The life & times of an HVAC Engineer

{June 25, 2012}   I know, but I don’t know

One of the things it has taken me longest to learn, is quite how much I have to learn. I had something of a realisation about this at university; that the more I learnt about these specialist subjects the more I could see was there, that I was merely brushing the surface of vast and complicated areas of engineering. I mean I learnt a lot at university, but how much of such an immense topic (Mechanical Engineering in my case, but I suspect the same holds true for almost any university subject) can you hope to gain an understanding of in 4 years?

But for all I realised that I didn’t know, there was still even more.

You see, I know I’m good at academia, at applying my science, maths and engineering knowledge in a pure context. I know this because my exam results demonstrate it. I know this because at university I was one of the people other guys asked for help. This ability gave me a lot of confidence and curiosity that has served me well over the years.

The trouble though, with having been the ‘go-to guy’ at uni, is that it makes you a bit of a big fish in a small pond. I think when I started work, I still expected some of that respect for my knowledge to exist in this brave new world. I thought I was a big fish.

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I wasn’t.

I don’t mean I wasn’t respected, my colleagues are all lovely people who (certain ex-aquaintances aside) have treated me with nothing but dignity throughout my career. I’ve been very respected for being highly capable, but not for my knowledge. This took me by surprise, and I found it frustrating & sometimes upsetting. Why couldn’t these people see how much stuff my brain was full of?!

Years and months down the line, my understanding of the knowledge you actually need to carry out a project well, and my respect for the massive amount of relevant experience my colleagues have, has grown immensely. It seems so obvious to me now, now that I have some relevant knowledge & experience to be respected for, what it was I was missing. I just wish I’d known when I graduated that you don’t have to be respected for the knowledge you’ve crammed in your brain, but it can instead be for how rapidly you can glean new knowledge & how well you apply it.

If I were talking to my 20 year old self now, I would advise myself to become the ‘go-to guy’ for project specific knowledge, to be up to speed with what is going on now, not to aim to be an instant technical expert, that one takes a while to grow into. I think I could have saved myself a lot of angst!

et cetera
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