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Structural Startup/Personal History - Advice?

Structural Startup/Personal History - Advice?

Structural Startup/Personal History - Advice?

Hi I am looking for some advice for my structural engineering startup. Here is some history about myself to understand where I am coming from. I apologize in advance for the length but I just want to fully describe my experience. If anyone else has come into similar scenarios in their career let me know how you dealt with these items. I frequently go to these forums for random questions that I had throughout my career. The community seems to be extremely diverse, friendly and collaborative. I look forward to finally contributing to the community. I hope this is the right thread to post this!

I recently just passed my PE in NYS and have been working for some large national structural consulting firms(total experience is 4 years). I was excited to receive my PE in NYS, proud moment in my family to be the first engineer. I was able to work on some iconic building and studies throughout my career, this was my dream while I was in college... lets just say I had the old corny mentality "I want to look at a major building and say I contributed to that!". During college I got my first "taste" of structural engineering at a small NYC firm as an intern. There I learned the basics to drafting and how drawings even look in professionally. My first full time position(~1 year of experience) was at a small time firm where i did minor structural work, structural inspections and the "once in a blue moon" ~6 story new construction projects. There I was creating structural analysis models as well as drafting(SOE/DM/FO/S) drawings and coordinating with architects. During my time there I was studying to obtain my Masters degree at the same time. I later went to a larger company with larger scale projects in order to pursue my dream projects. I created and analyzed complicated existing structures as well as various healthcare facility designs. At this job was where my morale started to get completely crushed and my passion/motivation for my field was beginning to go away. I was happy to be able to design these complicated projects, however, the company had a very old school mentality. Engineers were not allowed to draft and had to perform mandatory concrete special inspections at weird times of days including holidays. Long hours were enforced (90 Minimum per pay period regardless of workload) and must wear ties otherwise you would get a lecture and bonus deductions. Needless to say, I did not see myself working their long term based on the environment and left to my next job with similar pay but more work-life balance. I was interested in my current company due to their capabilities in concrete design and the chance to gain some more responsibility/ownership over projects. This was something I was lacking in my engineering repertoire. An issue I am currently having with my current company as I did with my last one is mentorship. My supervisors are either extremely young (<2 years experience difference) or never managed/delegated work to anyone. Currently my manager is using me mostly as his personal BIM Coordinator rather than engineer... Anytime I ask for clarification of some task or directions usually the PM will give up and just say they will take care of it and not to worry about it. The PM likes to micromanage almost everything I do and wants to rush everything despite me telling him I do not have much experience with these types of designs/drafting. After enduring his comments for about 6 months now, I feel like jumping ship at this point, I feel nothing for the PM's projects and no longer worry about deadlines anymore and just wait out the clock to leave for the day. I considered talking to the partners about this, however, there seems to be clear favoritism for my PM since he works all day/night and does everything extremely quickly. To note this PM has never managed anyone before and is one of the worst mentors I ever had. Its either his way or the highway, I just do what I am told at this point...

Despite all my achievements and project experience, I look back on my experience in the last 4 years and become disappointed. This realization happened a few months ago when I was approached by a family member and was asked to create DM/SOE drawings for a small-scale project. I looked over the project description/scope of services and realized that I actually have no idea how to even begin a project such a project. It felt completely embarrassing to not be able to do this type of project. In addition to that I also realized that I never dealt with the business side of the professions yet. I haven’t seen even what a job proposal even looks like until my current job since they actually have that information available for all employees.

After my realization of my work being extremely specialized in the field of major building designs only, I did a few free consultations for my friends and families when they asked to gain some experience. They were buying property and wanted my opinion what changes will be needed to be done for the repair. I went the site and investigated and tried to find potential problem areas and gave them potential options on how to implement what they wanted. I started doing more research into older homes and wood construction in general. I have not done a wood project since my first job at that particular time. Ironically at my current job a big wood project has been given to my team recently. I was actually excited to learn how to do this and my motivation and passion has been coming back. I have been trying to push back the insane schedule my PM is pushing especially since our team does not have much experience in wood and I would like for it to be done right. These last 2 years did not feel like I was an engineer, I felt like I was just getting pigeonholed into doing menial tasks for my supervisors that they wouldn’t/couldn’t do. While I am searching for another company to join, In the meantime id figure id open a formal entity and do some freelance work since my current company allows this under contract.

I started reading codes and textbooks related to DM/SOE, wood construction and masonry. I became interested in the business side of things too and began analyzing any proposals I could get my hands on at the time. I started to see if I could be of use to local architects, contractors, developers, etc…mainly just by calling/emailing everyone I saw in the local area. I did decide to get insurance as well just to be prepared for the work in case it comes sooner rather than later. Coming from a design team that created and coordinated drawings/BIM models for high profile projects (40 story high rise and healthcare), finding jobs/clients has proven difficult due to the nature of work they are looking for. Most of the clients are asking to create SOE/Demolition drawings. I have made these types of drawings in the first year of my experience at a small-time firm but I need to find more samples since the codes definitely may have changed.

I am also nervous about doing some projects since I am a “young” engineer and do not know many people who are able to go solo at my experience level. I do firmly believe in networking and do have professionals I can speak to but most either just do not deal with these small scale projects or do not wish to share information with me. I have seen some low-quality drawings made by engineers in my neighborhood. I believe I can learn how to do demolition and SOE drawings better than most since I am actually willing to learn and improve, not just copy and paste details(common theme for small projects).
I firmly believe in my technical skills, however, I still question whether I am being too ambitious at my level. I want to prove that I can be a good engineer and can provide economical solutions to my future clients. I worked extremely hard in college and want to be recognized at some point in my career.

My startup questions:
1.When did you start your firm experience wise and why did you open it?
2.What type of work did you start with and how did you tackle work that you did not have experience with?
3.Does anyone have any good references for SOE/DM plans/details for NYC. My current plan is to find buildings in the local area that have some type of demolition/SOE work and hire an expeditor to obtain the drawings from DOB for me. Is there another way that I may not be aware of to obtain drawing samples?

RE: Structural Startup/Personal History - Advice?

First reaction to this post is you are taking one heck of a chance and unless you have a large fund to rely on, you maybe looking for a job sooner than later. I know only one person who went on his own early on and that was after about 8 years. He had many contacts by then, but still very lean income.
In answer to questions: 1. Went on my own after about 25 years plus. 2. Had much experience with all and any new stuff was done carefully. Mistakes can be dangerous. 3. Didn't get into these fields.

RE: Structural Startup/Personal History - Advice?

Not to rain on your parade, but based on your post it sounds like you already know the answer. You say yourself that you don't know many people who are able to go solo at your experience level. Do you think you're the rare one who is, despite have few prospective clients, very limited experience in the little prospective work you do have, and limited knowledge/experience with the business side of things? Technical engineering knowledge is of course important, but really won't get you very far in going out on your own.

You seem to have a can-do attitude, which certainly helps. I don't want to imply that this is a hopeless quest and kill that. But this opportunity might be something that's better undertaken a few years down the line. In the meantime I'd let your career simmer a little bit and continue to develop and fill in the gaps (in both engineering and business experience, building up relationships with potential clients, building up reserve funds to tide you over while you lose money your first five years, etc.). Doing so can greatly improve your prospects of successfully going out on your own down the line.

And if you're sure this is your goal and your current company isn't putting you in front of clients and isn't having you do any of the business aspects, then consider looking elsewhere for a company that will. There are good companies out there that take a larger interest in helping you move forward in your career rather than treating you like a cog in the machine. Don't let the bad experience with a couple of companies drive you out on your own before you're ready.

RE: Structural Startup/Personal History - Advice?


2.....and how did you tackle work that you did not have experience with?

Financials aside, by the sound of it you don't have the experience required to ethically or legally sell services without an experienced senior partner. Maybe I misunderstood, but it sounds like your experience is four years of being a "jack of all trades" rather than several years specialization within each niche you want to sell while working under an experienced engineer. IE, several years specializing in concrete, then several years in high-rise steel, then...etc. What your proposing above for example would be both unethical and illegal, fraud at its finest to hold out your shingle as an authority on something you know little/nothing about. As engineers we don't learn on the customer's dime, we learn on ours or our employer's.

RE: Structural Startup/Personal History - Advice?

I should tell you about the person mentioned above that started on his own at 8 years (I think) experience. I worked for him part of my working career. He was an unusual person, full of energy all the time. In collage and before he was a leader. All his working life was a joiner, very active in many organizations. His work day was at least 10 hours a day and most every weekend days also. At night at home he reviewed reports and other jobs from the office. A "workaholic" for sure. However, he didn't stop there. Became president of the local PE and CE societies among others early on. He knew when the job needed other disciplines and didn't try to do anything he hadn't had at least some exposure to. So it should be obvious now that at only 4 years experience, you are just learning, but knowing what it takes to be an owner, start now with the background needed. What professional societies are you active in, at least? Taking any extension courses? Good luck.

RE: Structural Startup/Personal History - Advice?

To add to MrHershey, why is someone going to give you business when they already have a structural engineering contact in their phone? Is your work portfolio so outstanding that people will look at it and want you? Are you going to do work a lot cheaper than the other 100 structural engineers in the city? Do you have a unique ability that no one else has?
When you're marketing, who's doing the work? Can you afford employees?

RE: Structural Startup/Personal History - Advice?

Thank you for the responses.

I was doing some thinking and I do believe it is too early to just go fully solo. I do want to do some small jobs like reports or minor renovation type things. My current full time company has an insane amount of resources that i can use to learn from. I do not wish to leave my current company to go solo because i want to learn more. I do feel confident in my engineering abilities in general.

I Agree that the lack of contacts i have for these small jobs is why is making my sidejob income very poor. I do think it would be a good idea for me to stay where i am and network some more. I used to be part of a few organizations. I did ACE/seaony and i actually do participate in an alumni panel at my former college to inform students about what life is like as a structural engineer post college. I stepped away from ACE and Seaony to mostly focus on myself and bit and use that time to learn more about myself and the industry. I am very careful with what jobs i take as well on the side, if its something i have never done or if it would take up too much of my time I would not take it. I did save up roughly around 20-30k as backup money as well (so i can afford insurance and any software i may need if a job requires it)

I do not think i am super rare, but I do know that i put in more effort then most of my peers. I was a "try-Hard" in college and i show the most respect for my field. I am just annoyed that i See engineers not caring or giving their effort and i am considered to be at the same level. It frustrating, I actually do care about my profession and do want to hopefully one day be recognized and actually help the industry progress in some way... But yes, I agree its not time to go fully solo. I do think that doing some small jobs on the side will give me some great experience and maybe an edge in the future onces i do get promoted into a more managerial position that will required to interact with clients and make proposals, etc...

I would not take a job and assume responsibilities over something i personally have not encountered in my career EVER. I am completely honest with my clients if they ask me to do something and whether i feel comfortable taking responsibility. Most of my clients want small work like sistering of joists, new beam to support load bearing walls,staircase design stuff along that nature.Those are all things i have encountered but there are some details i may not be familiar with or have to research on my own. I do not know a single engineer who knows absolutely everything about their specialized industry. They should always be learning, not everything has been predetermined or done. I do not believe its fraud to not know something perfectly, you are an engineer you should have problems solving skills and be able to come up with a solution that works while working with the contractor/architect for input as well. I have never met a structural engineer who knew everything, we exchange ideas and learn from each other to make better and safer designs.

My main selling point is that i am just simply going to be more affordable. I have a great work portfolio but i cant flash the work i have done with my other companies since i am not representing them during this side job business i am trying to make. I am not interested in deceiving anyone I straight tell the architect/client that i don't have a good portfolio/brochure to share yet since I am freshly minted PE. I believe my unique ability is excellent FEM modeling of almost any condition accurately and that i have worked with most commonly used structural material. This should at least be able to get more economical designs compared to the "old timers" who still design by hand and using conservative design procedures. I currently do not really advertise outside of calling companies myself. Employees are not really in my head yet since i am just testing the waters but yes i could technically hire people perhaps on a part time basis. I do have some cash saved for these types of situations but highly unlikely i will need it for that at this time.

Seriously thank you guys for responding.

RE: Structural Startup/Personal History - Advice?

On the insurance angle, you may be doing a prefect job, no mistakes. However, as an engineer on a project, there are others that are involved. Contractors take all sorts of risks and are prone to sue for "more money", etc. especially if there were any surprises. Then everyone gets sued. I'd bet an engineer with not a lot of experience gets charged a whole lot more for insurance than the experienced one. In any case it is NOT cheap and you might not even be able to get insurance with a limited experience record. Be sure to hide everything you can and that's very difficult with those smart attorneys out there. A hold harmless clause goes with every contract and they ALL are in writing, no verbals. This very subject should control any decision on "going alone".

RE: Structural Startup/Personal History - Advice?

Quote (HonandweStru )

I am just annoyed that i See engineers not caring or giving their effort and i am considered to be at the same level. It frustrating, I actually do care about my profession and do want to hopefully one day be recognized and actually help the industry progress in some way

Don't stress out too much about that. If you're in a good company with good management, they'll notice if they haven't already. You may be in same boat with those types now. But as you put in the effort and develop, you'll naturally progress upwards. As they don't put in effort and don't develop, they'll stay where they are until they do. Don't worry about them, just focus on what you can control and that's putting in the time for your own development.

By way of example, we have 8 'designers' at my company right now. We apply that title to everyone who is not a licensed SE. They may all have same title, but they are definitely not all equal. They may have similar experience (<3 years generally), but they have a wide range of capabilities, temperaments, and levels of trust from the people above them. The people managing things definitely know who is who.

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