By: Camaaron Jackson, P.E.
Project Manager – Land Services
Being young and a newcomer in any industry is uncomfortable. I think that applies double for Engineers. I vividly remember feeling underprepared and scared to ask questions. I thought I was running the risk of looking foolish. Worse than that, I wasn’t sure what I didn’t know or which questions to ask. I felt like I didn’t know where to even begin.
After earning my degree, I was grateful for an opportunity and a source of income. To me, asking the wrong question or seeming unknowledgeable would put that in jeopardy. You could say my imposter syndrome was active and strong. I think young professionals in every industry feel this at some point, but for me it was terrifying.
Years later, I am happy to report that my insecurities have ebbed significantly. In large part due to the more experienced, (dare I say) older engineers I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by. Inspired by their willingness to teach and mentor, I consider it a great privilege to be a guide to the young engineers around me. Often, the expectation is for Project Manager and Senior level leaders to guide and cultivate the learning of younger engineers. Unfortunately, these leaders also happen to be the most valuable and time-scarce members of a firm. As a result, young engineers can be underprioritized and their development derailed by a simple lack of bandwidth. So where does that leave us? With young engineers who are too intimidated to speak up paired with leaders who are overwhelmed. Nobody wins in that situation. We must all make our young professionals a priority, it saves time and enriches both parties.
To Young Professionals: Since I began my career as that trepidatious grad, I have honed my approach to mentorship to a single word: Aggression. Maintaining an aggressive mindset has been a huge benefit in my personal growth and career advancement. I routinely advise and encourage younger engineers at EHRA to approach their own growth with excitement and purposefulness. While it is extremely important to master what you have been taught in school, watch for opportunities to learn more. I can promise you that there is always something else to know. Reach out to your manager and ask if there is something new you can learn or work on. As mentioned, Project Managers can be overwhelmed and are not always focused on what they can ‘expose their young apprentice to today’. Even so, that quick “Boss, you got anything new for me?” has a dual effect: In the short term, you learn something new, everyone wins. However, the long-term benefit is much more valuable. Managers will remember your passion and eagerness. They will be more likely to bring other new items to you in the future.
If you take anything away from this post, recognize that your career is your own and no one is more responsible for its cultivation than you. For a bright young engineer, it can be easy to coast by, performing at a perfectly acceptable and inoffensive level. Keeping a job, but not excelling. I have been there. But if you apply the time and effort to constant growth and evolution, you will find yourself in a much more advantageous place. Soon forgetting the temporary pain and effort it took to get there.
The time after graduation flies, use it wisely.
To Established Engineers: The learning never stops! Search out ways to grow and thrive. Through your own betterment, you will better others. Servant Leadership is what it’s all about. If you spot a young professional who is confused and scared, reach out and take the initiative. If you think one of your peers would more easily relate to that particular young professional, facilitate that connection. People absorb information differently and it should be a consideration of the more experienced professional to find the mentor most suited to them.
“What is the difference between a living thing and a dead thing? In the medical world, a clinical definition of death is a body that does not change. Change is life. Stagnation is death. If you don't change, you die. It's that simple. It's that scary.” - Leonard Sweet