You got an engineering job. Now what?

Exciting, challenging, overwhelming…skydiving!? UNSW Engineering graduate Sarah Hayes reveals what engineers can expect from their first year on the job.

Sarah Hayes

Someone once told me that you know that you’re a proper functioning adult when, on finding peas in the sink, instead of mushing them down the drain you actually scoop them out.

After a year with a full-time, adult sort of job, I still having mushing days so I’m not quite there yet; but I’ve made some progress.

Almost a year ago, I handed in my thesis confident in the knowledge of what exactly I’d be doing when I got back from the obligatory post-degree gallivant around Europe.

Earlier in the year I filled out application after application, and spent six weeks drowning in cover letters and video interviews.

While some companies put candidates through an impressive battery of testing, others are much more informal and just want to get to know you.

My now-employer, Arup, is firmly in the latter category. At the interview, we talked about my exchange to California and some of the social aspects of the job but, gratefully, there were no “what is your biggest weakness” questions.

And with that, I launched myself into my first proper job. The team were very busy at the time, so for my last semester of engineering I helped out a day or two each week.

I got to know my colleagues and learned about some of the projects underway. I’m a transport planner, which is a lovely mix of techy traffic engineering and people-orientated planning work with a sprinkling of data analytics. I’d found a field of engineering that I loved and I was very excited to get started.

I returned from Europe and began full-time work on the auspicious date of 29 February. With my brief experience I thought I knew what was in store, but I’d only seen the tip of a massive iceberg.

Sarah Hayes is a Transport Planner at Arup.

There were so many different projects, so many new software packages, so many new faces. I remember saying to my housemates that I couldn’t imagine a day at work that wouldn’t involve learning a new piece of software and, for a while, that held true.

There was a fairly lengthy period of falling asleep mid-conversation in the evenings and an even longer one where I struggled to figure out how to get to the post office and all those other grown-up places now that hours of nine to five are not so readily available.

Time flew by this year as I learnt as much as I could about everything and threw myself into as many opportunities as I could. I tried my hand at event photography and co-authored a conference paper that was presented in August. I’m a keen book club member and go along each week to the office yoga class. In January next year, a few of us are even going skydiving!

The looming arrival of a new cohort of grads next week prompted me to take stock. As I paused to look up from the whirlwind, I realised that somewhere along the track I’d found my feet.

I still ask a lot of questions and get things wrong sometimes, but now other people ask me questions too. I’ve met a lot of interesting and engaging people this year and I’ve made a whole new group of friends. I’ve started to get a feel for the sort of work that I love the most and the direction that I want to move in.

It takes a while, but one day you look up and think: Gosh, look at me – I’m actually doing this! I’m a real life engineer! And then you go mush a few peas down the sink and say to yourself: Well, maybe not quite.

- We hope you enjoyed our blog posts this year. Sarah's story is the last one for 2016. Imagineering will be back for Semester 1, 2017. In the meantime, if you're a student and would like to share your experience please email us.

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