10 tips for the next generation of engineers

Future engineers starting out in their careers can succeed by being active in their community, getting to know their peers and staying informed. Ten tips are highlighted.

By Patrick Gerstner July 20, 2022
Courtesy: Dewberry

In my 28 years at Dewberry, I’ve learned a lot, much of which I think still applies to young engineers today. I was first hired at Dewberry in 1993, fresh from graduating from Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. By the time I was 25, I was working as a project engineer, but was also responsible for assisting with a lot of information technology (IT) and planning committee needs, which provided me with some versatility and taught me some long-lasting lessons. I also had the fortune of getting involved as an assistant project manager on three highway intersection projects early on for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, which helped grow my engineering skills and taught me valuable lessons about working in a project team environment.

Those lessons have only grown over the last 28 years, and I wanted to take that knowledge and pass it on to the next generation of engineers. Here are 10 of the most critical pieces of advice I would give:

1. Always carry a pencil and tablet when meeting someone.

This originally came from the head of the highway group when I first started at our Dillsburg, Penn., office, who told me to have a tablet for every project. I’ve carried this piece of advice with me on to my role as an associate vice president. I always suggest to new interns and entry-level recruits to bring a pen and paper when going into meetings. I find this helps when wanting to look back on the key takeaways from the meeting as well as any actionable items I will need to work on. Trying to digest and memorize everything in a meeting is very challenging, so a few notes can make a big difference.

2. Look for the answer before asking the question.

When I had first started, I remember getting one of my annual reviews back, and my boss told me that I needed to start bringing solutions to the table instead of coming to her and asking for the answer. As an engineer, people are supposed to be trained to think for themselves, so engineers need to consider what resources they have at their disposal, whether it be online or in past project documentation, before going to his or her supervisor.

3. Find the right answer, not the easiest.

Some individuals might shop around for the answer they thought was right. As engineers, people need to be looking for the correct solution, not the solution someone wants to hear or the easiest one. There are ethical standards to uphold.

4. Get involved in professional organizations for engineers.

Get involved in professional organizations early on. These professional societies offer additional sources of learning in different engineering disciplines and networking opportunities, allowing members to tap into the latest trends and technologies. It can also help people prepare for the professional dngineer (PE) exam, as young professionals can network with engineers who have already passed it. I am a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the American Society of Highway Engineers (ASHE). Both memberships have been beneficial.

5. Get to know other engineers at the same level.

It is important to get to know and hold respect for colleagues. Each individual brings unique qualities and capabilities to the table; and who knows, maybe those connections will be decision makers with the young engineers and that relationship they have fostered over the years will be beneficial for both parties.

Patrick Gerstner (right) receiving a 25-year Service Award at Dewberry from Curtis Sanno. Courtesy: Dewberry

Patrick Gerstner (right) receiving a 25-year Service Award at Dewberry from Curtis Sanno. Courtesy: Dewberry

6. Start to track projects in preparation for a PE application.

Start PE exam prep early. Talking to those who’ve passed their PE exam will be the most beneficial, as most engineers will gladly pass along their experience and guidance to engineers early in their careers. While preparing, start tracking what projects are being working on. This information will make the process of adding engineering experience to a PE application less painful.

7. Pay attention to everything on a project, this will help when promoted to manage the entire project.

As a highway engineer, I don’t do any of the structural design work. However, I’ve made efforts to get to know all the design aspects of a project in order to be an effective project manager.

8. Follow through with commitments.

As engineers, people need to make sure that they hit their deadlines. When deadlines aren’t met that have been agreed to with clients, it can mess up their schedule and budgets, but it also affects clients and how they operate. One example of this was when I told a project manager that I’d try to get my submission in by Friday, and her response to me was that there’s no trying, you’re either going to do it, or you’re not going to do it.

9. Take time to stay informed of innovation by reading news articles, industry publications or searching the web.

Keep informed of ideas that could provide opportunities or have an impact on work. Read publications, such as the local newspaper to keep abreast of local projects, politics, etc. This information may be useful for current or future projects. Other industry publications to read include those by American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), ASHE, ASCE and more. Searching the web also can help find new and innovative ideas that may also be useful on projects.

10. Focus on what is important and relevant to the specific job.

I’ve found what’s important to me currently is identifying things that will hopefully leave the office better than when I started and to help my staff improve themselves to be prepared to take on even more challenging projects as they advance in their careers.

To all the next generation of engineers out there, I hope you consider my advice because there’s a lot I wish I had known when I started out. Now go out there and pass your PE exam!

This originally appeared on Dewberry’s website. Dewberry is a CFE Media and Technology content partner.

Original content can be found at Dewberry.

Author Bio: Patrick Gerstner is a PE at Dewberry and has worked there for 28 years.