I honestly wish someone had written a book titled ‘How to be an engineer’ with some 'tips' and 'tricks' guide on how to apply and enhance what we've already learned in real projects.
I honestly wished someone had written a book titled ‘How to be an engineer’. I don’t mean a career guide on what subjects to study or course to do. I don’t even mean an all-encompassing technical guide on how to design every type of structure (although, if anyone had one of those, please contact me!). Rather, some sort of 'tips' and 'tricks' guide on how to apply and enhance what we've already learned in real projects.
It was not until I commenced work experience as an undergraduate, and more recently my graduate role with Beca, that I gained a deeper appreciation and understanding of what exactly it means to be an engineer.
First, engineers are required to see the bigger picture. As students, we are trained to analyse and solve problems. Having worked on several projects so far, I’ve found that university trains us to solve isolated components. Whilst this is vital, we don’t often consider other key aspects of design such as constructability and even common industry practices. I’ve learned very quickly that being able to step back, see the bigger picture and conceptually assess the system is a vital skill for professional engineers.
Secondly, don’t forget the real output. As a graduate structural engineer, I’ve spend my time modelling and calculating. Being new to the design scene, I find it easy to become consumed by these aspects. However, these are not the end products required by the clients. Structures are not constructed from my calculations, no matter how neat or complete they are. Rather, engineers need to translate the analysis results into something tangible.
Thirdly, engineering is after all a business. Whilst at university, I remember many of my peers and I believed we escaped the world of economics and finance. This however, is nothing but a delusion. We are, after all, in the business of client service. Particularly, in an employee owned consultancy such as Beca, it is vital to understand the company’s strategic vision and current economic position in order to be of greater asset to the company. On an individual level, marketing, personal branding and networking are essential to becoming a successful consultant engineer.
It is vital to ask questions. Engineers are a passionate bunch and enjoy sharing their knowledge and experiences. My colleagues always encourage me to be inquisitive (embrace the “no question is a silly question” mantra). However, observing my senior colleagues in action proves that questions are not exclusively for budding engineers like myself. They are an integral part of consulting; allowing a greater understanding of a project and client requirements. As such, asking the right questions is a desirable skill in itself.
On a personal note, I’ve found it very useful to pause and reflect periodically on the projects I’ve worked on. Unlike university, learning in a professional engineering role occurs more subtly and indirectly. I’ve found this habit helpful in managing expectations of myself, promoting patience, as well as fuelling the passion for further learning.
Engineering is a sophisticated art which requires skills in all areas of business. It is no wonder such a degree can bring a multitude of career opportunities. Many promised me engineering would be a career riddled with challenges and diversity. It is becoming more apparent to me each day why this promise was so easily made, and why it is a career which offers such reward and satisfaction. These are the main notes I’ve made in my first five months at Beca. What’s on your guide to being an engineer?