School teaches us a lot of things and prepares us in many ways for our job and life in the real world. However, there are a number of things we don’t learn or get to experience in school. We learn things that are critical for our profession in different ways. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way, and other times we have the opportunity to have some great mentors. Being a Civil Engineer for 4 years working on Land Development projects, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:
Seeing a Project from Start to Finish Having multiple projects to complete is nothing new from school. The difference between working as professional civil engineer and being a student is that in school, you typically work on a project for a few weeks and then it is done. Even senior projects are only a semester or two. Out of school, you’ll find that civil engineering projects have a much longer duration. Progressing from the first conceptual plan all the way through construction is easily a couple of years. That’s if everything goes smoothly. There are so many things you don’t realize go into a project in addition to the design because, in school, doing the design was the entire project. In the work place, the projects are much more involved and include doing due diligence research, navigating the permitting processes of various jurisdictions, and dealing with any construction phase issues. I quickly realized it pays off to be organized and proactive in order to handle these years-long projects.
External Team Members I think most people would agree that you get your fill of group projects in civil engineering school. Without a doubt, civil engineering school teaches you that the success of the project is directly dependent on the quality of each team member, as well as how well the team members can work together. What you don’t always realize when at the start of your civil engineering career is there are now external team members that you have to work with in addition to your internal team members in your office. On any given project, our Land Development team at Foresite Group works with an architect, landscape architect, surveyor, geotechnical engineer, and any number of other consultants. It’s imperative to the success of the project that we all coordinate with our external team members just as we would if they were sitting in the next cubicle over.
Project Management In one of my classes, we covered some of the business aspects of engineering such as multipliers, billing rates within a project team, and overhead expenses, but school doesn’t provide any experience actually managing a project. It isn’t until you get to your job that you learn how to go through billing reports, write a proposal, keep track of a budget, and manage a team to stay on schedule and within the budget.
Communicating with and Managing Clients Similar to project management, school doesn’t provide an opportunity to communicate with and manage clients. The closest thing to it would be communicating with professors, which does help you learn how to put together a more professional email. Civil Engineering school does not provide much experience in coordinating with your client to assess their needs and complete the project accordingly. I learned quickly that although knowing the technical aspects of a client’s project is important, effective communication and discussing non-technical aspects of a project are essential, as well.
Software Find out what software programs your profession is using and get familiar with those. We had one class in which we were taught the basics of AutoCad, and then maybe two or three more classes where we needed to use AutoCad for a project. We learned one other program when we got to senior design, which we chose based on the type of project. In my case, I chose the Hydrologic Systems Design class, so I learned HEC-RAS. Now I use AutoCad and Civil 3D nearly every day in my job, and I would have had a head start if I had more experience with that software coming out of school.
About Suzy Mansfield, PE
Suzy Mansfield, PE, is a Project Manager for the Land Development – East Division in Tampa, Florida. Suzy graduated from Louisiana State University in 2012 with a degree in Civil Engineering. She has been working at Foresite Group since her graduation. She enjoys working on several of our program projects and figuring out how to best meet her client’s needs.