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Doubts about career path and how to improve.

Doubts about career path and how to improve.

Doubts about career path and how to improve.

(OP)
Not new to the forum, but a first time poster so I'm not sure if this is the right section to post in and I'd rather ask here than reddit.

I've been in the structural field for a little over a year now, with some CMT work previously, and have started questioning if this is the career path that I want to keep going down. I finally graduated at a later age than most of my peers due to uncle sam repeatedly sending me off midsemester. I'm currently working for a small firm doing high end residential and some smaller commercial jobs. I initially had a job lined up with a large steel PEMB manufacture, but declined it to take this job, along with moving to a new city for a fresh start. I was told that I would get more practical experience with my current job, but long story short a year in I really feel like a technician and only draft, not many calc's or anything of the like. Also relatively speaking for other entry level EIT positions in my area I'm pretty under paid, not that big of a point, I'd rather have the practical engineering knowledge and understanding which as previously stated has been minimally passed on. I make an effort to learn and am in the process of studying for the structural PE now. With it being such a small firm, mentoring chances are minimal to none which was a shock to me but everyone here is swamped with work and I feel like a burden when I do ask.

Cutting to the point, is this normal for a recent grad/entry level to feel this way, how can I improve, should I look for another job with a bigger firm, should I look to other local structural engineers who could possibly be a mentor or is that crossing an unspoken boundary, or in reality just be thankful I have a job in general. I don't dislike structural, but I do miss being out in the field. The geotech I worked for previously forewarned me that structural would be monotonous career choice.

Like I said I have no idea if this is in the correct section, but I appreciate anyone's input and experience. Thank you.

RE: Doubts about career path and how to improve.

Each company will handle recent graduates in their own way. I've seen firms that put the new graduate to work on basic design projects on day one, and work with them through more complex designs as time passes. I've seen firms that have new graduates work as technician/inspectors for 2 to 3 years, before they even get to think about design work.

Have a casual conversation with your supervisor and ask about the training/mentoring you should expect between now and your PE exam.

You have to decide where you want to go in your career. You also have to decide if the work associated with the higher salary is what hold your interest. Some really enjoy extensive travel for work, or frequent relocations. You may need to exercise some initiative and take some risks to get to where you want to be.

All geotechs think structural is monotonous, but we like playing in the dirt.


RE: Doubts about career path and how to improve.

It sounds like you're very busy at work, but perhaps getting bored with what you're working on. You're only a few years out of school, so consider moving to a different firm that has a different project mix -- structural engineering doesn't have to be monotonous. Experience with different materials will be a big advantage when you take the PE exam. It seems that many firms are still short-handed right now so this might be a good time to make that move. Smart managers will be eager to get a relatively fresh grad who is a little older and has the maturity to go with that. A somewhat larger firm would be more likely to have the mentoring opportunities you're looking for. You might have to seek them out on your own, informally.

RE: Doubts about career path and how to improve.

I'm not familiar with "CMT" - can you elaborate?

Sounds pretty typical. I'm not far - just a couple states north in VA. I, too, graduated at a later age because I went full time with Uncle Sam to get my degree paid for. Turned out to be a fantastic idea - not only did I get a "free" degree (and all but 1 hour of my masters to boot), I learned a lot about dealing with people. And that sounds like your biggest hurdle right now.

I went to a small-ish firm. They were in no way prepared to hire a recent grad, provide training and mentorship, or really much of anything. Group of great engineers...but day to day ops left a little to be desired. (In their defense, they advertised for a mid to senior level engineer and I bullied my way in to the interview and convinced them they needed me instead.)

We had a dedicated drafting department (4 people) so I didn't have to do any drafting. (I miss that now...) But I can see value in having the junior engineers spend 6 months to a year learning how to draw and learning first hand how to put together a set of drawings. Since going out on my own, that has been the steepest learning curve. I know how to design, and I know what a set of drawings should look like, but there's a lot in between that the EOR/project manager should know. So don't look down on your time learning this stuff.

I found that the only way to get anyone to teach me was to be that annoying guy sitting in my boss's office all the time. I'd even ask dumb questions to scare him into reviewing my work if I didn't think he was living up to his "responsible charge" mantle. Just is the way it is. Hopefully you're a bit of an autodidact...that's the only way I've made it as far as I have (that and eng-tips!).

Structural doesn't have to be monotonous. You may want to seek out a firm with more diverse offerings. I was able to do residential, industrial, commercial, waterfront, and historic structures. In my first 4 years, I designed maintenance shacks, mooring facilities for 60,000 tonne ocean-going vessels, and lots of things in between. Renovations to Navy Barracks buildings, low rise multistory office buildings, fancy custom houses. It's important to find a place where you can get a wide range of experience early. You made a good choice where you are over the PEMB manufacturer in that regard, but you may need to spread your wings a little more and find someplace that will give you more experience.

RE: Doubts about career path and how to improve.

It sounds somewhat normal to dish the drafting or "technician" type tasks to an entry level engineer (EIT). Drafting is one of those things that will teach you: (a) how to design by repetition; (b) how things are typically constructed so you're not caught off guard in the field; and (c) how to make a deliverable that makes you money. All of these things will help you grow and develop as an engineer and (if you choose) work for yourself or (if you choose) work in a supervising role after gaining experience.

If you do want something else in your career, ask or give that feedback to your manager. It'll show that you are engaged in your position.

RE: Doubts about career path and how to improve.

I know it is difficult, but be patient. In my experience, it takes about 1.5-2 years in a position before you really take on responsibility of any kind (unless you already have years of experience and are hired for that experience). This definitely holds true in a small firm where all of the liability is on the principal/owner. Regarding the drafting work, cherish this time and learn as much as you can. As phamENG said, it is a steep learning curve. You need to know how drawings should "look", what should be included, and ultimately how to make the sheets look the way you want with the software. Drafting takes up the majority of my time as a one man shop. The engineering is quick compared to putting together the plan set.

Understanding drafting will give you the ability to work independently if you like. I once worked for a firm where neither principal could draft in CAD. If the young engineers that did all of the drafting left, the firm would have not been able to deliver plans.

RE: Doubts about career path and how to improve.

Not in the civil realm, however your experience mirrors many classmates and acquaintances otherwise.

The first few years of your career are critical to developing your knowledge and skillset bc that is when you have the most opportunities, management usually proactively supports training junior engineers with time, resources, and project opportunities. You should be drinking from the proverbial firehose of education and climbing a VERY steep learning curve to complete technically challenging projects, not bored. At every employer you need to either learn or earn and you're doing neither, so I'd find another. Today you're expected to jump employers every few years for money and experience alike, even within large companies you're expected to jump divisions/departments/etc regularly for the same reasons, so dont get comfortable.

IME small companies are lousy places to learn much of anything due to lack of experienced staff, lack of modern process, lack of research activities (aka real engineering), lack of software/libraries/facilities/other assets, and lack of job diversity - they're small so there really isn't anyplace/anything else to go/do. I'd recommend avoiding them for at least a decade.

RE: Doubts about career path and how to improve.

(OP)
Thank you all for the input. I don't have too many peers to really ask these questions so I genuinely appreciate your responses. It's definitely helped open my eyes to say the least in what I should be expecting.

@TigerGuy- I don't mind traveling at all and in my opinion it would give a nice mix of experiences between task and locations. The risk taking is also something I've had conversations about with recently retired guys from my base and they highly encourage it, something along the lines of life passes you by extremely fast so don't be afraid to take risks.

@Flight7- Most of what I'm doing is residential so there is a lack of intensive work with materials outside of wood. I've been taking the time at night to rework through my steel and masonry textbooks from college. I've got neighbors who are MechE and Geotechs but sadly no structural to look to for mentoring, the geotech has been helpful though.

@phamENG- The CMT was construction materials testing, so doing alot of concrete cylinders, slump, air etc. I also doubled up as a soils tech so all that fun lugging around a DCP and nuke gauge. Its actually helped a little following the foundation design for these houses. I've still got 23 months left on my 9/11, I thought about using it go back and get some sort of masters degree. The months of being gone were actually worth it for the experiences. Honestly I like the approach, I feel like the engineers here would get real annoyed with questions though.

@Skeletron- Thank you, here yet again I was nearly sure of what to expect coming in and it seems like it lines what with the normal experience. Given my exposure to wood already, I think that might be the way to go for getting into more steel work.

@AgMechEngr- Patience is key from what I've gathered, so I appreciate the feed back. I feel like I'm definitely discounting the importance of all the drafting and the long term benefits of it.

@CWB1- That's one of the things the old retired guys told me as well, dont get comfortable or complacent. I've noticed honestly this company would've been a great place to end at, not so much start at.

Yet again, thank you all for your experiences and input. It's definitely helped a good bit.

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