I decided to apply to the Mott MacDonald civil and structural engineering schemes to see what would come back. An offer to join the building structures team in Cambridge was the result, and with the possibility to meet professionals from many different disciplines working together under the same umbrella company, I decided it was a good place to start, and I have been here now for nearly three years.
What I do
As a structural engineer, my main job is to ensure that buildings have a frame that will allow the building to stand up. The choices I make as a designer are principally swayed by structural safety, but there are many competing forces and influences. A good structural engineer will consider cost, buildability, robustness, sustainability and simplicity in everything they do, even if it is not always written down. I spend my time divided between a computer screen, meetings, physical drawings and visits to site. A graduate will spend most of their time designing and calculating on both paper and in software. As your experience and confidence grows, this slowly shifts towards a balance with time on site reviewing progress and in meetings with other members of the team involved with the design of a building: architects, building services engineers, contractors and other staff.
Best aspects of being a structural engineer
There are many reasons that being an engineer is a satisfying job, and these will vary depending on who you ask and their role within project teams. There are two main things that I like to say whenever I tell people about my job. Firstly, there is a real practicality to being a structural engineer. At first it is hard to comprehend that in most cases, what you put onto a drawing, will be built on site. Imagination is required to visualise what you have on the drawing on your desk, or in the model on the screen in front of you; often appreciating this scale is hard to do. When you draw a 16m long beam on your paper, to you it is often just a set of lines dictated by numbers which you have calculated. You may not consider immediately that this element will weigh three tonnes, and will have to travel 400 miles from the steel mill to the site. However, when you see this delivered and erected, you will realise how much influence you have on the development of a project and how crucial your role is. Secondly the diversity of the skillset required to be a good engineer is challenging, but ultimately gives a variety to your job. The talents required may include strength in maths, the ability to reduce complex problems into simpler and smaller elements, knowing how to write concise but clear emails and the ability to understand how software is working. Being good at communicating issues with design, being able to present work neatly and beautifully along with the ability to sketch are also key skills. Ultimately the list can go on, but the point is that being an engineer will challenge you on many fronts, and develop you in many ways.
My first project as a structural engineer
I spent most of the first year and a half at Mott MacDonald completing the design of a major new six-storey building directly in front of the station in Cambridge. Part of the wider CB1 scheme, this building was literally the first thing you would set your eyes upon when walking through the doors of the station. I like telling people about my involvement in this building which now shapes the city of Cambridge. Whether people like it or not, this building provides a function to the local community and economy, and is a direct product of work I have done. I can go and buy a coffee from one of the retail units along the front of the building, and I know the only reason I don’t fall into the basement along with my latte is because of a set of structural framing which I designed. When the building is mid-construction, it is much easier to describe to people how the building works – the structure is exposed. However, in its completed state the building is like a human body covered in flesh and skin. The inner complexity and ingenuity of the skeleton is hidden from view, but it is still present and working below.
Lifestyle outside work
One of the best aspects of Mott MacDonald is the lifestyle that surrounds the job. When I speak to my friends who work in other areas of engineering and in other jobs completely, often their work does not overlap with their social lives outside office hours whatsoever. Mott MacDonald does a lot as a company to get people involved in activities and events. Each person can pick and choose from the array of opportunities that are available. Personally, I have played around 50 matches for the Cambridge Mott MacDonald 11-a-side football team. Through all of this, I have made many more friends and the experiences have influenced my life.