As an engineer, there are numerous avenues your career can take you down: teaching, research and development, consulting, design, construction, management, and many more. Each of our journeys are unique and can take us to different places. I’m currently in the middle of my own career journey. After starting as an entry engineer in the public sector, I eventually worked my way over to the private sector and expanded my skills in engineering plus project management, client relations, business development and anything else I got the opportunity to take on. Even though I’m nowhere near finished learning and growing, I have gained valuable experience and lessons I enjoy sharing with others. Some of the most important lessons I’ve learned so far are:
You get what you ask for.
As an engineer, it is important to keep learning, technically and personally. In the engineering industry, there are plenty of opportunities to learn and grow. Throughout my career, I have asked for opportunities to build both soft and hard skills to become more competent. More often than not, I found that asking for opportunities was well worth the effort, and I wasn’t denied the opportunity to grow. The more you ask for, the more you will learn. You won’t know unless you ask. I believe I have become the engineer I am today due to this philosophy.
Growth happens outside your comfort zone.
Some of the best learning experiences I have had in my career have also been the most challenging. If you never stretch yourself and see what you can do, it’s easy to stagnate. Challenge yourself to take on what you can handle and don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone. At the same time, don’t be afraid to step back when needed so as not to stretch yourself too thin. You can’t pour from an empty cup!
The best way to learn is to teach.
We all have to start somewhere. Once you get some experience under your belt, it is time to share it with the next generation. Being a mentor for new staff and entry-level engineers has helped to increase my interpersonal skills as well as my technical knowledge. Learning how to interact with your colleagues and communicate effectively is an asset to your project and personal growth. And aside from the individual benefits, teaching benefits the collective as well—taking what I learn and passing it on to the next person helps our team be more efficient and build relationships.
Another way to increase your experience and push your boundaries is getting involved in industry committees and groups within your company. I take pride in the work I do and the company I work for. Therefore, I jump at the opportunity to participate in making our company better and staying ahead of the game. Being involved in the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) has given me the opportunity to practice leadership while actively participating as a board member for the Sacramento Post and a chair for the young professional group. It has provided opportunities to network, get engaged in events, and learn about topics I wouldn’t have anywhere else. I have built relationships with other young professionals and learned from experienced professionals from diverse backgrounds.
You can also get involved internally within your own company. Mead & Hunt provides opportunities for employees to champion initiatives or participate in those already established. These committees allow me the chance to not only speak my mind but do something about it. It is an empowering feeling, and it takes me outside my comfort zone. Being involved in the industry and at your company can help you gain experience and recognition.
One of the biggest takeaways I have from my own experience is the wide variety of paths available to us as engineers. Your career may take on many different forms as the years pass. The key is to develop into a path that suits your passions and strengths. To any young—or veteran—engineers out there reading this blog, I ask you to challenge yourself to always be learning and growing. What do you want your career journey to look like and how will you get there? Asking yourself these questions is vital to creating the career you want.