This May marked one full year since I graduated from The University of Texas at San Antonio with my Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. I was fortunate and thankful to begin working in June directly following graduation. So far, my new position has fulfilled what I had hoped for in a career as an engineer, but my daily activities don’t look quite like I expected. With my college career not too far behind me, it is easy to recall how I once envisioned life as a full time engineer.
As one might suspect, engineering school was full of formulas, math, science and applied physics…and more math. I would sit in the library working through tedious problems by hand. Several sheets of paper would be covered with scribbles of equations, and math to eventually solving for some glorious answer. This ritual painted a picture, in my mind at least, that this pen-to-paper problem solving was the primary activity of an engineer’s work. I imagined that in a professional setting, I would work through long problems all day, solving for key values and figures that were part of a greater overall design.
It is expected that school will teach you the technical side of engineering, but what I’ve come to learn in my fifteen months’ time employed in the professional world is that the technical aspect of engineering is only a portion of what I do.
Much of my time is spent working and coordinating with others. Whether it’s architects or other engineers in my office, I am constantly coordinating my work and updating others on my progress. We have to be aware of the entire design team’s work and progress, and accommodate for their practices and designs when executing our own. We must all work towards the same goal, which would not be possible without constant communication each step of the design process.
In my final year of engineering coursework, group projects became the focal point of each major course. I can now see that as we had begun to finally master the work ethic of actual pencil-to-paper calculations, the final objective to learn was how to work well with others. This collaboration is now the key to success in the professional field (along with the ability to provide quality engineering design, of course). Without communication, the ability to convey ideas, and general people skills, I doubt one could thrive in engineering—a profession that I once believed to be all math and book work. To me, the development of those skills is the greatest difference between engineering school and the engineering profession.
By Gentry Colvin, Mechanical Engineer-in-Training