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  • 1.  What advice would you give engineers just starting their career and why?

    Posted 01-20-2020 06:29 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 01-30-2020 11:12 AM
    It would be great to hear from engineers at all career stages (early, mid, and late) on what advice you would give someone just starting their career in civil engineering and why does it matter.

    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX

  • 2.  RE: What advice would you give engineers just starting their career and why?

    Posted 01-21-2020 10:03 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 01-30-2020 11:12 AM
    Greetings Mitchell, 
    You have opened an interesting topic of conversation. When I first started my career as a junior project engineer I was assigned a mentor to guide me through the difference thoughts and practical knowledge with this discipline. Through my experience I can say it was very rewarding but most of all my mentor give me the leverage to think open minded and when mistake were made  he would explain and provide the reasons. This also allowed me to build confidence in my day to day thinking and view all possible options before concluding on a final decision. This type of experience is critical for junior engineers to appreciate the discipline and growth as the years pass.

    Malik Daniyel M.ASCE, RCOP
    Design Consultant
    MD Designs & Consultants
    Bridgetown Barbados

  • 3.  RE: What advice would you give engineers just starting their career and why?

    Posted 01-22-2020 10:10 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 01-30-2020 11:12 AM
    Say yes a lot, when asked to do things a little beyond your comfort zone.  When you first start, your comfort zone is very small, so expand it as quickly as you can by saying yes.

    Learn to say no politely when you have passed beyond your reasonable capacity (I call this bandwidth) to do things.  Some ways to say no might be:
    1.  I would love to help you in 2 weeks when I have all the high priority things currently on my plate completed on schedule.
    2.  I wish I could help you on this project, but I do not have enough time available.  I think Bill or Kate has some time, perhaps you could ask them.
    3.  Ask what the schedule is, and how many hours of work it should be.  If you can fit it in, tell them you will work on it, in a non-priority fashion until all your current high priority items are completed then put it on the top of the list.

    Item 3 sometimes gets you in schedule trouble if they do not understand how low of priority the new work will be to you.  Please learn to make that very clear up front.

    Dwayne Culp, Ph.D., Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE
    Culp Engineering, LLC
    Rosenberg TX

  • 4.  RE: What advice would you give engineers just starting their career and why?

    Posted 01-22-2020 10:09 AM
    I would say to get as broad an education as possible in college.  By this I mean, don't focus just on your area of specialty; if you are studying steel structures, make sure you understand concrete, foundations, soils, hydraulics, electricity, traffic, and construction.  I didn't say to "know" them, just understand about them and how each interacts with your specialty.  (And, oh yes they do!)
    I have seen many designs in my time that were wonderful if considered alone.  But, when the other factors were considered, those same wonderful designs became either poor or unworkable.  I guess it's a variation on "Know thy enemy!"

    James Justin Mercier, P.E.
    Life Member ASCE
    Sr. Life Member IEEE
    Austin Texas

  • 5.  RE: What advice would you give engineers just starting their career and why?

    Posted 01-23-2020 08:53 PM

    I would suggest that a young engineer join one or more professional associations relevant to your technical field and become active in them. Volunteer for technical committees. Help organize, not just attend events. Attend seminars and conferences. One way to pretty much guarantee that your employer will sponsor seminar/conference attendance is to write a paper and get it accepted.  Eventually local board chairs will open up. As your career advances, state or even national board membership may be in your reach. 

    I can't overemphasize how this approach advanced my career, and it will yours as well  

    Bevin Beaudet P.E., M.ASCE
    Bevin A. Beaudet, P.E., LLC.
    West Palm Beach FL

  • 6.  RE: What advice would you give engineers just starting their career and why?

    Posted 01-22-2020 12:39 PM
    Lately I have been feeling the biggest learning experience (that I'm still working on) is that everything is iterative. Be prepared to start (almost) all over again each time you get to a final solution.

    In school, you are given a well-defined assignment, then you do the work and present the answer. In my career, I have rarely been presented with a clear task; my first step (which may be repeated several times throughout the project) will be to define the goal. I then move on to the "work" part; each time I do the work, I learn new things about the project, tweak the goal, and decide what needs to change to deliver a better solution. I restart the work with the new goal and the new information. 

    This process would be endless except that we have a budget and a deadline. The budget and the deadline don't always account properly for the time and effort needed to perform the necessary iterations. When faced with that dilemma, remember always to work with defensible methods and upstanding ethics. Practice getting comfortable letting go of your first solution and trust that you will find a better one.

    Karen Bolan P.E., M.ASCE
    Santa Rosa CA

  • 7.  RE: What advice would you give engineers just starting their career and why?

    Posted 01-29-2020 04:50 PM

    A couple of pieces advice that I would offer.

    Develop a strong competence in at least one sub-discipline early in your career. This gives you everlasting "street credentials" in your area of expertise and provides a fundamental skill set to fall back on over your career.  Conversely, be cautious in broadening too soon, e.g., moving into project engineering. Once you go off the purely technical track it's hard to get back on. For one, there is risk of no longer being competitive if you do go back. Competence development may be less an issue for those on the PE track than those working in an industrial setting, but something to keep in mind. I for one had a great career but missed the satisfaction of being able to call myself a structural engineer, having broadened too early.

    Understand and be able to articulate how you add value. This is important for reviews, your resume, and interviews. At the end of the day employers are looking for one of four metrics from you. How can you:

    1. Help them make money
    2. Help them save money
    3. Help them grow their business
    4. Help them solve a vexing problem that's standing in the way of achieving 1, 2 or 3.

    Being able to take what you can do, your skills and competence, or have done, your achievements, and in put in terms of 1-4 helps to answer the important "so what"  or "why care" question. Obviously, 1,2 and 3 are non-starters or a stretch for someone starting out or early in their career, but 4 is fair game. Additionally, these metrics are important for articulating the value proposition for business improvement initiatives that you might propose or be responsible for implementing.

    The above list was offered to me by a career development professional following my retirement while I was updating my resume and it really hit home for me.  I like to think that I always had a good appreciation for how I was adding value during my career but sometimes overcomplicated the message. I would have benefited from the simplicity of the above metrics.

    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX

  • 8.  RE: What advice would you give engineers just starting their career and why?

    Posted 05-05-2020 02:53 PM
    As James notes above:
    "I would say to get as broad an education as possible in college."  

    While a great objective, most engineering programs focus on the technology, with little integration of the people, process, and leadership knowledge and skill development to transform individual engineering experts into an expert team. Calling a group of professionals assigned to work together "Our Project Team" is not true without the evidence.

    Given the major challenges you will face in the real world of engineering work are groups of people who each bring, along with their engineering knowledge,
    their habits to work, two perspectives will face you each and every day on each and every project:
    1. Technology.
    2. Working with people, process and leadership, or the lack thereof.

    Invest in self-education of the art and science of how to play nice with others, particularly those you may not wish to be life-long colleagues.

    Some suggestions:
    a. Socio-cultural-psychology
    b. Work of Kurt Lewin, e.g.,"Force-Field Analysis."

    Stay Healthy!


    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880