Notes from a Site Engineer

AKA All the Things I Wish I'd Known

Photo Credit: David McCulloch. Sunrises on our site were genuinely this beautiful. 

Here's a little secret: as a graduate engineer, I hated site work. I had to be pushed and poked and prodded until I left the office. I resisted all attempts to send me to site. I preferred the office ivory tower, sitting behind a desk writing reports and sending emails. I did not grab life on site with both hands. I must have been an absolute nightmare for my seniors to manage. Looking back, I know the reasons why I was the way I was, and I can understand anyone else entering the industry who feels the same way as I did. I want to tell them—it's OK. Nobody expects you to be perfect and nobody expects you to know everything and nobody expects you to exude confidence from every pore from the second you are sent on site. Confidence, or the ability to fake being confident, comes naturally to some people and less so to others. It does not come naturally to me, and if you're in the same boat as I am, then you're not alone. Never let this industry of big characters and machismo make you think everyone knows exactly what they're doing all of the time. They don't. Some of the time, just like you will be, they're winging it. 

I also want to tell anyone entering the industry, but specifically those who feel themselves lacking in confidence and resisting the world outside of their offices four walls, to go out there and jump at every site opportunity you are offered. Trust me. It will make you a better person and a better engineer. How do I know this with such certainty? It worked for me. You may be terrified, I certainly was. You make make mistakes, I certainly did. Many of them. Sometimes, I felt I couldn't do right for doing wrong. But nobody is perfect and neither of these things are a reason not to do it. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone, after all. 

What makes me qualified to offer this, and any future advice? Well, I spent two years on site project managing a large scale remedial and earthworks project between 2014 and 2016. Twelve hour days. Six day weeks. Two miserable, cold Scottish winters. When I agreed to go on site, I genuinely had absolutely no concept of the ways in which it would affect and change me. I learned more in those two years than I could ever have imagined, on both a personal and a professional level. They were so critical in my life story that I now think of my life as 'before site' and 'after site' and the two are fundamentally different. I am fundamentally different. I know that there are many site engineers out there with decades more experience on site than I have, and I respect that. I do not claim to be any kind of guru in this regard. People have been working on site for decades, centuries even, I am not unusual. 

I am writing this as an introduction of sorts to a series of short posts about the lessons I learned in my two years on site, and if it is relevant, how I came to learn them (there are some stories that I am, unfortunately, not at liberty to tell in a public forum). I am writing this as a woman in a man's world—construction is far behind other industries in its attitudes to women—but I hope that much of what I write about will be advice which is relevant to all genders. 

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Notes from a Site Engineer