Engineering Your Way to Success
As you look forward to your first job in transportation engineering, you wonder how the work experience will differ from the college experience and you are anxious to know the key elements of a successful engineering career. The good news is that being a transportation engineer is lot more fun than studying to become one. Transportation engineering is a unique mixture of the logic and objectivity of traditional engineering training and the creativity, imagination, and intuition normally associated with “right brain” activity. Unlike structural engineering, transportation engineering problems can have more than one right answer.
In choosing your first job, you should be more concerned about the experience you will gain than the amount of compensation you receive. The job offering the best experience will usually provide the best financial reward in the long run. You want to look for a job that will permit you to develop your professional artistry. Baseball pitchers do their best after they “find their groove.” Jazz musicians “get a feel” for the music. Professional engineers “reflect in action”; that is, they develop “engineering judgment” based on their experience. Their experience allows them to reflect on their past experience during the solution of a current problem to develop almost an intuitive feel for the solution.
You should be looking for a job that will help you develop that professional artistry on “engineering judgment.”
You should also plan to develop a broad view of transportation engineering. New engineers tend to be assigned to only a small segment of the total transportation engineering picture. In whatever portion of the problem you are assigned at the beginning, it is important to remember that the broad goal should be to promote the safe and efficient movement of people and goods. If what you are doing enhances that objective, then you know you are on the right track. Transportation engineers can be involved in planning, design, construction, and operation of transportation facilities. The board view, however, might also lead them to become involved in the financing of transportation facilities because that also enhances the goal of promoting safe and efficient movement of people and goods.
The National Society of Professional Engineers published Engineering Your Way to Success, which lists 9 key elements for a successful engineering career. They are:
• Technical Skills
• Communications Skills
• Leadership Qualities
• Management Ability
• Ambition/Hard Work/Commitment
Before discussing these key elements to a successful engineering career, it is important to note that you will have to develop your own definition of success. What is important for you may differ from what is important to other engineers.
The first element of success is technical skills. You need to continue to learn. Your technical skills should be maintained by reading technical journals such as ITE Journal and the publications of the Transportation Research Board. You should plan to attend technical seminars such as those offered by the Institute of Transportation Engineers and the Transportation Research Board. You should become active in professional societies. This will not only provide you with an avenue to maintain your technical skills, but it will also make you aware of new job opportunities.
The second element is judgment. As noted earlier, you should seek to develop your professional artistry or engineering judgment. Judgment is partly intuitive, partly inherited, partly individual make-up, and partly experience and training. The degree to which you can develop your engineering judgment will, in large part, determine you advancement in engineering organizations.
The third element is communications skills. You should develop your abilities in speaking, writing, graphics, and listening. The solutions to engineering problems cannot be implemented with the support of the public or the elected officials who represent the public. To communicate the results of your studies and your recommended solutions; you need good speaking and writing abilities. Your primary task here is to make the complicated issues you have studied appear to be simple.
In the communications area, the ability to sketch and read diagrams is an important skill. It is often said that an engineer cannot talk without a pencil in his hand. Finally, to be effective in communicating, you must also be able to receive comments as well as to give them. This requires good listening skills, and listening is an important part of the communications process.
The fourth element of success is leadership qualities. Good leaders are people you can trust. They create positive regard in others who work around them. There are many different leadership styles and theories, but the key elements of good leadership are trust and the creation of positive regard in others.
The fifth element is management ability. Many organizations have “mentor programs” to match new engineers with more experienced engineers. The intent is to have the new engineer benefit from the experience of the older engineer. The more experienced engineer also gains in this relationship because they have identified someone who can help them with their work and they have the satisfaction of helping a younger engineer grow. If, as a young engineer, you find yourself without a mentor, you should consider adopting one. You need to look for an older engineer whose opinion you respect and who is willing to give advice from time to time. Good managers have three important characteristics: (1) they make decisions on time; (2) they provide the resources needed to get the job done, and (3) they make subordinates look good. The goal of a good manager is to satisfy the customer, boss, or client.
The sixth element is teamwork. Engineering colleagues need to listen to one another and learn from one another. Bo Schembechler, a past football coach for the University of Michigan, always emphasized “the team”. He told his individual players that what they do must advance the goals of the team. This philosophy resulted in successful teams (never a losing season) and successful individual players.
The seventh element is integrity. You must keep your word. Integrity is the only basis for enduring relationships. No brilliance of the mind, no prowess of the body, counts when measured against character.
The eighth element is service. You should look for opportunities to participate in your community. There is wealth of working experience to be gained through volunteer activities in the community. Your participation makes the community better and advances your personal and professional growth.
The ninth element is ambition/hard work/commitment. You need to understand that the job make take more than 40 hours per week. You need to be willing to put in the extra time to make sure the job is done right. You need to love your work.
Transportation engineering is a dynamic profession, combining the intuitive with the rational. It is an opportunity to serve your community through public works. Your works make the world a better place. It is more fun to be a transportation engineer than to study to be one.