You know what they say when you graduate: it takes four years to get a college degree, but only four minutes at your job to discover that everything you learned in school could very well go down the drain. While this might (regrettably) be true for you, this is definitely not the case for us engineers! In the following sections, I will talk about what you can expect when starting a new role at an engineering company based on my experience joining a team of industrial and systems engineers – including continued nurturing of hard-earned academic skill sets at the professional level.
Contributing Right Away
Most engineering companies adhere to the philosophy that the best way to learn is by doing. This doesn’t mean that as soon as you’re hired you’ll be submerged, uncaged, into shark-infested waters. (Not usually anyway!) It does mean that your colleagues are already exercising their inherent trust in your abilities as demonstrated through the interview process – with an increased level of difficulty meant to provide direction and stimulus for your growth. (After all, there’s no better incentive than the risk of professional embarrassment to ensure that you’ll vigorously pursue your training!)
All jokes aside: just like your team is trusting you, you will learn to trust them, because it turns out they’ve strategically paired you with real opportunities that complement your training plan and will serve to cement your understanding.
Managing the Onboarding Process as Your Own PM
Every company plays a critical role when it comes to enabling new hires to transition from a place of overwhelming to-do lists into a productive work rhythm. Although you can expect to receive thorough guidance on how to acquire and develop necessary skills and foster key relationships, you should also expect to be given a higher degree of responsibility through this process. You are essentially the Project Manager of your own onboarding, which requires methodical attention as you weave your training requirements in a logical fashion while, in parallel, make progress on your project workstreams.
As we discussed before, these will not be independent paths of each other, but the benefit of this added layer of complexity is that eventually you will have to go “off-script” as you find yourself at the end of the checklist rightfully thinking there is still much more to learn! Owning the approach to your development in this way empowers you to set your own pace and to build a proactive habit of pairing project execution with personal education that you will carry with you into the future.
Finding the Experts… and Preparing to Become One Yourself
One of the great realizations of working at an engineering company is that the most relevant and interesting knowledge is all housed internally – not in a giant database you can query, but in the collective brainpower of the people around you. All you really have to do to start taking advantage of this is ask for some time on their calendar and proceed to bask in their collective years of experience, distilled into digestible nuggets of information. You’ll soon find that formalized, unilateral lectures will quickly evolve more into informal, bilateral discussions. In some cases, you’ll be tinkering at the forefront of unsolved industry problems as part of the collaborative effort to propose the best answers.
The nature of this people-driven training structure is especially rewarding to those with an outgoing and inquisitive attitude. Your coworkers, who are already invested in your success, are usually more than willing to participate – but only as often as you ask. If you start questioning the value of these interactions, consider that you’ll be most helpful to them (and yourself!) if you can focus your efforts on improving (and not re-discovering in isolation) the way things are done.
Laying the groundwork for this network of relationships will also facilitate your ability to explore projects you might have an affinity toward and eventually make more informed decisions to specialize professionally later on. Plus, knowing early how to locate the right doors for particular questions and conversations will prove to be a very valuable asset down the road. Of equal importance, being able to share your experience with those around you is what will make it all the most fun!
Owning Your Work
One of the most enjoyable aspects about working at an engineering company is that you get to fully own the deliverables that you lead. Whereas other lines of work lend themselves more to having the cumulative effort of a group be presented solely by one team lead, engineering teams tend to allow or even require those who pushed particular workstreams to always be present during their work’s interpretation due to their high level of complexity. In other words, you get to be an expert who communicates the work that you helped build. The client-facing nature of this role serves both as a great opportunity to showcase your findings but also to perfect the delivery of their value to a client in a repeatable way.
Contextualizing Your Impact
An important part of onboarding at an engineering company is taking the time to properly understand how your role fits in with the larger purpose of the organization as a whole. Since we often interact with other business units across the company, I was able to appreciate how Bastian Solutions encourages all new hires to learn about the efforts of other divisions for a more meaningful work experience and a more powerful client interaction. We do this in multiple ways, such as going through a formal, week-long training program that gives an introduction to the company, and subsequently setting up one-on-one interviews with thought leaders and managers across the firm to drill down on topics that are in closest proximity to what we do.
Not only do we do this at the company level, but we also make it a priority to attend multiple trade shows and participate in industry-wide discourse to continuously integrate best practices and refine our approach. This methodology prepares our consulting team to spearhead engagements with clients in a way that leverages the entire company’s resources and the industry’s technology breakthroughs for the benefit of our customers.
Sizing the Gap of Your Current and Future State Self
Coming full circle, you can be proud (and relieved!) joining an engineering company knowing that the academic rigor you willingly accepted has put you in a position where you can immediately start contributing to and growing in your organization. Even more exciting is the fact that there’s still much more to learn, and that you’ll get to do so through projects with transcendental impact while collaborating with seasoned experts in your field and in complementary disciplines.
As you embark on this journey, take a moment to evaluate yourself in a way that is documentable so that you might design the “future state” of you that you can continuously assess your progress against. As an engineer, you have a unique opportunity to visualize how you might grow professionally over the course of your trajectory in an engineering firm by targeting particular skills you want in your toolkit and projects you want under your belt. If, when you look around at your peers, you find that they are producing meaningful work that you’d someday like to replicate and build upon, you’re at the right place. Now it’s up to you to get there.
Working at an engineering firm isn’t easy, but you wouldn’t have chosen this field if you wanted something easy. The engineering profession is extremely rewarding, as you continuously grow your knowledge base to solve problems that help businesses and the people who work in them perform their best. If you’re interested in working for a successful engineering firm that values its employees, check out what careers are available at Bastian Solutions.
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