Reflections on Engineering as a Career
Edgar G. Williams, PE, President ACEC/G
I have had an unusually diverse engineering career. It has included design and project engineering in industrial Research and Development and later private practice Consulting Engineering. Assuming my readers will include fellow professional engineers, students heading towards a career in engineering, and young engineers, I would like to share some of the perspectives I have gained on engineering as a career and the particular career path of consulting engineering.
My first two jobs were with major international conglomerates. My major was mechanical engineering, with early career experiences in heat transfer, machine design, and mechanical system analysis for the plastics and electronics industries. I actually used calculus!
The last two jobs, including my current position, have been with small-business engineering consulting firms as an owner. Consulting engineers work under a contractual relationship to provide engineering services for businesses, governments, or institutions when they don’t have permanent staff to perform certain types of work or lack specialized knowledge or staff resources for a particular need. There are consulting engineers in all the specialties, like civil, mechanical, and electrical. For many years now I have managed multi-disciplined projects that were mostly “public works” oriented.
It has been my experience that engineering is a great career choice for people who can tolerate math, and enjoy science. Many disciplines/professions study some form of science but don’t do much with it except be better informed on issues when a scientific principal is involved, as frequently happens in day-to-day life. However, engineers of all disciplines use that scientific knowledge to solve problems and develop solutions instead of just adding to humanity’s knowledge-base. We want to feel we have accomplished something useful in our work endeavors, rather than just earn a pay check. The National Society of Professional Engineers uses a catchy phrase: “Engineering: Turning Ideas into Reality”.
Settling on a Field of Practice and Choosing Your Future Job
I have been in conversations with fellow engineers when the question came up, “Why did you decide to major in ____ engineering?” Sometimes it was because of a thoughtful decision making process that involved examination of skills and interests. However, the range of answers usually included some less than thoughtful reasons like: “I heard it had easier labs.”; “It had the shortest line at registration.” or “I had a friend in the same major!”
There are a number of questions to consider in choosing your technical specialty or branch of engineering. Is the field related to your personal interests? Does it fit your personal mission in life? Does the field have a positive outlook in the economy of the future? Are you driven solely by making as much money as possible, or are you looking for career involvement with something that improves public health and safety, protects the environment, or otherwise improves the quality of life?
Early in my career I had job offers from different companies that would have involved designing machines that packaged panty hose, equipment to manufacture potato chips, packaging machines for candy bars, and production of cigarette filter material. I could never get comfortable with accepting those jobs. They did not fit my goals for work satisfaction that I eventually found in consulting engineering even though they were often higher paying.
The two characteristics of consulting engineering that appeal to me the most are (1) the variety of work assignments, and (2) the satisfaction of seeing important needs being satisfied in an enduring way, and every once in a while with a “monumental” result. As you evaluate your engineering career options, consider how you would answer this question from your grandchildren, “Granddad, what did you do in your job?”
Help is available for making career decisions. I have found that practicing engineers are almost always willing to spend some time mentoring interested students to provide insight into what they do in their careers and what types of engineering issues they work with on a daily basis. Many firms offer internships and co-op opportunities that are extremely useful in deciding on a college major. Published data suggests that engineers who had an internship or co-op opportunity as an undergraduate noted higher job-satisfaction in their careers. Take the initiative and contact several firms.
Trends, Past and Future
We talk a lot about “Emerging Trends” these days. There are many speakers (also selling their books) offering their insight into opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for engineers. We should pay close attention and use the available information as best we can in moving forward.
Consistent with the worn-out saying, my hindsight is 20-20. I wish I had had more insights available to me earlier in my career. Below are several things I did not foresee, but borrowing a quote from fellow South Carolina native, Darius Rucker (formerly of Hootie and the Blowfish), “Thank God for all I missed
'cause it led me here to this.”
1. The enjoyment I would receive from the human-interaction involved in solving engineering problems and managing business issues.
2. That I was not going to be the source of all knowledge and that almost every problem has been studied by someone, somewhere, sometime.
3. That there are non-engineers out there, including public-minded elected officials, contractors, and tradesmen for example, who are very savvy, dedicated, and effective in dealing with complex issues.
4. That computerized automation and control would become thoroughly integrated into all engineering disciplines, radically changing how we design things.
5. That getting my Professional Engineering license (even though I was initially in an exempt industrial job), would add much flexibility in my career path.
6. That so many of my early-career references are retired or deceased now that I am finally applying for National Council of Engineering Examiners registration.
I did guess correctly on one thing. That beyond the satisfaction of “giving something back”, volunteer involvement in service organizations and professional/technical associations would be extremely valuable in developing my personal skill-set and making significant business contacts. As with the other engineering associations featured in Georgia Engineer, ACEC/G’s forums, committees, and programs provide “soft-skill” development to its members in a very cost effective way. As an engineering employer, I have used these opportunities to enhance leadership development, networking skills, and public speaking skills for myself and my staff. I believe the time committed will payback dramatically in staff development and new business.
The Winthrop University Campus Green Project is Selected as a National Honor Award
After being honored as one of the top projects in this year’s American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) of South Carolina Engineering Excellence Awards Competition, the Winthrop University Campus Green Project was selected to move on and compete on the national stage! The National ACEC Engineering Excellence Awards Competition places the winners of the state level competitions together in various categories to compete and determine the nation’s top engineering design efforts.
As the winner of the South Carolina's category of small-miscellaneous projects, the Winthrop University Campus Green Project faced off against projects from California, to New York. Keck & Wood, Inc. is honored to share such elite company among award finalists.
A distinguished panel of 25-30 judges representing industry, government, academia and media assembled to critique and rank the submissions for this year’s competition. Projects were rated on the basis of uniqueness and innovative applications; future value to the engineering profession; perception by the public; social, economic, and sustainable development considerations; complexity; and successful fulfillment of client/owner's needs, including schedule and budget.
The panel selected 24 top award winners – 16 Honor Awards and 8 Grand Awards. Keck & Wood, Inc. is pleased to announce that the Winthrop University Campus Green was selected as one of this year’s Honor Award recipients!
Winners of this prestigious awards competition will
be honored at the 2012 Engineering Excellence Awards Gala to be held on
Tuesday, April 17, 2012, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, D.C.
The American Council of Engineering Companies of Georgia Honors Keck & Wood, Inc. and the City of Buford
Recently, the American Council of Engineering Companies of Georgia (ACEC/G) recognized Keck & Wood, Inc. with an Honor Award for the design of the Little Mill Road Revitalization Project.
ACEC/G annually recognizes projects designed in the state of Georgia through the Engineering Excellence Awards Competition. The purpose of this award program is to spotlight engineering achievements demonstrating the highest degree of merit and ingenuity. Entries are rated on the basis of uniqueness and originality; future value to the engineering profession, social, economic and sustainable development considerations; complexity; and successful fulfillment of client/owner’s needs, including schedule and budget.
Because of these reasons,
Keck & Wood, Inc. is proud to receive this award on behalf of the City of
Buford for the design of the Little Mill Road Revitalization Project. For more information about this project,
please read below:
The City of Buford retained Keck & Wood, Inc. to assist with design and project management of a multi-phase project to revitalize historic Little Mill Road and change it from a narrow, dangerous, winding lane into a beautiful experience for drivers and pedestrians, while at the same time maintaining its historical integrity. The final result enhances the “livability” and beauty of the corridor with dramatic landscaping, street geometry that meets modern standards, and new sidewalks where none previously existed.
The planning and design of the project had to contend with rocky, mountainous terrain, a narrow corridor through the city’s historic cemetery, and an environmentally sensitive stream near the roadway. In implementing the project, Buford chose to break the project into multiple phases to provide more opportunities for local small businesses, and to maximize the use of City resources as a cost-saving measure.