This is a broad question that will likely be answered by many people.
I would say to focus on those topics that I have either covered or experienced:
- Troubleshooting: This is how you troubleshoot and fix things, even if it means fixing your grandmother’s TV. It’s amazing how many Electrical Engineers I have met who don’t know how to tie cables or weld resistors. It sounds simple and you may not be doing this in the future but it is still a lot like a doctor not being able to sew a patient.
- Learn to use the basic tools. I had a classmate once who couldn’t even understand how to use an Oscilloscope. He was half-way through college, so it was absurd to just say he didn’t know how to use it. It was frightening to let him use voltage sources. Having him measure things using a multimeter could lead to some blown fuse. These were the basic tools in a laboratory, and he couldn’t use any of them. By the time we realized it, it was too late to speak out. He kept it to himself and went about his life skipping this as much possible. Although I offered to help him in my spare time, he was too lazy or too concerned. You’ll likely end up working alongside people who are more experienced than you if you land your first engineering job. And they won’t want to have to change diapers. They are looking for fresh minds. But they also want to be able to absorb information quickly. If you don’t have the ability to learn quickly, you will need time to master the tool you are being trained.
- You must be computer and network savvy: This may seem absurd, but it is essential for your growth. Many professionals I know are not able to solve simple problems on Windows. Learn networking-related stuff. This is an expected skill and can make the difference in getting a job. It can be very useful to learn how to set up small offices. This is also a nice way to present yourself.
- Do not forget to practice your math skills. This is the most important thing we forget after we graduate college. It’s a skill that will set you apart. Plus, it can be embarrassing to run into an uber-nerd (Because they are regular nerds) who kicks you in the stomach because you don’t know how to solve Differencial equations. It can get tiresome. I was a student of more than 10 math courses with the name Math Something. I don’t count Physics or Electromagnetism. My brain discarded them all as soon as they were finished. This means that I cannot solve equations without using notes or Google formulas. This is very frustrating for me as I have a lot of “intimate information” in my brain. Keep that knowledge up-to-date, it will help you understand more complicated things and can even help you intimidate your boos.
- Programming is so fundamental these days that I cannot stress enough how important it is. Learn programming to save yourself the hassle. You can do anything, even HTML. Just learn something. You’ll be interacting with Software Engineers a lot in today’s world. These guys are like Green Lantern and The Flash in that they only have one superpower. But it’s hard to beat. You want to be on an even playing field. To do that, you need to understand their words. They will respect you more if they can follow you.
- Automation and PLC: These are essential. These topics are not offered by all schools. Find a way to study them yourself. My major was more focused on Telecommunications than on Automation. I found it difficult to follow along because the fields in which I worked did not have anything to do with Telecommunications. A lot of jobs in today’s automated world will require that you are proficient at this. This is something you should master.
- Your analytical skills are what will make you an engineer. You must be able to solve problems and analyze situations. You don’t have an engineering degree, but you haven’t faced a problem in the real world. College teaches you how you can be an engineer so that you can apply these skills to your particular needs.
- Never stop learning from yourself: It is one of the most valuable skills you will ever have. It is essential that you are able and willing to learn from others. You won’t be able to do this if you don’t know how. You should love to self-teach, research, read lots, and learn as much as you can. Even if it’s not directly related to engineering, keep your mind busy. You can be an engineer who knows how to build anything, even if your major doesn’t.
- Flexibility is key: You shouldn’t be a person who can play every Mozart song ever written on the piano but cannot brush his teeth. You don’t want to be an engineer who can make an iPhone from scratch, but cannot explain to clients how the new product will improve his productivity by 20%. You don’t have to be an engineer who can fix every Magnatrom 3000, but cannot present, or create a sales plan. You will be unique if you are versatile and can use your social skills to enhance your math skills.
- English is essential. You will be out of the game if you cannot speak English fluently. Spend some time learning that skill. You’ll be able to meet with guys from Europe, America, or Asia when you get the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues. The lingua francisca will be English. You don’t want to make these guys feel dumb for not being able to speak proper English. They probably already know 4 languages. You don’t need to have a funny accent. Learn proper English and choose an accent. Learn a third language. This will allow you to interact with professionals in a more professional manner and will increase your value as a professional. As I mentioned, children in northern Europe speak at least 3-4 languages. You want to improve your skills. Because I enjoy German and have the feeling that they will be the new English within the next few decades, I would recommend it. Mandarin is also a good choice. You don’t need to learn any third language, but you should be able to speak at least two languages fluently, including English. One time I was in northern Europe and met a gentleman who worked for a company that I was visiting to train. He was not only a great person, but could also speak English, Finnish, and Swedish so fluently that I initially thought he was an American living abroad. He could also speak German but claimed that he was not fluent. Everyone loved him, including me.
These are the main points I remember at the moment. These may not be the technical points that you expected, but they are still very useful as you grow in your career.
Good preparation is key to maximizing the opportunity.