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August 4, 2022

Tips for finding a successful, fulfilling AEC role

  • Bring passion, positivity and grit with you to work, and you’ll undoubtedly be a success.
    Coughlin Porter Lundeen


    The greater construction industry is full of benefits, but one of its greatest differentiators is the lasting impact it has on cities and communities. From the houses we live in and the schools our kids attend, to the offices we work in and the plazas we stroll through, all were developed, designed and built by this incredible AEC community. Driving past a project you’ve had a hand in creating and being able to do so for the lifetime of the building, is truly a special experience.

    At Coughlin Porter Lundeen, we celebrate these contributions as much as possible. Several times a year, our office splits into small groups and explores past projects via neighborhood walking tours. Together we walk through plazas, explore retail spaces, and view classrooms. Experienced principals and project managers provide context and project details, and talk about the history of a neighborhood, how its current master plan came to be, and how we as civil and structural engineers have contributed. What better way to celebrate work than being able to physically be there and witness how it fits into the community!


    Photos courtesy of Coughlin Porter Lundeen [enlarge]
    Civil associate principal Kyle Malaspino stops at the Amazon Spheres during an intern group tour.

    A career in construction involves so much more than traditional desk work, and one of the best and most rewarding out-of-office opportunities involves community support and giving back. AEC professionals can donate their time and talent to organizations like Sawhorse Revolution (where high school students are partnered with professional carpenters, architects and engineers, and work side-by-side to create needed community projects), ACE Mentor Program of America (an after school program designed to attract high school students into pursuing careers in architecture, construction, and engineering), and Washington Alliance for Better Schools (providing hands-on STEM learning experiences for grade and middle school levels). These early exposure opportunities are so valuable and allow staff to share their excitement and expertise with Seattle-area youth.

    It’s important to not be stunted on your own learning journey too. Once settled into a role, don’t let the learning stop! Continued learning will keep you passionate, excited and inventive. Professional organizations can help greatly on this front, as they not only provide a platform for purposeful networking and industry collaboration, but regularly facilitate workshops, panels, conferences, and meetings. These allow members to share best practices, learn from others’ experiences, and consider challenges as a team. Many companies are happy to cover employee membership fees or continued education costs. Take advantage!


    There’s a reason apprenticeship has been around since the stone ages: it works! Great mentors will invest time in getting to know you, your strengths and your goals. They’ll support your day-to-day work, provide constructive evaluations, and help you plan for career checkpoints.

    Most likely, a workplace won’t have one single person who represents everything you want to achieve. Diversify! Everyone at our office has something to teach you. If you find someone particularly competent in tough situations, study that. If you admire the way a coworker stays organized, take notes.

    If you find someone you connect with, take responsibility for the mentor/mentee relationship and pursue it with intention. Take them to coffee and tell them you’d like to learn from them! Mentors very much appreciate seeing the mentee put in effort and take initiative.

    Many organizations have established mentor programs, but if you’re finding it difficult to find a mentor, talk to your manager. It undoubtedly will be well received, as it shows a commitment to growth and is an indirect way of saying, “I value our in-house expertise and talent and I want to build my career here.”


    Less than 20% of engineering graduates in the U.S. are women and retention is an industry challenge. Many in AEC are working to buck these trends, Coughlin Porter Lundeen included.

    Women make up approximately 40% of our staff. A women’s group was established to support this large group. The company-endorsed platform determines priorities, articulates suggestions, and helps the full team understand how to create a better environment and opportunities to advance. Young employees should be on the lookout for similar opportunities at their offices. If there’s no platform, don’t be afraid to speak up and spearhead an initiative. Companies value fresh ideas and energy and your coworkers will be grateful for the avenue to be heard.

    Additionally, many firms cover membership dues of staff in professional groups and support employee’s out-of-office efforts related to women in STEM. Be sure to look beyond your own office! For example, many Coughlin Porter Lundeen team members serve as ACE mentors, encouraging high school students to pursue careers in STEM. We also sponsor and provide panelists for UW’s WiSE (Women in Science and Engineering) Conference; and have staff serving on Structural Engineers Association of Northern California’s SE3 (Structural Engineering Engagement and Equity) committee, working to improve engagement and equity in the structural engineering profession (nationally).


    You are so much more than an engineer (or architect, or construction manager)! Embrace your out-of-office interests. Pursuing what you love, be it hobbies, travel, cooking, fitness, service, etc., makes you more creative, motivated and happy! Study after study reveals that when we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive.

    Finding the right work/life balance can be a challenge, especially when you’re new and eager to learn and put in your time. Just remember that balance is good, and that pursuing interests beyond the office helps avoid burnout and improves our work product. Everyone brings a unique perspective to projects, and it’s a team’s varied backgrounds, interests, and talents that make our project teams dynamic and successful.


    We saved the best, and arguably most important, for last. When beginning a new role, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with the desire to make a good first impression. You want to impress, prove your worth, find your footing — we get it!

    But you don’t need to be the exaggerated extrovert if you’re naturally shy. And you don’t need to curb your friendliness if you find yourself in a quieter office. Relax, trust yourself, you’re sure to make a better impression than any facade would. Plus, you’ll allow your co-workers to know the authentic you. The attitude you bring to work matters enormously. It determines how your co-workers interact with you, how you approach tough tasks, how open you are to growth and learning. It’s contagious too, your attitude is a huge factor in office morale! Teamwork is a big part of every industry and there will be times where your product is dependent on how well your team functions. Bring passion, positivity and grit with you to work, and you’ll undoubtedly be a success.

    A human resources and business manager at Coughlin Porter Lundeen, George Theo partners with staff of all levels to support team members, navigate the firm’s growth and evolution, and shape the employee experience.

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