Suggestions for a long, fulfilling career

Take these suggestions to heart for a successful career.

By Douglas H. Evans August 28, 2014

This is my last official task as a jurisdictional member of the Consulting-Specifying Engineer editorial advisory board. It is an honor to have supported the fire protection engineering community and engineering profession by assisting this publication in this role.

For the past 22 years I have focused primarily on coordinating fire protection aspects for the unique mega-resorts on the Las Vegas Strip. It has been an interesting and challenging career. In my (almost) 30 years since graduating with an engineering degree, I have become aware of a number of principles I would like to share with the engineering community.

Don’t let ego get in the way: Always take a technical/physics-based position. Ego will always cause you grief.

Keep in mind that you are tasked with protecting the public: Isn’t that what engineers do? Aren’t we responsible for ensuring the applicable physics and factors of safety have been applied to the challenge at hand? How would you feel if your family was not properly protected?

Practice within your area of expertise: Yes, we all need to learn and expand our areas of expertise, or how can we ever achieve that level? But make sure to have a thorough peer review prior to completion of the task.

Support your profession: It supports you. Take pride in your profession. Get involved and participate.

Stand up for what you believe: Share your professional opinion. After all, that is what you get paid for. Your client or coworkers may not always like it, but even they may need a “reality check” from time to time.

Keep ’em honest: A good engineer, like a good doctor or lawyer, tells you what you need to know and not always what you want to hear.

Strive for excellence: After I graduated from college, the employer I was interested in wasn’t interested in me. They said my “GPA was too high, which indicated a tendency to dwell on details and an inability to complete tasks.” Well, I do have to admit they had me pegged to some degree, but if they only wanted C-level students, that wasn’t the place for me anyway.

Be proud of your work: Is your work product something you want to be a permanent record of your technical ability? Your work product and your reputation will follow you long after you retire.

Budget as appropriate for the work expected: If the budget doesn’t allow sufficient time for a technically competent permanent record, do you really want to be responsible for this particular work product anyway? If unforeseen issues appear, try to renegotiate the budget, or just bite the bullet and provide a technically competent work product anyway. If all design professionals would develop bids that allow a thorough and competent work product, there would be less “quibbling” with clients and engineering professionals would be more apt to earn what they deserve.

Write well: Be clear, thorough, and organized. Say what you mean and make sure what you are saying accurately reflects the subject so that an equally (or lesser) qualified professional reading your report 10 to 15 years from now will understand what you mean.

Find the fallacies: Whether you’re designing or reviewing a technical work product, be critical and strive to resolve all fallacies prior to completion of the task.

Always listen to your gut: If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Dig in until you either find substantiation to support your feelings or determine that you may be unnecessarily concerned.

Think about it: Does it make sense? That was one of the fundamental principles my instructors taught in college. If the final result doesn’t make sense, the analysis likely included one or more fallacy.

Admit mistakes and take the steps necessary to resolve them. In today’s litigious society this is not a position any of us want, but wouldn’t you rather find a way to resolve oversights than hope they never surface and have to accept responsibility after a loss?

Find mentors you respect: We all need someone we can discuss technical (and personal) subjects with and we all need a “reality check.”

Mentoring others is also a fundamental responsibility of one’s professional obligations.

All of us will be able to add to this list. For example: Verify whenever possible. Be aware of the basis behind the applicable code requirements. Provide consistent and critical review of technical submittals. Be creative and “think out of the box.” I’m confident you have other guiding principles that can be added to this list.

I understand the preceding may appear somewhat preachy, but I’ve always been somewhat of an idealist and, I do have to admit, I’m not able to live by all these principles all the time. But, just think of how much safer the world would be if all design professionals were to live by these principles.

Thank you again for your continued patronage of CSE. We strive to follow the preceding principles to assist in your continued professional growth.

Douglas H. Evans just retired from the Clark County (Nev.) Building Division as a fire protection engineer. He is an emeritus member of the Consulting-Specifying Engineer editorial advisory board.