The first few years of a career in engineering go by very quickly and can be overwhelming. On construction sites, you try and ensure that everything is being built per the plans and specifications and answer the questions of the contractor. This results in a lot of calls back to the office to get answers and confirmation. I remember the first time a contractor asked me if it was okay to make a slight change to the design to make things easier on their end. I didn’t know what went into the design and reasoning behind the design, so I could not give an answer without calling back to the office. When in the office, you are tying to get familiar with multiple design codes that are always getting updated and changed, learning how to design, learning what goes into developing a plan set or cost estimating, so you’re constantly asking questions. A lot of this requires engineering judgement, which can be frustrating because at this stage in your career, that is not something you have. Throughout this time, you are gaining an understanding of how things get built and what goes into it. It is a whirlwind of uncertainty while you constantly try to figure out the right way to go about things how things are supposed to be done.
Getting your Bearings
After a few years, you start to gain some traction in what you are doing. Those calls back to the office when you are on construction sites become much less frequent. You know where to find a lot of the information you need without asking for as much guidance and start to notice some of the differences in the design codes when they are updated. You are beginning to grow an arsenal of past projects you worked on that you can draw from and start to take on more responsibility.
I remember when a younger engineer asked me a question on how to perform a certain design calculation, and I was able to provide the reference in the code and an example calculation that I had done on a previous project. I was pleasantly surprised with myself after the young engineer successfully walked away with all the information they needed, with a clear understanding of how to proceed, and no additional questions. As your experience grows, so does your involvement on each project you work on. Then it is time for the next big step, studying for the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. Before you know it, you are a licensed Professional Engineer with a stamp.
On your way to Substantial Completion
Looking around, you may not feel like you are at the level of those around you who have been stamping plan sets for years, but you are starting to make progress and have more confidence. That time spent in the field on construction sites is now coming in handy when designing by knowing what the contractor had difficulty doing and what went wrong. Your understanding of the full process of design and pulling plans together has you looking ahead and taking charge of what needs to be done to meet the overall goals of the project. You are more aware of the bigger picture of the project instead of focused on the individual task that you were assigned. You begin to give input based on the experience you gained opposed to always deferring to those with more experience. All this time, you continue to gain confidence. It all goes by so fast that being asked to write a blog about your first seven years of experience as an engineer is what it finally takes to get you to realize just how far you have come.