Chad Hartmann, P.E.
Welcome to the first edition of real world advice from real world engineers! This blog is the beginning of a series of blogs that will provide advice to graduate engineers on various aspects of the engineering world such as advice on your first year as a graduate engineer, professional organizations, and tips to help you prepare for the PE exam. This first edition focuses on the importance of senior staff to your career development, asking the right questions, and relationships with local agencies. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy the read.
What should graduate engineers expect when they start their new careers? Life-long learning. You may have just graduated and feel like your young mind can't grow any more than it did while you were in college. Think again. This is the equivalent of starting out in kindergarten. What you learned in college gives you the technical background to understand the theory of why you do what you do in your Civil Engineering career, but it doesn't give you a full grasp on what you actually do.
College teaches you to color between the lines and to play nice on the playground. When you get into the real world, and start your career, you learn how to apply that theory and solve real problems. You know, the problems like “Train A leaves Dallas at 55 mph and Train B leaves Houston at 95 mph, where do they intersect”? The answer is they don't. The problem never specified their direction of travel. You'll soon realize that a vital aspect of your career growth involves something you might not have tried in college. Asking questions. You don’t know what you don't know.
One thing to consider when you begin that new job is that you are surrounded by a wealth, a plethora, of experience and knowledge, so take advantage of it. If we tried to reinvent the wheel every day then we would not be surrounded by the marvelous world you see outside the window of your office building or in your car as you travel. The senior partners in your firm have been there, they've done that, and they got a t-shirt AND a mug. They will be your greatest source of information and your ally. Ask for their advice. Ask for their opinion. Even if it doesn't match what you were thinking, respect that they are looking at your problem from an angle you never thought about.
Ask your peers what they did. Together, you are the future and will rely on each other 10, 20, 30 or more years from now. Absorb as much information as you can now, because it only makes it easier when you get older.
Ask the question "why?" not like when you were a toddler and that was the only word you knew, but because you will become the policy makers, the enforcers. Question everything. Why does it have to be this way and why can't it be that way if it works better and is more economical? Ask why the design standards tell you to use a certain slope for a certain storm pipe size. The more inquisitive you are about your world and how it works, or why it works, the better world you will make, not only for you but for those who follow you.
Take the time to get to know the reviewers at your local agencies. They are people too and they just want to do their job the best they can. In college, they teach you to play nice on the playground. The local agency is that playground. Be respectful but stand strong when you are right. Play to win but know that someday, someone will be better than you and you will lose. Don’t give up in those instances. Learn from the mistake, as mistakes will always be made, but move on from it.