Take initiative in your engineering career
By focusing on opportunities, career advancement is possible at any point.
Major life milestones tend to bring with them moments of reflection. As I approached my 50th year on this earth, I began to reflect on my career as an engineering project manager with more than 25 years of experience. I found myself wondering: How many exciting projects have I been a part of? How many engineers have I influenced, trained, or mentored? When I retire, what will my legacy be?
Once you begin to ask yourself these questions, you realize the amount of opportunity that is still available to you in your career development. Because the truth is, regardless of where you are in your career, even at age 50, there is always an opportunity to take advantage of new beginnings. It simply takes initiative and focus.
As a young engineer full of energy and ambition, I—like many others—was frequently reminded that I would be more productive and valuable to the organization once I got further up on the learning curve. But what happens when you actually advance along the curve? What does the curve of an engineer’s lifecycle look like? Is it the typical learning curve with exponential growth to an apex, which then levels off? God forbid it is represented by the Gaussian or bell curve that shows a decline mirroring the incline.
As a (young) 50-year-old, I did not want either of these images to represent my career, at least not yet. I needed a way to revitalize my career and reset my curve to an upward incline. My career had progressed quite well over the years and I had a comfortable position as a project manager within my organization, but I wanted more. So, I began to look for ways to continue my growth within and outside of our organization. At first, I focused on the low-hanging fruit: mentoring students, recruiting engineering interns, doing technical presentations, going after more challenging projects, and nurturing strong relationships with our current and future client base.
But then the announcement was made: We would be opening a new office and the search was on to find the right person to lead and staff that office. I thought, “Hey, what about me? I can do it. I can lead and grow this office.” Nevertheless, I volunteered to assist with interviewing potential candidates and business development. We interviewed several candidates with varying levels of experience and technical knowledge. However, none of the candidates was familiar with our corporate culture or our organization’s unique approach to conducting business. It became clear that we needed to promote from within. And after dropping a few subtle hints of my interest, I was approached by one of the principals and asked if I would be willing to relocate and lead the new office.
This was the boost my career needed, as I was not ready to cruise through the remainder of my engineering lifecycle. This opportunity should prove to be the most challenging and rewarding phase of my career. This position has proven to be rewarding in many ways: we were awarded our first major project for the new office within a couple of months, I have been introduced to a whole new network of like-minded professionals, and I now have the ability to grow a business without investing personal finances. Through my experiences I have learned that it is never too late for new opportunities. If you have opportunities early in your career, don’t hesitate—go for them. And if you are an aging baby boomer, do not be discouraged—there are opportunities for you as well. Just ask yourself: Are you willing to accept new opportunities and the challenges they present?
Avery L. Monroe is a mechanical engineer and Charlotte office branch manager at RMF Engineering. He has more than 25 years of experience in the design, analysis, and construction administration of HVAC, plumbing, and fire protection systems serving educational, health care, laboratory, military, and commercial facilities. He has successfully grown the office to an efficient staff of four within the first few months of his leadership.