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Working at a Start Up
2

Working at a Start Up

Working at a Start Up

(OP)
Hello all,

I'm looking for some advice/thoughts/etc on a potential job move.

A little background info: I'm currently 2.5 years out of college and with my second employer. My first job was with a small building design firm. We did mostly commercial buildings (1-2 stories) and residential work - the owner's philosophy was to never turn down work, including the jobs no other local firms wanted anything to do with. Long story short I ended up leaving at about 1.5 years in.

I'm now at a larger, full-service civil design firm doing bridge design. I'm paid well, have decent benefits, and enjoy my coworkers... but I feel more like a CAD tech than an engineer. I'd say I do about 20% design work and 80% CAD work and I often have significant downtime during the day. I've expressed these concerns to my manager, and have been told that they appreciate me taking on tasks outside of design work, but at the same time, there just isn't any other design work to be doing.

Enter my dilemma: A Principal and Senior Engineer from Employer #1 left shortly after I did to start their own firm. They recently offered me a job to join them as their workload keeps increasing. It sounds like an exciting opportunity but I do have some reservations.

1. The main reason for leaving Employer #1 was how stressed out I was. This mainly stemmed from the fact that very few of my designs (especially the residential stuff) got reviewed. As a new engineer who didn't know what I didn't know, this led to a lot of stress. It also led to staying late double and triple checking stuff to try and ease some of that anxiety all while I was being assigned more and more work. Would those of you in building design say this is typical? Does it get better, or do you learn to deal with it in more effective ways? This is something that I discussed with the Principal while leaving Employer #1, and he knows it's one of my hang-ups in regard to working at the Start-Up.

2. I worry that I'm not giving myself enough time in the bridge design industry to know if bridge design is something I enjoy doing more than building design. As of now, I'd rather be designing buildings, but I feel it's not a fair comparison as the only bridge design I've done is a bridge deck, along with backchecking some abutment design. Do you all think that 1 year at a company is enough to get a feel for the typical workload?

I want to come up with a list of things to discuss with the Start-Up Engineers before making a definite decision. So far, I have the basic stuff (salary, benefits, etc) and other items like maintaining a good work-life balance and not working until 6 pm on Fridays. What other questions do you guys think are pertinent, especially for a Start-Up? Any other advice would also be greatly appreciated.

Thank you all in advance!

RE: Working at a Start Up

Hmm, so presumably the Principal and Senior Engineer that left are not the previous firm's owner who never turned down work?
What is the business model that the Principal and Senior Engineer for the new firm want to have? Same as their previous firm or different type of jobs? Are those jobs interesting to you?
How did you get along with the Principal and Senior Engineer previously?
Do you have your PE now? are you on track for a PE a your current bridge firm? what about at the start-up firm?

And heh, 6pm on Fridays is not THAT bad, its the endless nights and weekends work that are killers.

RE: Working at a Start Up

(OP)

Quote (SWComposites)

Hmm, so presumably the Principal and Senior Engineer that left are not the previous firm's owner who never turned down work?
Correct

Quote (SWComposites)

What is the business model that the Principal and Senior Engineer for the new firm want to have? Same as their previous firm or different type of jobs? Are those jobs interesting to you?
They concentrate on commercial buildings and construction engineering (bridge girder settings, bridge deck demolition plans, etc) type of work. Very limited residential and industrial work. That kind of work is interesting to me, and what I envisioned myself doing coming out of college.

Quote (SWComposites)

How did you get along with the Principal and Senior Engineer previously?
Pretty well. Principal could be a little rough around the edges and condescending if work wasn't up to his standards. Typically aimed at the drafters... but also at me for not catching mistakes. Both of them are good teachers/mentors that have a lot of experience with large and unique designs.

Quote (SWComposites)

Do you have your PE now? are you on track for a PE a your current bridge firm? what about at the start-up firm?
Don't currently have my PE as I don't have the req'd experience, but I do have plans to take my SE soon. PE doesn't mean much at my current firm until you get into more of a PM role. At the other firm, PE would be required, as I imagine I'd be asked to start stamping stuff shortly after acquiring it.

Quote (SWComposites)

And heh, 6pm on Fridays is not THAT bad, its the endless nights and weekends work that are killers.
Maybe true, but most people at my current company only work half days on Fridays (still work 40 hrs, but split into (4) 9's and a 4). Hard to give that up.

RE: Working at a Start Up

At your age, I recommend getting the best range of experiences and mentoring that you can. So if your current firm doesn't look like it will have sufficient engineering work for you in the next year or two, and you are not learning a lot, and the startup offers potential for good mentoring and learning, then sounds like the start up might be the way to go. I would not worry about the hours now, assuming you are learning a lot, and assuming you don't have family constraints to work around.

RE: Working at a Start Up

My worry about your current firm is that after one YEAR, you seem to have only done two design, mainly drafting and a lot of doing nothing by your account.

that's neither good or sustainable.

"That kind of work is interesting to me, and what I envisioned myself doing coming out of college."

So what's stopping you?

Startups can be hard though - not many people to ask / check but if you apply yourself you can get a whole heap of good experience and have some fun.

Only thing to avoid is if you don't have any skin in the game (equity in the company), then you're a hired hand so behave like one. Work only when you're getting paid and within reason leave the all nighters and sudden 12 hour days tot eh principals who will see the reward.

Still seems like you're doing bridge work?

Sometimes opportunities come up which have a lot of potential, but are not perfect. Only you can decide if you want to take the risk - many people who do say it was the best decision they made to be in at the start of something which got bigger with them.

Remember - More details = better answers
Also: If you get a response it's polite to respond to it.

RE: Working at a Start Up

roykent,

My very first engineering job was with a high technology, fairly recent start-up. On the positive side, the work generally was interesting, and I got to use a remarkable amount of the stuff I was taught in college. On the down side, there was no one qualified to mentor me at my specialty. I learned way too much stuff by trial and error.

--
JHG

RE: Working at a Start Up

I guess it depends what you want to do.

do you want to do lots of engineering work, be responsible for it, be stressed, learn lots? take the leap. you will become a much better engineer.

do you want to relax, not do much engineering work, not do much work at all, and not learn much? stay where you are. you will probably become a lesser engineer. But with the lesser stress, and free headspace, you will probably be a better partner, friend and father, if you have much of those responsibilities in your life.

Neither path is perfect. Bridge work is generally more butt in seat, very safe, good QA, very procedural. less ups and downs in the market. often the jobs are government based. Building construction is more capitalistic. competitive, up and down with the market, a focus on pumping out design solutions fast. workloads can be overwhelming. this forces the business to need juniors to step up, be solid, and take responsibility.

I went with the buildings path. i enjoyed my job a lot more. now that i have a kid, i feel like i need to make a change. Even though i work for myself and from home, I'm not very often "present" with my wife and kid. my mind is always either on work, or tired.

RE: Working at a Start Up

Working for a star up is always going to be hard, it's a start up company because compared to traditional companies, they are literally creating their place in a market that even their competitors don't fully understand and according to the way you have written, between the two jobs it's the one that interests you the most.
stress and pressure is something you would have to deal with in any job where you are committed and looking to challenge and excel yourself, so you have to look for techniques that will help you escape and learn when to stop and not burden yourself more than necessary.
Regarding the work of the start up, you have to know what is the challenge or objective that they have as a company and if you would like to work with them to achieve it. That is, what are the objectives, what is the growth plan, how do they manage human resources... if it is going to be a challenge, the vision of the company must coincide with what you want to build professionally.

RE: Working at a Start Up

This is easy, if your current employer is giving you mostly grunt-work then you need to find a new, large employer asap and forget the startup.

My general advice for interns and juniors is to spend at least the first decade focused on growing your knowledge and income, job-hopping every 3-5 in the large corporate world. Spend a few years each working in design, lab/research/test, field engineering, and PM. Get out of your home area, travel, see the industry, and avoid small companies like the plague bc they're generally lacking for modern expertise, training budget, and internal capability.

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