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Advice to a new hire

Advice to a new hire

Advice to a new hire

Hi Engineers, I need your help

I am a recent graduate (1year ago) b.s. civil engineering. I had two internships before I started working for my current firm. I am facing big truble in learining.

It is an entry level as building design engineer. At the interview they said they will train me. I came in they gave me the codes and said read them. After a month or so they started giving me jobs one after an other.

With a very very little guideness. They talk to me like I know everything. My boss keeps blaming me constantly
Why didnt you do this, why didnt you do that. I keep telling him becuase I dont know.

On some jobs i keep doing hand calcs like i learned in school just to see how everything checks out. My boss tells me this is taking so much time. Just provide this memeber. Ok i know he has experience and feel comfortable saying this. What about me ? How can i know this member works by design? I keep asking alot of questions like why do u want to do this , and why dont we do that instead; my intention just to learn why they are doing anything specific so if i run to it again. I know the reason, they tell me this is what we do. No engineering reason in their answer. They keep telling me go ask that guy who has experience in working with the software. He is teaching me software not engineering. Its getting really hard because i feel i am like a machine do what i am told with little knowledge and no given reasons. I know how to calculate by hand things i learnd in school, but the industrial has more than that, and they dont give me enough time between jobs to actually understand what the program is doing. At this point I don't know what to do.
I dont want to run away from this firm, because i am seeing an opportunity to learn how to deal with problems and face them. I may be wrong though.

Any advice from you i would highly appreciated it.

RE: Advice to a new hire

Hi WTLA --

As a matter of forum etiquette, it's best to not post duplicate threads like this (also posted here: http://www.eng-tips.com/viewthread.cfm?qid=396472). I think this is the better location of the two, so I'd suggest clicking the report button on your original thread and asking the moderators to remove it.

That said, to address your questions:

Feeling overwhelmed and that you don't know what you don't know are both pretty natural at this stage in your career. (In fact, I'd rather work with a young engineer who is asking questions than one who thinks he/she already knows it all). Don't be discouraged. As you were applying for jobs, you probably wondered why postings were so particular about years of experience -- this is why. The learning curve in the first few years is steep.

It's unfortunate that your boss seems to not have a great attitude about mentoring you. Chances are, you were brought on because there was too much work for the company to handle beforehand -- which means the other engineers don't have a lot of spare time to teach you right now. It's unfortunate, but not uncommon. But there's nothing that can be done about that -- short of switching companies. And I don't think that's merited in this circumstance.

What you can do is keep asking questions -- politely. Keep learning -- on the side and in the evenings if necessary. And you'll have to accept that some times, you'll just need to defer to your the experience of those around you and produce. But make a note of what questions you have so that you can revisit those in slower times.

RE: Advice to a new hire

And try really really hard not to ask any version of the same question twice. If you have a question about a blue truss and get an answer, then later see a red truss with the same configuration, don't ask again think about it and apply the same techniques that worked on the blue truss. Get a pocket notebook and write your questions down, then find someone who can help and after you get a solution write their answer down. I took that book into a searchable database that worked really well for me, but I'm kind of anal-retentive. Other guys that started with me just used the notebooks and got over the new-guy stare about as quickly as I did.

Believe me people will notice that your questions rapidly get progressively more difficult for them to answer. Everyone like getting the hard questions (when they don't have accountability for the answers), but we all get tired of the same "what code should I use here" kinds of questions.

David Simpson, PE
MuleShoe Engineering

In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual. Galileo Galilei, Italian Physicist

RE: Advice to a new hire

This is the classic "baptism by fire." It is, as you say, a great learning opportunity. That said, you might need to invest some of your own time to figure out what works for you and how you could possibly speed up your own process and processing. There appears to be people you can ask questions of, so that's better than having no one to ask questions of, which often is the case.

I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert!
homework forum: //www.engineering.com/AskForum/aff/32.aspx
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers

RE: Advice to a new hire

You may want to look around for a mentor, maybe not your direct boss, but a senior engineer who knows what’s going on within the company, and what their standards and mode of operation are. You have to be agreeable, not a pest (don’t waste his/her time and don’t have to learn the same lesson twice), and be willing to learn, and to do some of this learning on your own. You also have to be willing to buy the beer and pizza once in a while, as a small show of appreciation. Maybe ask if there is something on his project which you could help him do, to take a load off his shoulders, and as a means of learning another facet of the trade. Maybe you could meet a good mentor, at another company, through a prof. society such as ASCE. If you really care, you have to do a lot of learning on your own time. This is most certainly true during the early years of your career as a Structural Engineer. Schooling was just a start and they left an awful lot to be learned on the job. But, it is also true, on an ongoing basis these days, with the rate of proliferation of all the new software and all the new codes and stds. which are being produced at an ever quicker rate, mostly for the publishing dollars.

RE: Advice to a new hire

I must say, this forum is a wealth of knowledge.

Chances are 'it's been done before.' So get on here and do a search - if nothing pops up then prepare a detailed post (w/ numbers and sketches where appropriate).

But at the end of the day, you can't teach experience.

RE: Advice to a new hire

Quote (zdas04)

Believe me people will notice that your questions rapidly get progressively more difficult for them to answer. Everyone like getting the hard questions (when they don't have accountability for the answers), but we all get tired of the same "what code should I use here" kinds of questions.

To add on to this ...

Once you learn your role a little better you should change your approach to questions. At first you can ask "What code should I use for this?" But later (be it weeks, or months) you questions should more outline your thought process, "I think I should use code XYZ, because of this and that; I am also going to check code ABC because code XYZ is silent on yada-yada. Do you think any other codes are relevant?" This was a poor example, but with a question like this, you are demonstrating your competence and asking the question at the same time.

For your second issue, maybe do the calculations at home at night. It is not the best use of your free-time but you need to be committed. This will help give you a feel for the numbers without buying through the precious budget.

If your boss doesn't want to teach you anything, then quit. You do not want to become an engineer with 5 or even 10 years of experience who does't know how to do anything.

RE: Advice to a new hire


This is a common problem. It's pretty horrible, actually. Several years (and thousands of dollars) of education, and the end result is a complete collapse of morale and confidence.

But there's a reason. Read up on the Dunning–Kruger effect. It describes the natural pattern of a person's confidence vs. their level of expertise.

People generally go through four stages:

1. Novice - Don't know anything - Confidence is Highest
2. Early Career - Just realize that you don't know anything - Huge Drop in Confidence
3. Mid Career - Becoming proficient - Confidence Increases
4. Expert - High Level of Expertise - Confidence pretty high...but never as high as a novice.

So you're not alone. Our education system graduates happy-but-incapable-novices (isn't it great to feel good at graduation?) but leaves them hanging early in their careers. It would be better to get emotionally-knocked-down-a-peg before graduation so you can fare better in your first job (better for firms, too). That would take some courage on the part of educators though -- it generally doesn't happen.

Go to your boss (presumably an expert) and tell him to step off it. Expertise is a long journey...and he didn't get to his level over night. Trial by fire may work in short sprints...but it's not a multi-year strategy.

Mentors who "beat their students until morale improves" are poor mentors, indeed.

"We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us." -WSC

RE: Advice to a new hire

This may sound strange, and you have to be tactful, but try to listen to conversations around the office. Not eavesdropping, but whenever there is a technical discussion, ask if you can listen in. You'll be surprised what you can pick up that way, especially if there is a difference of opinion on how to handle something. Then you learn two plausible methods to solve a problem, and hopefully an understanding of why one is better than the other.

RE: Advice to a new hire

1gibson has a great point!

I work in a small office with multiple senior engineers, i have learned so much from jobs i have done nothing on. When we recently hired a new Engineer (we were swamped in work) some of us in the office had to wear headphones to stay focused, the new engineer took this as an invite to listen to music when working and has not gotten the benefit of osmosis.

Keep doing your work, I'd say you should not be doing a beam calc by hand. This is not the dark ages, use software to design element by element Don't model an entire building in RISA/RAM/SAP and think you are done.

RE: Advice to a new hire

Many thanks to the people who have took the time to give advice. I appreciate it.

@Lomorandil. Its a branch of big offices and not many engineers where i work that I can learn. Basically two engineers; my boss who keeps making it seams not to care and the other guy who answers my software questions. I am discouraged everytime I approach any with a question because thir answer is soshort, vague. Or doesnot have engineering in it. I am disappointed more that I get blame constantly.

@MjB318. Thanks for the reading suggestion. I believe it is accurate. And how can i tell him to step off it ? I never complained to him. Because he always makes ot seem like its my mistake. So its just makes me less excited to go to work everyday. In college. I never thought I would feel this way, because I loved what I studied.

@Swiver i use my own time to learn the codes, learn through solved example. But at the end of the day this is hand calculations that my boss thinks its a waste of time.

@dhengr. I am part of ASCE local chapter, but i have never tried to approch someone to mentor me. I think this is a good way of getting different perspective. I dont know if someone there is willing to take this. Inside my company is hopelss. I am trying to study on my own time. But i feel learning on my own is not enough to develop the engineering knowledge to be a good engineer, there must be some sort of discussion different approaches to solve things is learnt through a mentor

@1gibson. There are no such discussion in the office. Except why did u take u this long to finish the job. Other engineer who is experienced knows the software but he does not get excited when i ask engineering question or his answer would be so general like the same as reading an introduction to an engineering book.

Thanks everyone again

RE: Advice to a new hire

There may be something to the complaints of taking too long. It's not efficient to stumble your way through it. Get an 80% complete "draft" of a project, then present it as such, and ask for someone to review it. Unfortunately it is up to you to find the least painful way to learn, apparently nobody (yourself included) is happy with the approach you are taking. So try some different methods, what's the worst that can happen?

RE: Advice to a new hire

Even if you are slow, the blame game is just BAD MANAGEMENT. Not much point in telling you to work faster if they don't help you to become faster. You can't blame a rock for not rolling smoothly down a ramp. It needs to be formed and polished to achieve smooth performance. And Mythbusters "proved" that even turds can be polished. Effective managers make the best lemonade that they can from whatever lemons they get. Just bear in mind that if you were truly useless, they would fire your butt out the door faster than you can blink; therefore, your productivity substantially outweighs the cost that you incur in salary and "lost" time in helping you. There are, sadly, people in the world who can only make themselves feel good by putting down other people. Ultimately, if the situation does not improve, and/or you've reached a point of diminishing returns on things you can learn from these people, it would be time to pack up and move out.

I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert!
homework forum: //www.engineering.com/AskForum/aff/32.aspx
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers

RE: Advice to a new hire

IR, I'd take exception to one point you make. I'd suspect that most engineers at WTLA's stage in their career probably are not productive enough to substantially outweigh their costs (looking back, I wasn't) -- but that their expected value for future productivity weighs more heavily.

RE: Advice to a new hire

Do you guys suggest i talk to my boss. Like tell him that i am not receiving the training i need to work on the fast going jobs and that i am not happy with the blame i recive constantly, any the nned to give more specific instructions instead of general. What do you think ? I just dont want to come accross as a complainer. I just need to let them know that I am doing my best but I am not receiving any guidance.

Thank you all for your input

RE: Advice to a new hire

Trying asking him how you should allocate your time: overhead vs. projects vs. training. You're a recent grad and along way being proficient-- what's his plan for getting you up to speed so you can be profitable?

If the answer is 0% - 5% training time...consider looking for another job (or at least manager).

Remember that this is a key time for you too. You can't afford to not progress during these first few years. Don't be seven years into your career and not be proficient. You're going to want (and need) to ask for raises, especially when you're 5 - 8 years in, and you need to be able to back it up with chops. You won't get them if you're left (and you allow yourself to be left) floundering.


So, that's all well and good. Also pursue a second track. Study up on the history of civil/structural engineering. Chase down anything written by Dave Billington from Princeton. Read up on engineers like Roebling, Dieste, Millart, Schlaich, Robertson, LeMessurier and Candela. Get an idea for their thought process. You'll see there's much, much more to structural engineering than shear and moment diagrams.

Also research structural engineering failures. You'll learn more about structures from failures than you will learn from many other places. Be able to name fifty examples of failures.

Also, read page for page Chapter 16 - 22 of the IBC. Read the entire ASCE7, ASIC Specification (the back of the steel book) and ACI318 (wait for the 2014 edition). If you want to succeed at the game, you have to know the rules. And no one is going to pay you to read 1,200 pages. So start chipping at it.

I think you'll find that by studying engineering history, failures, codes and by using ENG-TIPS...you can advance yourself 75% of the way there. Hopefully your boss will fill in the next 25%.

If not, mention that you know all about engineering history, failures and codes in your next job interview...and get your raise that way.

"We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us." -WSC

RE: Advice to a new hire

Lots of great advice on this thread. I would suggest talking with your boss. If your immediate boss is somehow not the Engineer-of-Record (EOR) of the project(s) you are working on I suggest getting the EOR involved in the discussion pronto. Regardless of managerial structure, your primary "boss" is the EOR you are working under and they need to be in the loop.

RE: Advice to a new hire

Many thanks every one for your advice.

Many thanks every one for your advice.

@MJB315. Thank you very much for your reading suggestions. I will follow them.

You made a very good point that is really what worries me: that in a few years from now, companies will view me as professional, not as an entry level guy that needs to be trained and taught basic engineer lessens because i believe they may assume i have already passed this stage of my career. as you have suggested reading on my own is the only solution I have at this stage.

@IRStuff i am thinking/trying to figure out what am I doing wrong that I am still in the same situation. Then I will talk to him/them.

Thanks alot once again everyone.

RE: Advice to a new hire

Trying to read between the lines since we're only getting one side of things here. Sounds like there's definitely a communication breakdown with regards to expectations and potentially with workflow/processes. You keep mentioning hand calcs and that your boss thinks they're a waste of time and pointing you to the software guy. You're not doing every single element by hand are you? Like you would in school, as you mentioned in the first post?

If you are, I think there's your disconnect. Hand calculations are important, very important. But with current software packages and computing power, the hand calculations are best used for clarifying unique problems, spot verifying software output (or someone else's design as part of a QC process), teaching yourself new concepts, or breaking difficult problems down to the fundamentals. Doing hand calculations for every element (or even a large portion of elements) would be wildly inefficient. Sounds like the boss is of the opinion that you could stand to rely on the software a bit more. And while I'd certainly caution against over reliance and pushing forward with software that you don't understand, your employer would price themselves out of the market (and you out of a job) if they don't rely enough.

RE: Advice to a new hire

Back when I was a entry level engineer, I spent about a week working on equations by hand for a project. After getting the results, I was then told to use the software that was developed to do the calculations. It took about an hour to get the results (Note:this was ~25 years ago and another person was in charge of inputting everything into the mainframe computer). At the end, we compared the results which were similar (if they weren't, odds were that there had been an error in the hand calculations).

It is important to understand what the software is doing (e.g., the calculations) and verify the results, but there comes a time that you'll need to rely on the software's results without hand calculating everything. It sounds like you need to get more comfortable with the software which is why your boss keeps sending you to the software expert. Additionally, you need to find out if there are any vulnerabilities of the software (e.g., if you switch the x & y dimensions of the span it gives erroneous results, or You can't use Model X for Condition Y) that are listed in the software documentation (if any). Basically, you need to learn the tools given to you, their uses, and their vulnerabilities fo you to do your work properly.

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