ReEngineering the Engineer: Patience Required: Getting Up To Speed Can Be a Slow Process
Our older daughter was an early professional casualty of the pandemic. Although she received her college degree in finance and marketing, she had a passion for event planning. She started working with a local woman shortly after college, part time. She went to full time in October 2019, signed a two-year lease for an apartment in Charlotte, and started her new life on her own.
North Carolina instituted its shutdown on a Thursday. The following Monday, she got a call from her employer, putting her back on limited contract work. Not exactly the way a young person is prepared to start their career, but that’s how life works sometimes.
After the sting faded, she regrouped and decided to revisit her original major. On her own, she started studying for her Securities Industry Essentials (SIE) exam, the precursor to the Series 7 exam. Both are the accounting equivalent of our engineering Fundamentals and Principles and Practice exams. She felt she needed the SIE to make her more marketable, and she was right.
A large financial firm recognized her initiative for taking the SIE on her own, hired her in early December 2020, and now has her on the fast track for taking the Series 7 exam in the next few months. Getting prepared for that exam is challenging.
The company she works for has her in a study class that includes a 350-page study guide. She has her degree to pull from, and my wife has been in the financial markets her entire career. But it’s like drinking from a fire hose. Overhearing their conversation the other night reminded me it’s tough trying to get up to speed in a new career.
Nothing Replaces Experience
Despite having a degree for the related technical knowledge, there’s a whole new world of industry-specific vocabulary and procedures that’s totally foreign to most young professionals: acronyms, procedures, more Codes than they get exposed to in school, technical articles, company-specific ways of doing things, etc.
Yes, they get a lot of the “nuts and bolts” from school, but quite frankly, it’s pretty overwhelming and frustrating for both them and us trying to get over the productivity hump. They feel like every other word they read, they don’t know. I see it in our daughter as well as the young engineers at the office.
There have been plenty of times in each of our careers where we had to learn something new. It may not even be in our chosen line of work. We are engineers by trade, but we need all types of additional skills to be successful: accounting, marketing, people skills, programming, etc.
Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to get through this learning curve. You just have to grind through it, taking it in little bites the best you can, as fast as you can, despite feeling like you needed to understand it yesterday. Sometimes you can see it coming on the horizon and you have some time to prepare, but most times not.
Advice for Young and Old
For young engineers, taking the initiative to learn something on your own, instead of waiting to be spoon-fed, is a great quality. Any firm would be excited to hire someone with a desire to learn. The mentors in your office should welcome the chance to work with someone who is trying to expand their engineering know-how on their own.
Listen to as many conversations as you can in the office. There’s a lot to learn from the way other engineers think and tackle problems. You can always ask someone to fill in the blanks on pieces of the conversation you don’t understand, but taking the initiative to learn quickly is always appreciated … and noticed.
As for seasoned engineers and mentors, be patient. I’ve found it personally challenging to put myself back in my shoes from 35-plus years ago and try to remember just how much I didn’t know when I graduated and how hard it was to wrap my head around putting a building together. We owe it to our young engineers to put ourselves in their shoes. Heaven knows we can’t afford to scare them off. We have a shortage of engineers as it is.
Our current world is moving quickly. It’s easy to react to all the demands when you have a lot of experience, but it can be really frustrating when you don’t have all the tools. I often see it in our young engineers. They’re anxious to help, want to help, want to contribute and take on more responsibility. But it does take time to reach that point of self-sufficiency. Our job is to help them get there as quickly as we can, with patience.