will not only make you a better cook, it will make you a better engineer.

2.The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People — Stephen Covey

The tips in this book are simple, open-ended, and easy to follow, but are the kind of things you wish you would do all the time, but don’t. Just as the most important things in life you likely learned in Kindergarten, this book lays it out simply, straight-forward, and challenges you to revisit the basics. If you want to become better than your peers, you just need to master the basics, and everything else will follow.
Just as in an engineering degree, the things you learn in your first 2 years are fundamental building blocks to the things you learn in your last 2 years. Ultimately, if you can master the basics, the really complex systems can easily be broken down. If you fail to master the basics, it’s an uphill battle.

3.Zero to One — Peter Thiel

This is the more important book on start-ups, economics, business design, and the future of tech that has ever been written.
This book fundamentally changed the way I think about business. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t read the vast enormity of business books out there (because you really should), I am just saying that if you ever are considering going into business for yourself, as an entrepreneur or otherwise, you should read this book.

4.Engineer to Win — Caroll Smith

Caroll Smith is legendary in the high-performance racing (Formula 1) community, and has written half-a-dozen books on the topic. This one in particular I find super interesting.
If you’re a Mechanical, Aerospace, Mechatronics, Systems, or Materials engineering student, this will be doubly applicable given the nature of the research, but it is still relevant for any discipline. The commitment to performance at a world-class level is clearly demonstrated, and in particular this book talks about the process of engineering world-class results.

5.Set Phasers on Stun – S. M. Casey

This was a book that first-year Systems Design Engineers at Waterloo were encouraged to read as part of the curriculum in their introductory class.
The gist of this book is “What happens when you design something, and everything goes wrong?”. Unfortunately, as engineers, we have to deal with designing things for people who may not understand the underlying complexity of what we are designing. This often means including some sort of interface between system and user. Sometimes, if we fail to design things properly, things go horribly wrong.

6.An Astronaut’s Guide to Life — Chris Hadfield

Chris Hadfield is not only a flippin’ astronaut, he was the Chief of the ISS – a title NASA doesn’t just hand out willy-nilly – as well as a passionate Canadian, Leafs fan (it’s okay, we’ll forgive him for this), and musician. He took space travel from a reserved science, and brought it back to the public attention at levels comparable to Neil Amstrong and the Apollo missions.His book is full of insights on life, love, commitment, determination, happiness, and what it ultimately takes to be an astronaut – both in space, and on earth.

 6.Getting Things Done — David Allen

This book is not only legendary, it has a cult-like following, entire conferences devoted to its teachings, and likely about 100 follow-up books by various authors. You know you are on to something when someone else writes a book about your book.
If Zero to One is about “Doing the Right Things”, Getting Things Done is about “Doing Things Right”.

7.How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big — Scott Adams

Firstly, Scott Adams is amazing. Dilbert is hilarious. You should buy this book exclusively for that reason.
Secondly, after reading something as dark as Set Phasers on Stun, you’re going to need something much lighter to keep you going.
Finally, this book is chalk full of life lessons, hilarious anecdotes, and Adams’ classic humour.
For engineers especially, it is important to recognize that at some point in your career, you’re going to screw it all up. Your project will fail, your career might tank, you will have family struggles, and you will undoubtedly feel pretty low. What Mr. Adams eloquently explains in his book, through anecdotes and otherwise, is how you can still manage to be successful despite those lows.

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