The life & times of an HVAC Engineer

For the last 6 or so months I’ve been the project engineer for various projects, but one has run throughout the majority of my secondment. That project is going to be issued to the client today, and that is going to be a massive relief. Over the months that the project has been running (including the best part of 8 months before I came on board) the it has been much delayed and changed. Without wishing to get into the dangerous topics of fault, error and blame, no matter what the real reasons for delays and changes they have resulted in me sometimes feeling like I’ve been managing it really badly. Thankfully it is now coming together, the client seems happy, but I still have some of the sensation of “could do better”. Now admittedly it has been the first time I’ve done something like this, so there were always going to lessons to learn, but I still didn’t feel great about how things have gone. But comments made in the last couple of days have really made me feel less to blame.

So who made those comments & what were they? Were they from my managers? Were they ‘you’re doing a grand job’?

Oddly enough, no…

The comments my ego and conscience are treasuring most were made by the draftsmen on the project. It turns out that it’s the little throw away comments from someone else who has been affected that matter the most. Specifically, on occasions when they could have chosen to blame me for delaying the project by not getting them the right information first time round, these comments were made:

“I’ve read through that e-mail you forwarded…it’s like squeezing blood from a stone!”
“we asked the right questions at the right time”

We. We. We. It’s incredible how much that one little word makes you realise that you really are part of a team, and that you’re wanted on that team.

I’ve learnt a lot on this project, much of it about how projects run from a project management point of view, or about the commercial aspects of projects. But I’ve also learnt a lot about myself, teams, and tackling issues. Mainly, I’ve learnt that being part of a team, rather than a collection of individuals, provides a safety net that no amount of procedures or motivation from management could ever possibly replace.
I’ve also learnt that the grease to make the well-oiled machine of an engineering team run smoothly is chocolate biscuits.

My vision for the future of our business, & engineering generally, is to have a more engaged workforce who are excited by what they do and can share this excitement with school children to reinvigorate our communities with a thrill for what can be achieved through engineering. And I want to be a part of making that happen, that’s something I’m very passionate about.

As a separate but related fact, I am in love with being an engineer, or more specifically with telling people I’m an engineer and with the feeling I get from their reaction to that. All over the world, but particularly in countries where women are not so free to pursue a career, the level of respect and sometimes even awe, you get from saying “I’m an engineer” can be as addictive as a drug.

I am now faced with a very difficult decision. I’m coming to the end of my secondment in project engineering & I need to choose a career path. Do I go back to building services engineering, to the technical details & calculations that I enjoy, and the respect I’m addicted to, or do I stay in project engineering, with the people factors and organisation I enjoy and the potential to grow into a role where I will have the influence to shape my vision? The likelihood of me obtaining the authority and sway within the business to grow my vision on a grand scale seems much greater if I go the project engineeringproject manager – business stream manager – director route. But if I depart from being an engineer do I loose authenticity and influence in the classroom when trying to get young people being interested in being an engineer?

Another factor that clouds my decision even further is the rather negative view many people seem to hold of project managers. Whilst discussing project managers with colleagues, friends, family or even when reading other blogs you get so many comments like:

“project managers are failed engineers” “project managers don’t do anything” “project managers are useless/don’t contribute”

Now, whilst these comments are true of a few individuals, on the whole they’re not true and perhaps that’s something I’ll go into in more depth on another blog post. For now, let’s just assume that it’s a false view, but none-the-less is the opinion of project managers amongst the many of the people I know & care about as well as many of the strangers I meet. The trouble with this view existing is that I don’t know if I can bear to place that stigma upon myself…not when I’m so addicted to the drug of engineering respect, and not when I’m unsure of whether it’s right for me anyway.

So, despite time still ticking away at my secondment, I remain undecided…do I pursue my love or my vision? To be a building services engineer or to be a project engineer. That is the question.

et cetera
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