Career advice for aspiring engineers

Southland Industries engineers provide insight and career advice on what it means to be an engineer

By Andy Reed April 6, 2020

Engineers Week is an entire week dedicated to recognizing the men and women in engineering, the importance of a technical education well-versed in mathematics, science, and technology, and how to motivate the next generation of Pioneers in Progress to pursue careers in the engineering workforce. Engineers from across Southland Industries provide their insight and experience on what it means to be an engineer.


  • Jackie Rhodes, design engineer, Southland Industries, Dulles, Va.
  • Adam Lund, design engineer, TCM Corp, Portland, Ore.
  • Charles Napier, senior controls engineer, Envise, Las Vegas, Nev.
  • Andrew Wong, engineering specialist, Envise, Union City, Calif.
  • Elizabeth Schmidt, design engineer, TCM Corp, Portland, Ore.
  • Rita Chiu, senior design engineer, Southland Industries, Garden Grove, Calif.
  • Corey Lehman, principal engineer, Southland Industries, Garden Grove, Calif.
  • Matt Carroll, design engineer, Southland Industries, Garden Grove, Calif.
  • Justin Rebitzke, design engineer, TCM Corp, Portland, Ore.
  • Yanlin Zeng, controls engineering supervisor, Envise, Sterling, Va.

Why did you choose engineering?

Jackie Rhodes: I chose engineering because it is the ultimate field for challenge and creativity. It is a field that allows you to apply your knowledge and skills to solve real world problems, and help others.

Charles Napier: My father was an engineer and I was always interested in drafting, and fascinated with how things worked.

Corey Lehman: I chose engineering because I found that I thrive from creatively solving problems. Problem solving is at the core of engineering, and I have a constant need to exercise creativity.

Andrew Wong: As a kid, I loved toys that allowed me to build things, such as Legos, K’nex, and erector sets. What I enjoyed the most about all these toys was that if I could imagine something, I could build it with these toys. As I grew older, I realized that what I enjoyed the most about life was creating tangible things that that I could use, and share with other people. This is what led me to choose engineering.

Justin Rebitzke: Engineering chose me.

What surprised you the most about a career in engineering?

Elizabeth Schmidt: What I have learned, and continue to learn, is that there are many metrics for success as an engineer and one of the most important is the ability to communicate. Throughout the design and construction process, there are infinite ways that misunderstandings can happen, and a design engineer who excels will find a way, through clear and intentional communication, to unify the diverse goals of all parties involved.

Charles Napier: Even though I have been doing this job for a long, long time, I am still surprised at how much you still can learn.

Rita Chiu: What I found most surprising is that you continue to meet people who says “oh, it’s cool to meet a woman engineer.”  It’s like people forget that there are women in their engineering classes in college.

Justin Rebitzke: The most surprising thing about engineering is the high level of personal interaction with passionate like-minded people that can easily turn into lasting friendships.

What is the number one lesson you’ve learned in your career?

Yanlin Zeng: Communication is the key to success. One time I did an engineering job without gathering enough information from sales team and it turns out my initial engineering work is totally wasted. Keep the communication going.

Matt Carroll: In a career, relationships are the most important currency. Make people feel valued, honor your commitments, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Adam Lund: A lesson I’ve learned is that good communication is key in order to build a successful team which then plays into a successful project.

Charles Napier: I’ve learned to be attentive to details – as they say, “the devil is in the details.” A small note missing on a drawing can cost hours of time for the installation team.

Elizabeth Schmidt: Approach every situation as an opportunity to learn: conversations with facility personnel, drafting tasks with little design ownership, seemingly unrelated training sessions, and mistake management.

Rita Chiu: Experience takes time. You can’t learn everything overnight. Never stop learning.

Andrew Wong: My number one lesson I’ve learned in my career is always to ask questions and advice from other people.  I’ve met a lot of different colleagues that have helped mentor and train me along the way.

What words of advice do you have for students interested in pursuing an engineering career?

Elizabeth Schmidt: I would encourage anyone who is even remotely interested in engineering to go for it. I believe that most people can find a position within engineering where they are challenged and able to contribute with their unique skills. Reach out about job shadowing and speak to as many employers as possible at career fairs.

Rita Chiu: My advice for future engineers is to find good mentors. The industry we work in is small so it’s important to build relationships with the people you work with.

Yanlin Zeng: Engineering is not easy. I would tell students interested in an engineering career that when you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

Matt Carroll: Talk with as many people as you can who are already a few years into their profession. Find out how their work really makes them feel. Ask how they are valued at work, and what they might have done differently.

What are some fun things you’ve been able to do as an engineer?

Adam Lund: As an engineer, I’ve enjoyed traveling to many different parts of the United States, and seeing the infrastructure that is required for different building types.

Charles Napier: I’ve had the most fun participating in travel to remote job sites for project walks.

Justin Rebitzke: The most fun and satisfying moments come from being part of cohesive team that has a unified goal to provide design/construction services that benefit our community as a whole, but also the individual.

This article originally appeared on Southland’s blog, In the Big Room. Southland is a CFE Media content partner. 

Author Bio: Andy Reed is a copywriter for Southland Industries in Dulles, Va. Reed is an experienced media professional with an extensive history of field reporting, broadcast journalism, and feature writing, as well as media strategy, editorial planning, and creative development.