Its been a while since I posted – readers will realise that my lull in posts has coincided with my move to Johannesburg and my starting a new job in engineering consulting.
The past 2.5 months at my new company have been a whirlwind of excitement. Being thrown into two projects in the midst of implementation was more challenging than I could have anticipated. Also, learning a new company’s way of operating and getting a feel of how to find and leverage the resources available always takes some time.
My new company is vastly different to my previous one: I now live in the city and take 5 minutes to get to work, as opposed to driving 65kms everyday to my project site. I work in a large, open-planned office with white walls dotted with brightly coloured panels. Colleagues bounce around on pilates balls at their desks and work flexible hours to beat the traffic. I have swapped out my pink hard-hat for a white one (still gonna try get my pink one back though) and have exchanged safety boots for elegant pencil skirts and heels.
The most interesting and different thing about my job however is that now I have a Client. It wasn’t 3 months ago when I was the Client! Sitting on the other side of the table is quite interesting. For one, I cant be the absolute brat that I am anymore. I really enjoyed being the end-user. Working for a huge multinational gives you the feeling that anything can be possible. Everything is just large – especially in capital projects and the suppliers and consultants that work for you know the value of a customer like that. As a consultant executing two projects for a large multinational, I realise how very difficult it sometimes can be on the receiving-end.
Saying that, it has allowed me to develop in areas I never had a chance to before. I am now very diplomatic about what I say and careful about how I say it. I am conscious about what I do and the quality and detail of my work is ever-more important. I cant say that I don’t enjoy it, in fact, I love it! Its a professional environment in which I am thriving.
The other side of the coin is that now I work even more closely with people than before. Coordinating activities between draughtsmen, engineers and project administrators is all about communication and relationship building. It requires a lot of energy though, and sometimes there is a bit of conflict – but I have come to enjoy a bit of conflict once in a while ;). Just to shake things up, you know?
All in all, everyone is different and are suited to different environments. Production and mining was great experience and something that has launched my career. I would definitely recommend that all engineers get this exposure a an early stage in their careers. However, consulting is very exciting and you get broader exposure to the industry as a whole. Some people start off in consulting and never leave. It may be stressful, but if you are a very driven individual who values professionalism and detail, I would recommend it to you!
Female Engineers – Winning with the Velvet Glove
So this blog and others like it have exhausted the facts and figured about women in engineering and how wonderful it all is for us to be there. I want to talk about something I’ve experienced that gave a new spin on why companies should hire and promote female engineers. Not all female engineers will agree to this but there is something to say about the inherent soft-skills that women possess and how this can be put to use to the advantage of the project team.
One of the first female engineers in the South African construction industry told me that a female engineer should always be wearing a boxing glove on one hand, and a velvet glove on the other. Well most of my career thus far has involved me using the boxing glove, in recent months I’ve come to understand what the old bird meant about the velvet glove.
On my first project with my new company, I was eager to earn respect within the team as a project engineer. Somewhere along the way, I started doing more Client-interfacing. I coordinated and accompanied the Clients team to site-visits, met with people to diffuse difficult situations and managed their (very long) wishlist of changes and corrections on the plant. The more I worked in this role, the more I liked it and the more my PM/ project sponsor assigned me to these tasks.
Was this hard engineering? No – really it wasn’t. The hard-engineering decisions were still taken between corresponding engineers on their team and ours. Yes, I missed the hard engineering of being on site and making things happen, and the pace and impact of project engineering. But there is a certain level of technical know-how required to interact with a technical Client’s team, that made it necessary for an engineer to do this. And somewhere along the way, I guess someone realised that I could be good at this.
Having a really large Client’s team (up-side of 20 individuals) it really was difficult to manage every request and expectation. I flew to the middle of the Northern Cape, as well as to Cape Town several times to meet with individuals and groups to ensure they were being personally attended to. I really put my heart into this as I could see its affect on the project and our image as a company. I find that so often, we forget the impact of the image we portray at a grass-roots level after a project is sold.
I left the Company before the project’s completion and before I did, I had many calls from members on our Client’s team to say goodbye and good luck. Although, truthfully, I probably did less for the project’s execution than any other engineer on the team, it was unbelievable to hear the feedback I received. Contemplating on it, I realise that this is something that maybe is missing from engineering consultancies. Balancing Client relationships with project progress is a PM function, but with the masses of time a PM has to spend on project execution, he/ she can’t also afford to take care of the requests and concerns of an entire Client team as well.
Female engineers are ideal for this role that requires charisma as well a technical prowess, professionalism and charm. Being – for the most part – better communicators than men, less intimidating and more accommodating, women at the Client-interface can reshape the image of a company. Women with good interpersonal skills can be trained to work at the apex of technical, project and social interactions – perfect for Client relationship-building in a technically-minded industry. Their unique set of skills tied to their femininity can be a great advantage to their careers and this should be leveraged by project managers and sponsors.
What to consider before dating an engineer
Seeing as though I have dated not one, but two engineers, and I am constantly surrounded by (male) engineers, I seem to have become the authority on this topic. My site stats agree that this content – strange as it may be – attracts substantial traffic. So here it is: why not to date an engineer part two.
As much as I hate to generalise, and agree that there are surely many engineers out there who don’t fit the mold, I have picked up certain patterns that should be considered before getting yourself involved with an engineer guy.
YOU WILL NOT GET MORE OF HIS TIME – SO GET OVER IT
Whether your engineer boyfriend is a student, a graduate or senior-level engineer, our workload tends to border on ridiculous. He will spend more time with his classmates and colleagues than with you. One of the engineers I worked with and I spent so much time together at work that I knew his wife’s weekly schedule and reminded him a couple of times that he needed to be home early that day to babysit as his wife had book club. Another graduate engineer at work recently got married and brought his young wife out to the little mining town we lived in. She found it really difficult to adjust to a new home and was always frustrated that her new husband consistently was at the plant late into the night.
Rest assured though – when your engineer boyfriend says he’s at work, he really is at work! And he is busy making a ton of money which you will enjoy spending. Sacrifices.
HE WILL NEVER BE THE LIFE OF A PARTY – SO GET OVER IT
Engineers are sensitive creatures underneath that tough exterior. They are genuine without being simple and smart without being arrogant. What they will never be is the social butterfly that you want them to be. If they are anything like my ex, they will be reserved and even shy in social situations. They feel most comfortable around family and familiar friends, and will sometimes even close down if forced to make conversation with someone new. If having a cool, popular and outgoing partner is what you crave, date a guy who studied commerce.
What has worked for me though, is to ply them with a substantial amount of alcohol before introducing them to people. They tend to get on quite well once mildly inebriated.
ENGINEERS ARE NESTERS – AND YOU MAY NOT LIKE THEIR PARTICULAR NESTING HABITS – BUT GET OVER IT
An engineer’s home is his safe place and they spend a lot of time making it just right and comfortable for their needs. I have NEVER seen straight men take so much care and pride in their homes. I might add that not all of them are particularly neat nesters! My first engineer boyfriend was positively a mess! The random stuff he had accumulated over years was stored everywhere – including a massive set of couches which took up most of his room and served no apparent purpose. Nevertheless, what the engineers I know have in common is that they detest anyone trying to rearrange their homes. My first engineer boyfriend would not let me (a neat freak) throw anything out and the second – who I somehow convinced to allow me to redecorate his bedroom – held this against me until the day we broke up. He happened to be an even bigger neat-freak than I was and thought I was a mess. (the irony)
Your engineer boyfriend will have to trust you completely and be confident that you know them and their taste before you can attempt to rearrange their homes. Tread with care ladies – you have been warned.
THEIR DRESS-CODE IS BIZARRE – SO GET OVER IT
You will notice that your engineer boyfriend has a certain dress-code which he will stick to most days. This may be the standard t-shirt and jeans/ shorts as a student, which may transform into a golf-shirt and jeans/ shorts once he graduates. In short, engineers are most comfortable in their casual clothes and you may have to even put up with awful sock/sandals combinations which will make most women cringe (despite their expansive shoe-collections – don’t bother trying to figure this one out). Unfortunately, attire is not a high priority to engineers as they are practical beings who don’t see a practical reason to dress better than they do.
When engineers go out to a formal function, they realise that they need to dress up to conform to social expectations. Although this is a great start, their execution very often misses the mark entirely. Ladies, be warned, you will have to guide them in this regard. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES let them dress themselves. Oversee and direct this process as far as you can. They will likely appreciate the guidance in this area. Basics such as dressing for your height and body shape, or choosing appropriate and fashionable ties (from this decade) – things that you will take for granted – will need to be supervised. You don’t want to end up at the races dressed in a classy, neutral, chiffon dress alongside your engineer boyfriend who is wearing a shiny, silver suit (which, to make matters worse, he is swimming in).
Yes, yes this actually happened.
SO SHOULD YOU DATE HIM?
Despite all of the above, the engineers I have dated/ worked with have been great boyfriends. They are sincere and caring and if you can put up with the hours and bad dress sense, I’d say go for it! Like most men, they will not understand you, will try and solve all your problems when all you want to do is vent a bit, and like any of us will have to make their own mistakes in relationships before they get it right. However, nothing in your house will ever remain broken for more than a week, you will have personalised and trustworthy advice when it comes to cars, cameras, laptops and just about any other mechanical/ electronic purchases and they will be there for you when you are in trouble.