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My first real job—4 people that help me succeed

Alexandra Axley | 20 Feb 2017 | Comments

I was lucky to have parents who never doubted or limited what I could be. My dad worked as a geologist in an engineering consulting firm. He would come home saying things like, “Allie, this gal at work reminds me of you.” I’d always roll my eyes thinking how could these grownups remind you of your ten-year-old daughter? He’d go on to say things like, “Kyla is so bright, like you. Everyone wants her to work on their project.”

Now, nearly three years into my first “real” job at a consulting firm, I hope I am at least a little bit like Kyla—smart and easy to work with. 

People will tell you that their key to success was putting their head down and working hard, staying the course when things get challenging, or saying “yes” to everything. Maybe the biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is that my success is due to the people I’ve worked with. There are numerous people who have helped me survive the transition into the “real” world from school, but there are four, in particular, that I’d like to draw attention to.

The Inspirer
My first real jobMy inspirer was one of the first project managers I worked with. He so obviously was born to be in this industry—doing exactly what he’s doing today. Not everyone is lucky enough to have vision, but he is. He can see the excitement in the state of the industry and the direction it’s heading. Sometimes he would talk so fast I couldn’t even process half of what he said, but his passion would always shine through. When I’d go into to his office frustrated with the task I was doing (because I didn’t understand what I was doing or why I was doing it), I always left feeling like my work made a difference. That on a whole, Atkins was contributing to the industry in an innovative and important way. 

The Role Model
There were a number of times, especially initially, where I was asked to complete an analysis based on concepts I had never heard of. I have a degree in civil engineering, but never had classes in traffic or transportation. There were a number of times I’d be told to do something that sounded like complete gibberish—and this is where my Role Model comes in. Not only was he the kindest person to work with, but also wonderfully patient. I would do my best to research and scavenge for answers or explanations, but when I felt like I’d hit a wall, I could always ask him. Never have I asked a question without getting a complete answer in return. Sometimes he wouldn’t know immediately, but would always eventually find a response. What makes him so wonderful is that no matter how small or simple my question could be, he never makes me feel like I asked something stupid. He was respectful of my inexperience and encouraging as a mentor. I would not have survived this far without him. This is why I aspire to become a manager like him—a Role Model for young engineers.

The Challenger
In your first two years, the quality of work you hand your project managers changes drastically. Partly because you gain a better understanding of what the documents and analyses should look like and partly because you learn your project manager’s expectations. One project manager I worked with felt extraordinarily hard to please. It seemed like everything I gave her came back with new errors to be fixed. Nothing ever felt good enough. This was a valuable lesson: everything you do can always be improved. This was a frustrating lesson to learn, but also the reason the quality of my work has improved. 

The Support
Sometimes work felt overwhelming or I’d have days where it seemed like I couldn’t do anything right and that I was doing a bad job. Everyone needs a support system, and having someone at work be a support for me has helped develop my confidence and made me a stronger employee. My support comes from multiple people at Atkins. They listen patiently to my frustrations, they reassure me when my confidence is lacking, and they give me perspective when I face new challenges. What I can’t say enough is, “Thank you!” to these people. 

What all these people collectively have taught me is that being a young engineer is just as important as being a project manager or senior engineer. We all succeed with and because of each other. The Inspirer, Role Model, Support, and Challenger have been instrumental in my growth. What I know now is that eventually I will (or hope to) become one of these people for someone else. 

A concept from a book I recently read struck me. I am paraphrasing here, but it went something like this: You need to be selfish. You need to take the time to take care of yourself first. This world deserves the best version of you that you can offer. 

You need to be your best you because you are, or (eventually) will be, the support, the challenger, the inspiration, the mentor, the friend, or any other key person in someone else’s story. You being your best self makes someone else theirs. 

Every success I’ve had has been because of the people I have met and worked with. I know that I’m only doing as well as I am because Atkins is filled with wonderful people and because I have been blessed enough to meet and work with the right ones. My career is shaped by more than just myself, and yours is too.