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Advice for Design Professionals at the Beginning of Their Careers

Advice for Design Professionals at the Beginning of Their Careers

Author: B. Ulrich, D. Rector, J. Coffin, J. Taylor, J. Street, J. Reiva, M. Engle, B. Hutchings, B. Fahl, Z. Fox, R. Sauer and R. Dorow
Conference: Tailings and Mine Waste 2016
Date: October 2-5, 2016

At the beginning of their careers, design engineers and those serving in similar capacities are filled with an eagerness to learn, and the energy to fulfill that enthusiasm. A good mentor is able to take that enthusiasm and combine it with their own experience in a way that will give newer professionals a step up in the industry. As our team of experienced engineers reflect on things they wish they had known when they started their careers, they have put together this short presentation of what bolstered or would have bolstered their careers most when they were starting out. The discussions, perhaps not surprisingly, focused less on technical learning and more on general life abilities: Relationships, Communications and Life Lessons.

Ralph Peck delivered a talk to members of the 1977 graduating class of West Point. Specifically, the speech was given to individuals who were about to be commissioned into the Army Corps of Engineers. His advice came from his decades-long career, and much of his advice still stands the test of time. In a nutshell, Peck advised his audience to develop engineering judgment, which he said could be gained by:

  1. Making every assignment count, large or small – there is always something that can be learned.
  2. Carrying a notebook, and filling it with notes, thereby improving one’s observational skills.
  3. Getting a feeling for the size of things. This is especially valuable in today’s computer-driven workforce. If your car tires have an inflation pressure of 220 kilo Pascals (kPa) [32 pounds per square inch (psi)], does it make sense that your foundation has an allowable bearing capacity of 70 kPa [10 psi]?
  4. Reading technical literature to continue your education (Peck, 1977).

While that advice is very insightful and helpful, it is also helpful to step back and appraise matters from a fresh perspective. In order to accomplish this goal, a team of people were solicited to become authors of this paper. While business journals produce a steady flow of information and instructions on how baby boomers can appreciate and get the most out of millennials, the idea of the process presented herein is to reverse the question, and ask how millennials can excel in the workplace. The obvious topic of work-life balance was discussed. Especially with regard to the company’s expectations of them and how they should comprehend those expectations before starting out on a new job or assignment.

The authors of this paper represent people at a broad range of experience in their careers, anywhere from less than one year of professional employment to a few decades. The intent of gathering this diverse group was to capture people at various stages in their career and to ask them what advice they wish they had received early in their employment. The first activity of the authors was to brainstorm through a list of topics that would form the basis of the advice.


Download the full technical paper.