Lessons learned

Nov 11, 2019

Trust your judgement, speak up, and keep learning. Your efforts will pay dividends down the road.

As a supervisory civil engineer for the federal government in Albuquerque, I’ve had some real life experiences with problems that can arise in this industry. Here are some insights for other engineers on lessons learned and pitfalls to avoid.

Satisfy your question by completing your own research of the topic: It was a spring afternoon in eastern New Mexico and I found myself completing routine activities while walking my jobsite for a rebar inspection prior to our next concrete placement. I was the project engineer for two Squadron Operation Facilities estimated at $22 million and approximately 60,000 square feet of new construction.

As the contractor was approaching concrete placement on the second floor metal deck, I noticed several wide flange beams that appeared smaller, but were supporting the same spans as the larger ones directly adjacent.

I asked the superintendent and quality control manger why those specific beams were different when they were supporting the same span as the adjacent larger beams. The response did not sit well: They stated other engineers designed the facility and that’s what the drawings specified, so that’s what was installed.

Disturbed with the answer I went back to the office trailer and looked at the structural drawings to confirm the beam sizes per the contract. The contract drawings called for W12x14s that were installed just as the superintendent insisted. I was concerned with the deflection requirements from experience as these beams seemed smaller than I would’ve anticipated for the specific clear span. I notified the superintendent that I believed there was a typo in the beam sizes during the drafting stage and we needed to notify the DOR for a final verification prior to concrete placement. The DOR confirmed the beam sizes were incorrect and the quick fix was to provide an additional beam below the existing W12x14s by stitch welding a secondary beam to support the load and satisfy deflection requirements set forth by the LRFD design code. The true beam size should’ve been W21x44 to match surrounding wide flanges.

I truly believe the lesson here is to trust your engineering judgment, and if something seems off follow through and complete your own research of the topic until you receive an answer that relieves your concerns in any situation.

Speak when necessary if you have the knowledge or insight on the discussion: I went to work for the federal government immediately following my graduation with a civil engineering degree in 2007. I considered obtaining a master’s degree then, but I felt the need for real experiences that came with being an engineer.

I began in the general engineering section utilizing Bentley software platforms, Specs Intact, and various modeling programs to generate construction drawings and specifications.

I’m definitely an introvert and have been considered shy throughout my life. I’ve found myself in many situations/meetings where a question or concern arose which I had an answer for, but was shy and didn’t want to sound inexperienced. Numerous times I didn’t speak up when I had an educated response, and I’ve learned that never helps any project delivery team, especially during meeting collaboration.

It’s always better to identify a concern or share the knowledge you have on a specific situation if you feel it’s beneficial to the discussion. Time and time again I find myself in situations where a topic or concern is identified which someone responds to intelligently and it can help others on their specifics for the project or uncover another concern/issue that needs to be addressed.

Always strive for progression in some area of your career: Always keep an open mind and be the type of professional you would want to interact with. In my opinion, any type of job experience can contribute to professional growth. Embrace opportunities for cross-training within the industry and vigilantly learn from all experiences. As you see yourself advancing and developing, maintain your software proficiency and always push for progression in some area of your career.

There are many different approaches or methods you can use to grow your career. A great example is learning a new software program or learning about a topic or discipline related to your career. You can maximize professional experiences by attending high performing seminars by leaders within the industry, leaders who provide great examples and can even serve as unofficial mentors for what you can strive for professionally. Pursue additional certifications and possibly even graduate-level education as you become more discipline focused throughout your career.

A career is a relationship you have with yourself. You’re the only person with the knowledge and insight on the level of effort you’re putting in to progress it. Be honest with yourself about how you want your career to progress. Set high expectations and then explore different methods to obtain and reach your goals. All the hard work and effort you put in will pay dividends down the road.

James D. Vigil, A.M.ASCE, is a supervisory civil engineer for the federal government in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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