Rickover Series #1: Engineering Opportunities

Rickover Series #1: Engineering Opportunities

What follows are notes from Admiral Rickover's speech: Engineering Opportunities

The Administrator's Job

The most important function of an administrator is:

  • Selection of personnel
  • Training of personnel

"If one chooses the right people, there is little else to do"

Purpose vs Security

On graduation, don't go for the job with the highest salary.

But go for the job with the highest potential for improving your capabilities.

A university graduate is to be an elite.

Basic food security & shelter is mostly guaranteed.

Work for a higher purpose, not security.

The need to read voraciously

Most students are poorly read: majority do not read at all, the rest read news, periodicals and
such stuff.

Reading should not be seen as a "good thing to do" like going to church.

Reading should be seen as a way for accelerating our learning rate.

Three ways to learn:

  • Reading
  • Observation
  • Doing things

The years available in a lifetime to learn is small.

And reading is the most efficient method, to acquire the most knowledge for the least time and effort investment.

To produce a great book, the erudite scholar may have spent a whole life time.

But we can acquire the essence of their learning in a matter of hours.

Great books allow us to multiply ourselves, to live several lives in one.

How to allocate time

Rickover emphasizes conscious allocation of time:

For each activity ask: "Will this help me become a better human? Will it lead to deeper understanding?"

Rickover says such conscious use of time makes a life rich and enjoyable.

What to focus on during university or courses?

Engineers tend to learn many, many facts in university.

They have memorized a lot (from texbooks/courses).

So how should one read and learn?

Pay more importance to PRINCIPLES, rather than mere facts.

Focus more on mathematics, physics, mechanics, and metallurgy, chemistry.

With principles, it is easy to learn practical aspects such as:

  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering

Rickover warns against early over-specialization.

Through over-specialization, man becomes like a useful machine, he says.

A person should strive to be "harmoniously developed" rather than like a "well-trained dog"

Rickover doesn't care what practical skills the student have when they graduate from

Anyway, these cannot be learned within a classroom since the University produces "Textbook Engineers"

He prefers hiring people with a solid understanding of principles.

Qualities of a great new engineer

Qualities rickover values in a new engineer:

  • Intelligence
  • Enthusiasm
  • Humility (know that you don't know anything, for the first few years)
  • Hard work
  • Accepting responsibility

Engineer vs Manager

Rickover bursts the idea people often hold, that:

"The more number of people I manage, the more powerful and worthy of prestige I am"

His counter-argument is simple:

"On this basis Einstein is not as important as the foreman of a railroad gang"

One should respect Engineers & Scientists.

About the need for certainty

Most engineering graduates crave exact answers, due to years of conditioning during their textbook based training.

Unfortunately, in real life, there are no exact or final answers.

Rickover suggests developing a maturity to say, all solutions are partial solutions.

Importance of Conviction

The elite students graduating from university must stand for something.

They must set extremely high standards, and inspire others to follow suit.

Only then their education can be said to have worked.

The ills of selling yourself

In society, success depends not on pure merit.

One may do a job to perfection.

But without selling themselves & projecting "personality", success is difficult to attain.

In selling oneself, a person ends up feeling like a commodity

Don't drown in selling yourself in this way

What do you think?

That's it, for now. Thanks for reading Rickover's insights.
I'll be posting more about Rickover, in the future.

What ideas resonated with you the most?

Leave a comment or follow me @shrsv23

Find all posts in the Rickover Series under the Rickover tag.