Five Things to Consider as a Young Structural Engineer

Having been a structural engineer for nearly 30 years, I have been given some unique opportunities, gained valuable experience, and built meaningful relationships with other industry professionals. Although the lessons you learn in engineering school are valuable and necessary, there are a few things that can't be taught in a classroom, but instead must be learned through real-world experience. Speaking specifically about the relationship between a structural engineer and an architect, here are five pieces of advice for young structural engineers:

1. Speak up in the kick-off meeting. Chances are, you're in this meeting with a more experienced structural engineer. Take this opportunity to ask questions, that way you'll get the input of both the architect and the experienced engineer. This is also an opportunity to raise concerns that could ultimately save a lot of time—and money—down the road. The cost savings could be both to your design fee and the project construction budget.

2. Suggest multiple options. During the kick-off meeting, suggest multiple structural options as applicable for the project (framing, geometry, column locations, materials, etc). State the pros and cons of all the possible structural options so that you and the architect can make decisions as to what will work best for both the design team and the client.

3. Keep the architect updated on changes. Keeping the architect in the loop about changes that you're making to the design is not only critical but courteous. The architect that you're working with shouldn't have to call you and ask for a status report. Take it upon yourself to initiate regular conversation with that person. Years from now, you'll be the experienced structural engineer who has a relationship with these folks—make sure you've built that relationship on solid ground. Trust is established when there's strong communication.

4. Don't be afraid to make a phone call. When questions arise as you're working, don't hesitate to call the architect. This person is the source of many of the design decisions and therefore should be able to address your concerns. Remember that you're not wasting the architect's time with your phone calls. Most architects will see this as a strength and appreciate your willingness to communicate, coordinate, and be a team player.

5. Work with the architect, not against them. When an architect asks a favor to make a revision to the building structure, try to make it happen if it's reasonable. Over time, this builds teamwork and trust with the architect, and they are more inclined to reciprocate by agreeing to revisions that the structural engineer requests.

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Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of the things you should do to build strong working relationships, but I've found these five things to be absolutely critical during the life cycle of a project, and for building and sustaining relationships. Not only is it important to take pride in your work, but it's equally as meaningful to take pride in your work relationships, especially with those you collaborate with on such a frequent basis and who often have the ability to make decisions about using you as their structural engineer in the future. These relationships that are beginning to form early in your career will hopefully be the ones that you continue to maintain years from now.

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  • Joe Wolhar
    Joe Wolhar
 
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