I’m writing you today while sitting alone at a bar sipping whisky while the cool breeze blows past me and out to the open ocean.
This morning I spent a little time walking on the beach, taking a dip in the pool, and just woke up from a splendid nap. This weekend (minus the Maker’s Mark) is being paid for by my company, but the opportunity that has brought me to this place wasn’t by accident. It all started when I decided to finally take control of my engineering career path.
When I finally realized that it was time to leave my previous job, I had a lot of bad habits.
The day that my boss told me it was probably best for me to take the other job was the day my life changed, for the better.
I took a huge step backwards when I went to work at one of the top firms in the nation. I was an unknown, sure they’d hired some of my classmates who had vouched for me. And my resume spoke of a lot of experience, but all from a firm that they had never heard of.
The company took a chance on me, and gave me a couple different offers.
One of them would have landed me in the largest market that there is for electrical engineers in the area, Transmission and Distribution. The group was still growing monumentally year after year, and one of my friends and classmates worked in the division. I would have been one of 250+ (now close to 400 I believe) double E’s in Kansas City alone, and the trek to standing out wasn’t quite clear. Since I didn’t have a lot of experience in that area, minus some protective relaying from my power plant days, I would have to come in at a lower tier.
The second offer sounded like it had some potential.
There was this small group who needed someone with experience to assist with fueling systems. Airport and truck fueling to be specific. I knew no one in the group, and my only exposure to hazardous areas was from a study I’d performed at a processing facility the year before. The group was small and they seemed like they worked well together.
The person who would be my direct boss didn’t talk much, but his boss was a big talker.
He sold the company to me. My dreams of entrepreaunership were molded into the form of an employee owner as he spoke. The projects I would work on, the places I would go, he saw the world for me, and painted the picture so I did too.
I had some fear when I was about ready to sign. Anyone does, and I made a call to my boss’ boss and asked him about my direction. “Am I going to be able to I move into project management?”
“Sure. Not right away, but given time I’m sure we can move you that way.”
The first couple of years were hard. But I was determined to be the best of all of my peers so that I could realize the world I wanted to see.
While on my first trip to do an assessment of a Marine fueling depot in North Carolina, I didn’t follow the steps of the others with me. While everyone else was busy sleeping or watching TV on their iPhone during the flight, I was reading NFPA 30 and the UFC. When we got to the site I peppered my mentor with questions about everything we were seeing.
“Why do they filter the fuel both inbound and outbound? … Why is there no seal-off here but there is one there? … Shouldn’t there be lightning arrestors on top of the shed over the filling equipment?”
I was definitely annoying, but I genuinely wanted to know.
And no one cared.
One of the things that I’ve found in my career thus far is that if you ask questions from a place of trying to learn, it’s hard for someone to be upset with you. More often than not they’ll bend over backwards to help you learn as much as you want.
At least almost everyone I’ve ever met has been.
After a few years of sponging up all information that I could extract from everyone I came in contact with, I started getting better opportunities.
I would ask to take on more responsibility earlier than they thought to give it. I would volunteer for hard projects with difficult deadlines. If I found that a role wasn’t being filled on a project I would do my best to try and fill it.
As I continued to grow I continued getting in front of more and more clients.
After a while some of the clients liked the way that I handled things. They confided in me those items that they had problems with around their facilities.
I sold my first job.
A small study to do an assessment of a safety system at a large airport.
The study went well, my boss took me to the meeting with the client where they talked about the next stage. Funding a full project based upon the recommendations that I laid out in the study.
We won the project.
I’m now the project manager on that project, not in name because our company has rules about managing money. But from all external and internal perceptions, I’m the project manager.
It feels good.
So how did that land with me being on an island this weekend sipping whisky and writing to you all? I became a known quantity.
My boss trusts me implicitly to take care of the client needs.
I loop back with him regularly, and if I have any concerns about something that I need to do he gets the final call.
We’ve been fighting some issues on a particularly difficult project for some time now. One of the contractors keeps pointing to something else in the system and saying that it’s the reason the system doesn’t operate properly.
I was involved in the design, but only the electrical. This is a mechanical issue.
Remember when I was building report with people and getting them to give me more and more information, I was doing it in and outside of my expertise. The chief mechanical engineer for our group has dubbed me an honorary mechanical engineer.
So when the time came to send someone down here to troubleshoot an issue that the client is having, I volunteered.
And they trusted me, so now it’s time to execute.
Is there an example of a decision that you made which allowed you to take control of your engineering career path?