What You Won’t Learn in Engineering School

Posted by on Dec 9, 2014

auburn ITEI really enjoy speaking with students, and over the years I’ve had the opportunity to get to know students at several universities. Most recently, I was invited to speak to the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) student chapter at Auburn University.

In these presentations, I often talk about our divisions at Sain Associates and some of our projects. The students at Auburn were interested in my career path, so I told them the story about how I went from being a stock boy to a CEO. I learned a lot as a stock boy, and I continue to learn everyday as a CEO. I think it is important that we continue to learn throughout our careers.

I like to offer advice. I put myself in an engineering student’s shoes and think about what I would have wanted to know when I was still a student. This helps me come up with some thoughts about things that they won’t necessarily learn in engineering school but should know as they get ready to enter the working world. I also try to provide tips about what we look for when a young person comes to interview with us at Sain.

Here are 12 pieces of advice for engineering students entering the work force:

1. Do the Right Thing – Always try to treat others how you would want to be treated. When you have this attitude toward customers, clients, staff, co-workers, etc., it’s hard to go wrong.
2. Have a Strong Work Ethic – What we do as civil engineers is not always an 8-5 job. Sometimes it requires more. Today’s students are a part of the millennial generation and need to understand what the perceptions are, including the idea that millennials do not have a strong work ethic. I don’t agree with that, and I know that many millennials can probably work circles around us in an 8 hour day, but they go about it differently than the older generation might. It’s important to understand this dynamic.
3. Know Your Ethics – Each one of us is responsible for acting ethically, not the boss or someone else in the company.
4. Collaborate – Many people think it is a weakness if you have to ask questions, but I see it as a strength. Regardless of your experience level, ask questions and share ideas.
5. Give of Yourself – Give your time, talent and money. I’ve always felt that when I give of myself, I grow from it.
6. Begin with the End in Mind – This is #2 on Stephen Covey’s list of 7 habits of highly effective people. I think it’s an important concept for professional life, but it can be applied to every other aspect of life as well.
7. Be a Life Long Learner – Have a sense that you’ve never arrived. You can always improve, and no matter how well you do things now, you can always do better.
8. Learn from Your Mistakes – Start by admitting you made a mistake and ask for forgiveness.
9. Practice Servant Leadership – Remember that it’s not about your title or your position, but it’s about using your knowledge and expertise to help others.
10. Be a Good Listener – It’s important to listen to what people say, verbally and nonverbally.
11. Social Media Perspective – When you go for a job interview, know that the firms you’re meeting with have most likely already checked you out. Because of this, you need to be careful about your social media presence. Your reputation is at stake. Social media can also be a good thing when it comes to positive branding and making a good impression.
12. Excellent Communication Skills Required – Today’s civil engineer still spends a good bit of time on tasks like technical writing and communication. In my opinion, good communication skills separate an average engineer from an exceptional one.

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