Principles to Excel in Projects and Your New Job

Nothing was slow-paced about the internship that taught me the real world of civil engineering. Design in steel connections for the WVU Solar Decathlon team; foundation, base plate and main member design for a column relocation; analysis in barge assembly structures and temporary polyurethane platforms; a feasibility study for an office addition; major drafting reviews for a sports stadium renovation; and photo documentation for pedestrian bridges and multi-use residential projects.

The work done by just an intern has shown me the diversity and necessity that exists in structural engineering, and Allegheny Design Services‘ hands-on and can-do approach to projects of all sizes and forms.

As much as it was doing a job and delivering a product on time and on budget, it was just as much learning experience. I found three key take-aways from this summer to be very important for any engineer looking to not only start your career on the ground running, but also to build your portfolio, find growth and opportunity in your own career, and cement your value on the design team.

  1. Know what you know, and know what you don’t know

For engineering students, this boils down to theory, equations, limit states, and ratios. Every homework problem, test question, quiz, was about designing a member or connection to its very best (i.e. exactly what’s on the professor’s solution calculations). These things are important to conquer, or you’ll never make it to the next step; however, the actual use of all this information isn’t fully realized until you see it in practice. Shortcuts, approximations, and experience, all within the parameters of the governing codes, are in many instances more efficient in design and cost when utilized properly and frequently. Heeding advice from the experienced professionals in your office will lend well to the project you’re working on and to your skills as an effective engineer.


First tip out of the gate…don’t be this guy


2.  Work on the problem, but for the client

While the building, bridge, stadium, scoreboard, or garage is the main assignment, remember that the project doesn’t exist without the client. We all know the way schools work, so let’s make an easy comparison: the professor in the real world is the client – the relationship you have with them matters. The professor might not feel very generous bumping your grade for poor work and tardiness, but he might be lenient on giving you a better grade for high participation and pensive questions. Similarly, your client might either be dissatisfied leaving a less than stellar recommendation for a poorly conceived and executed project, or might be so pleased for a well-thought out design that it wins your next project. And on top of that, they expect you to have the answer without any “solution” to check it, with full confidence that you are the expert in the field and that all of your background and previous work are proving indicators of your capability. This is hard to prepare for coming straight out of school, but with the last point in mind this comes with time. This conveniently leads into the last point…

       3.  Building codes and site constraints govern design, with the $ not far behind

The value of the training received in my school has proved valuable and necessary; however, I learned the environment of the work causes a great change of focus for the same tasks. Not understanding a homework problem and taking the time needed to understand it was ok in school, but at work, you better find what you need to know fast or you’re going to drag your team down in inefficiency. Spending less time on the same project as competitors with the same results not only bodes great for your company, but also leaves for a happy client. Lesson learned: know when accuracy loses out to proficient design.

There are two ways you can take your first job:

  1. You can either make the quick assumption that you’re not going to be useful, that there exists a great gap between you and the engineers you work with and take that comfortable ride.
  2. Or, you can realize that many of those around you didn’t graduate from school long before you, and that by asking questions, looking for better answers, and learning from your mistakes,you will absorb more and earn increasingly complicated projects. With the help of the engineers at Allegheny Design, my experience has been thankfully of the latter.

Allegheny Design Services

Interesting, challenging projects as I mentioned weren’t hard to come by at Allegheny Design. Those mentioned above and more can be found at our projects page here.

Allegheny Design Services, established in 2002, specializes in many different areas of Structural and MEP engineering.  We provide reliable, responsible services of building system design and analysis and are the link between owners, architects, and contractors.

We help the architect realize their vision while providing simple, buildable solutions to the contractor.

Thanks for reading,