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A Question from China: US Firms Providing Structural Engineering in China?
A Few Questions from a Young Engineer?
How Do I Manage MEP Contractors When I Don't Understand What They Do?
I'm Laid Off and Need a Job, Any Ideas?
Any Advice for PE Test Prep?
Do You Really Think Engineers Deserve Special Treatment Because They Solve Problems Well?
Dear Ned, I wanted to thank you for taking the time to organize your blog. I have very much enjoyed the posts. If you have a moment, I am currently trying to do research on the activities of American firms in China, particularly relating to structural engineering consulting done (mostly in the design phase) by U.S. firms for Chinese companies in first and in second tier Chinese cities. There is a fair amount of information on U.S. firms working on major projects (such as the Olympic bids), but I can find very little about lesser projects. This may be because they do not exist. Anyway, I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the matter, or ideas for people I could talk to or places I could go to for more research on the matter. Anyway, I am sure you have better things to do than answer such a random request, but I thought I would try. If you have manged to read all the way through this email then I thank you just for that! Kind regards, Sieren
Dear Sieren: I'm drawing a big old blank for this question. Generally, I always have an answer, even if it's wrong, but not this time. Can you help Sieren? Please just post a comment on the blog post or send me an email if you have any thoughts on this topic. I'll forward to Sieren.
Dear Mr. Pelger: I came across your website while searching for
different construction resources and I was impressed by your attitude
and drive to be your best to serve others. God has surely blessed your
endeavors, and it’s cool to see.
I graduated in ’06 with a BSCE and spent two years doing site development design work, and now am a project manager for a large grocery chain, building and remodeling stores. It’s a challenging job and I am thankful for the opportunity to go to work each day and be involved in people’s lives.
I don’t really have a “mentor” type person in the engineering field, probably because I don’t feel I’ve met someone worth following. Most seem more interested in themselves than others. You seem like a good person to ask for a little career advice, so I thought I’d send an email.
I don’t really see myself staying with this job for a long period of time, mostly because it is too “corporate.” Often it seems binding. I suppose I feel as though I am working hard, but for a company that is more focused on making money than bettering people’s lives. I’m planning to take the PE exam in 2011. After working a job with a lot of design, then working a job with no design and a lot of project management, I have found that I would enjoy a combination of both. I love to manage, but want a place where I can really learn the “ins and outs” of what I am managing, not just the corporate policies. I have also thought of getting into teaching, possibly at an engineering technology program. I do a lot of Bible teaching and have found that I really enjoy it. I'd appreciate any feedback or career advice you may have. A Young Engineer
Dear Young Engineer: Thanks for the kind words. I do feel blessed and try to pass on to others whatever I can.
It seems you are on the right track to search for the combination of things that bring you the most joy. To borrow a real estate phrase, keep experimenting to find your “Highest and Best Use”. Don’t be afraid to change jobs. In fact, try not to be afraid at all. Fear is the enemy of living a fully committed and fulfilled life.
Remember that nothing stays the same anyway, so the course of no action still means change…probably change that you aren’t driving. So take the reins and drive the change.
Since you seem to be a committed Christian, I’ll make a pointed observation. Some great opportunities to combine technical and management skills with spiritual fulfillment can be found in some large growing local churches. For example, we visited the Life Church in Oklahoma City and found them expanding to many satellite campuses, building and renovating all sorts of buildings. A couple of guys tended to direct most of this work and were completely engaged in their work. So you may want to consider being the facilities guy for a growing church that has lots of building projects in their plans.
Whatever you do, just make sure to give it your absolute best. Leave a trail of fans wherever you go and you’ll be fine.
Dear Ned: I’m a 30 year old Construction Supervisor working mostly on
office buildings. My background is carpentry and some concrete, but I
find myself in the middle of lots of mechanical, electrical and plumbing
(MEP) issues. What should my role be in managing MEP contractors when I
barely understand what they do? Feeling Stupid in SC.
Dear FSSC: Many Construction Supervisors much more experienced than you struggle with this issue. The short answer is that you need to understand enough about the MEP work to effectively manage it. That means you need to have a good “Big Picture” understanding of what the systems are supposed to accomplish. You don’t need to understand exactly how to design or install the systems. Start with the drawings, even though you probably can’t really read them yet, and slowly go through and mark up what you can understand. Determine what the main system is and read about it in Wikipedia, ConstructionKnowledge.net or the manufacturer’s website. Jot down notes to help you remember how the system works. Then ask questions to the MEP foreman about reading the drawings. Learning takes time, but soon you’ll know how to manage the MEP work because you’ll understand the drawings, the systems and the work sequences.
Dear Ned: I got laid off three months ago. I’ve worked as a
carpenter, then carpenter foreman for the past 10 years, building mostly
commercial projects. My boss told me he’d bring me back as soon as they
get some work, but has no idea when that will be. I’ve applied to all
the general contractors in the area and no one has shown any interest in
hiring me. I’m starting to get freaked out, any ideas? Stressed in PA.
Dear Stressed: I’ve been there too, and it’s not a good feeling. I recall standing in an employment benefit line in 1983, when my wife was about to have our first child. My advice to you is to start by changing the way you frame the problem. Right now you’re thinking, “I need a job.” Instead, you need a career plan that makes you valuable now and in the future. Take some time to really think about what you love to do, what you seem to have real aptitude for. Then take some more time and consider how the world is changing, what directions you see it taking. For example, two friends of mine recently found themselves in a position similar to yours, they both worked on light construction project, but earlier had experience with large, heavy construction projects. They read about all the stimulus money and concluded that roads and bridges will be well funded for quite a few years. Both got jobs with a first class bridge contractor who has lots of work and a reputation for treating employees well. Take your time off as a gift that allows you to learn, to look deeply into your options and to end up at a better place.
Dear Ned: I'm planning on taking the Civil Engineering PE in October. My education background is more water resources/environmental, however, I'm working more in constructions. As I'm sure you know, the CE PE test now has a construction module in the afternoon. Are you familiar with this portion of the test? I googled for some info and ran across your web site. Aside from the Lindberg text, would you know what additional books would be beneficial for that section? I checked out your books for sale link, but didn't see anything for the PE. Just wanted to see what you thought? EIT Heading Towards PE
Dear EIT: I’m glad to try to help, but may not offer too much value on this one. It’s been 25 years since I took the PE exam and I really haven’t kept up with what it includes. I just looked through a www.ConstructionBook.com resource and found only the Lindberg text, though now in its 11th edition and costing $195. Mine cost $15.75 in 1984. WOW! So I’d recommend you figure a way to get the newest Lindberg text (should be a good used, after PE test market). I wish you well.
Dear Ned: After taking off early Friday and a weekend away from e-mail I'm just catching up on your blog. Which, by the way, I thoroughly enjoy. Your post last Friday had special meaning for those of us living here in Austin. We saw a tragedy unfold that impacted, not only the lives of those in the Echelon Building, but each of us who calls Austin home. We now walk with slightly less confidence in our security and safety while looking slightly more closely at those we think we know as neighbors. It is truly a sad state of affairs. We will rebound; we're Texans and Americans we always do.
As a member of the construction community since the age of twelve, I turned sixty last July, a NICET certified Civil Engineering Technician and a holder of a AAS in Architectural and Engineering Computer Aided Drafting from Austin Community College your thoughts regarding the proper care and handing of the "engineering psyche", were of particular interest. I am employed as a CAD Designer by a local engineering firm so a great deal of my time is spent working with members of the engineering community. If I read your thoughts correctly it sounds as if you are saying those of us who are not engineers should go out of our way to make special concessions to engineers and simply accept that they will not trust, like, or feel any kinship with those of us who are mere mortals. Mr. Pelger, if in fact that is what your thoughts are, I am highly offended and distressed at your obvious belief that you and all other members of the engineering profession are some sort of God of all knowing and divine power. Engineers are people, Mr. Pelger just like the rest of us. Granted they may have a slightly more focused approach to problem solving and may more readily grasp the nuances of mathematics, still they are people who put their pants on one leg at a time.
Perhaps a more reasonable approach would be for the teachers who early on see the potential for some students to become engineers to immediately begin to stress to those students the importance of developing interpersonal skills. Perhaps those students should be encouraged to see their fellow students, and someday fellow workers and citizens striving to build a better world, as valuable members of a complete design and build team each of whom brings a special set of skills to every project. Perhaps from the EIT to the Registered Professional level the Continuing Education credits required to maintain professional standing should include classes aimed at reinforcing to every engineer that they are people too and must respect the value of their fellow humans. Sir, as an engineer, you may be able to develop the necessary formulas and analysis to build the largest and most complex of structures yet until every engineer is brought back to earth and firmly grounded in the fact that they owe their very existence to the people around them who provide support and, yes even occasionally point out errors, tragic incidents akin to the one that has so impacted Austin, Texas will continue to occur.
Hopefully, you will see my comments not as "sour grapes" but as genuinely concerned thoughts from a fellow "Construction Professional". Ours is a wonderful, challenging, rewarding, and yes, often times mind-bogglingly frustrating business/career. We need every construction professional, whether they hold a degree or not, to come together and stress the importance of each individual. As our Founding Fathers so beautifully made clear in our Declaration Of Independence and the most amazing document in the history of mankind, the United States Constitution, no person is above another: We are all equal.
I feel certain that there are a significant number of engineers who read your blog. Perhaps you can start the ball rolling there. How about two new apps? One to help non-engineers relate to engineers and one to help engineers relate to non-engineers.
Heck, just make it one app that address both issues. Lets start taking down the barriers that cause any member of our profession to feel isolated or tossed aside.
I will close by saying how much I enjoy your blog and how often I refer to the CK website for advice and tools. I feel certain that you are the type of engineer who listens to those around him and sees the value of each member of his team. Thanks for providing a valuable service and so many good tools. Keep up the good work. Working With Engineers and Loving It
Dear Loving It: I appreciate the thoughtful letter. I think you and I would be pals if we lived in the same town.
I really appreciate your thoughts. I'm afraid I wasn't clear in my writing, as I certainly don't think any special concessions should be made to engineers. In fact I hate arrogance. I was trying to articulate why it seems so many engineers are jerks. I should have taken the opportunity to state, what I clearly believe, that this behavior is counter-productive to effective working relationships and should be modified when possible.
Instead, I jumped right to problem solving (as I have a tendency to do) and gave some pointers for dealing with someone of a certain personality type of which many engineers belong. The phone app does indeed give pointers for dealing with 4 different personality types, depending on your own personality type.
I further agree with the modifications you proposed to help many engineers gain better people skills. Along those lines, would you object if I used your email as a blog post? I think the points you make are excellent and deserve to be read by a larger audience. I also really enjoy the love for country that shines through in the writing. It really is an amazing nation.