Prepare and execute a plan for balance and growth in the three biggest areas of your engineering career: technical ability, social skills, and stewardship of the profession.
The junior engineer’s most important goal should be to balance the three aspects of their career: technical ability, social skills, and stewardship of the profession. Each aspect can be focused on like an individual skill. Neglecting one of these areas can result in a loss of opportunity.
- Technical ability. To increase your technical ability, review the standards, criteria, or design manuals of your discipline. Your knowledge base will quickly increase by doing this for one hour a day. Use your lunch break. Reviewing plans or reports that have already been completed by your managers is a great way of increasing your technical knowledge. This will give you insight into how design criteria are implemented into the final product.
- Social skills. Out of college, many young professionals have no real experience with interacting in a professional environment. It is essential to improve verbal communication. The best avenue for practicing this in a safe setting is a Toastmasters group. During a Toastmasters Table Topics session, you give an impromptu speech for up to two minutes. These short speeches teach you to slow down, clarify your thinking, enunciate your speech, and organize a line of reason. The effect bleeds over into daily conversations. It’s more than removing “ums” and “ahs” from your language. Speaking with a clear line of thinking greatly enhances the credibility of your argument. Once you’ve developed the ability to speak up, you need to learn when it’s best to stay quiet. This can only come from paying attention to your setting. Sometimes you’re just there to see how things are done, not to speak out of turn. Recognizing the limits of your experience and when your input is not needed shows maturity. Written communication is next, but that will be covered in another article.
- Stewardship of the profession. This may be the area that gets neglected the most. Engineers are trusted by society to build infrastructure and enhance quality of life. Previously I discussed “The Four Types of Problems all Engineers Must Solve.” The final problem discussed in that article was something neither your company nor your industry have solved. These are the problems that can define a worthy career. Stewardship can also be fostered by joining a professional society such as ASCE and serving on the board. These board positions take you through the cycle of leadership within that organization, exposing you to a broader network. This broader network will lead to greater opportunities to grow the profession.
You should also develop a curiosity for the profession beyond these three areas. Learn about the built world outside of your area of expertise. You work in a fascinating and important field. You should feel privileged to tell people you’re an engineer. I do.
Kyle Cheerangie is a project manager at HNTB Corporation, and is the founder and director of content for the blog Engineered Journals. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.