Day 10, New Engineer’s First Job: Personal Development

Dear Diary, Day 10. Two weeks finished, last Monday seems like a year ago. Time flies when you are having fun right? It actually hasn’t been that bad, a lot of ups and downs, bit of a roller-coaster but on balance I think I came out on top.

When I was at school, careers advice wasn’t very good at all. I knew I wanted to design things but had no real idea what that entailed. It was only by chance that I found out about the Mechanical Engineering degree. I realise now that even when I was studying the course at university, I still didn’t really understand what the job would entail.

In technology classes at school and even with project work at university it was up to us to decide what we wanted to design. Yes we did ‘market research’ but we really only did the research that supported our idea. In industry you have to design the product that the customer wants. Except not only will the customer not tell you what they want, a lot of the time they don’t even know.

In school and university projects you basically designed around the materials and components available in the department. You never gave much thought to cost or the time you put in. In industry every penny you spend is a penny less profit. Cost is a factor in every single decision. Also academic projects always stopped at the final prototype stage. Nothing we designed ever got fully tested never mind put into production or sold to a customer. In industry, engineers can be involved in the product right through until it is obsolete and the customer decides to upgrade.

Even after just 2 weeks my idea of where I want my career to go has changed. I assumed I would just be doing Computer Aided Design (CAD) modelling for the next 5 years. I haven’t had a lot of exposure yet but I really like the idea of the innovation and problem solving side of creating concepts. The thought of carrying a product design through until it is in the hands of the customer and actually seeing it being used is really exciting. I can see so many different opportunities.

John said that at the end of my first month we will talk about a personal development plan. I realise now that I have so much still to learn. I recognize that fact but I don’t think I could actually specify what I need to learn. I think it would be very hard to say I need to do a training course on X or Y. John has said that there are some things that just don’t get taught at university that all graduates need to learn so that will be the start of my development plan. Beyond that I feel like I would first need help just working out where my knowledge gaps are and which ones I need filled to get me on the career path I want.

Then what if John wants me on a different career path from what I want? What if he only has CAD modelling for me to do for the next 5 years? What if I want to move jobs down the line but there are no opportunities on my preferred career path?

I am excited but anxious. On one hand it is the start of an exciting new journey but on the other hand, after 18 years of learning through school and university to get to this end point, it feels like I am right back at the start of another massive learning curve.

Lessons from day 10:

There is no other way to put it, you are at the start of another massive learning curve. Be patient, take each day as it comes. Don’t try to run before you can walk but keep your eyes open for any and every learning opportunity.

Company support for personal professional development varies in engineering, there is no standard or official requirement. The most common scenario is where the company supports your development in theory (why wouldn’t they, they will benefit too) but in practice always have too many higher priorities to actually do anything. Most often it is up to the individual to pursue their own development and push their managers for support. Ask for formal progress reviews, include a training budget in salary negotiations, present your managers with development opportunities, relevant courses etc. highlighting the benefits.

Relevant professional engineering institutions generally regard continued professional development of their members as one of their main priorities. Some even consider it as a condition of membership and expect you to record your development activities. Membership is normally worthwhile and will likely include access to resources and networking opportunities.

Even if not asked for by your relevant institution, keep track of all of your personal development activities. After graduation generally the only way to add more letters after your name is to retrospectively prove you have earned them.

Personal development is not just training courses, a wide range of activities are recognised as valid learning activities including reading papers, articles, magazines, attending seminars, factory visits, participating in discussion forums, conversations with experts. Even specific work experiences are relevant and it is worth recording a few notes on any of your significant experiences be they wins, fails or just new experiences.

Don’t be in a panic to define a career path. It is good to have an idea of what type of job role you want to have in five or ten years’ time such as manager, entrepreneur, expert, self-employed, large team, small team etc. If you limit yourself with too many specifics however you may miss out on some great opportunities.


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