Where did you grow up? Important stages of your life (school, education, experience abroad, jobs etc.)
I was born in China and moved to Australia at the age of 16 to complete my high school education in Melbourne. During my postgraduate study, I first became a music teacher at a local music school and taught young kids aged from four to six to sing and play music. I was a student ambassador for the Melbourne School of Engineering during my university years, and I attended multiple open days to talk to high school students about university life. I’ve also been a professional mentor to two university students since 2018 via the Melbourne Access Mentorship program, a program designed to connect undergraduate students from underrepresented backgrounds with working professionals.
How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?
Upon graduation, I was fortunate enough to receive an offer from Aurecon, and so my career as a civil engineer officially launched. I’ve been at Aurecon for about three years now.
How did you choose your specialisation (compared to others)? / Were you weighing up any other alternatives before choosing this specialisation?
I analysed what my key strengths were to identify potential career possibilities and work out the type of jobs that I would enjoy. I drew a Venn diagram and found the intersection as engineering, which led me to decide which engineering discipline I’d want to specialise in. I tried out a few subjects in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and IT courses at the undergraduate level, but I wasn’t interested in it. I eventually narrowed it down to civil and structural engineering. I think it’s really important to try out different subjects at university outside your major to get a feel for other disciplines. For instance, I took a philosophy class as an undergraduate which shaped my thinking method significantly. I also considered becoming a music teacher and concert pianist, but after completing my Diploma in Music degree, I realised my own limitation in the field and decided to keep music as a hobby. It’s important that we all play to our strengths therefore, it’s crucial to have a good understanding of ourselves before undertaking career planning.
What does your employer do?
Aurecon is a global engineering, design and advisory company. We bring our clients’ ideas to life and work alongside them to co-create innovative solutions to complex challenges. Through our technical expertise in design, advisory, and delivery, we help design a better future in many markets like infrastructure, built environment, energy, and water – just to name a few!
What are your areas of responsibility?
My specific civil design experiences at Aurecon are mainly in the fields of drainage design (which ensures that runoff from rainfalls are safely conveyed to the desired discharge locations); road geometric designs; and earthworks designs, which shows how the existing surface should be constructed to the design surface. I’ve also done civil design works for large-scale industrial subdivision projects, major infrastructure projects, and building development projects.
Can you describe a typical workday?
My days can involve attending a few design meetings to collaborate with the architect and the project owner to improve a specific design and on other days, I go on-site to inspect construction and answer builders’ queries. By interacting with different stakeholders on a regular basis, I’ve learnt how to effectively present, to communicate, and explain complicated technical specifics to teams. It has also given me a healthy mix of indoor and outdoor activities, and a balanced workload of independent work and group collaboration.
What are the career prospects with your job? / Where could you or others in your position go from here?
As part of Aurecon’s graduate programme, there are no rigid schedules, which helps you grow and develop your career. There are flexibility and options for you to pursue your passions and effectively plan your career to achieve your goals.
If you want to focus on the technical side of engineering, you can become an expert technical director and really take a deep dive into a certain specialised field. Or you can consider a design manager role where you’d manage a large design package for some of the most prominent projects. You could also join the contractor side if you’re keen to learn more about the construction side of projects and managing your own construction site.
Alternatively, people can also morph into an advisory role and do project/program management before reaching senior engineer level. You can utilise your design and management skills learnt from the design experience to manage a portfolio of a client’s project.
Could someone with a different background do your job?
Yes, because a massive infrastructure project such as the West Gate Tunnel will take more than just engineers to realise. Often, the real solution to a problem may not be building a physical asset but instead highly-effective, multi-disciplinary teams that can tackle these ever more complicated projects. I believe that people with a non-engineering background can really bring value to the industry because they’ll be equipped with different perspectives to problem-solving.
What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?
It would still be related to infrastructure projects because I like engineering projects. It could be working on the capital side of the project, such as working out project finances and if we should go ahead with building a toll road. Or, helping the client to decide whether building a road is a good solution to a particular problem instead of actually building a piece of infrastructure once all decisions have been made.
What do you love the most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most?
I think it’s really cool that some linework I draw on plans will become real structures in real life. It excites me every time I think of this and it motivates me to design innovative solutions to complex problems. As engineers, we are physically making this world a better place and it makes all the hard work worthwhile.
I also enjoy the exposure I get to a variety of jobs. Since starting at Aurecon, I haven’t worked on two projects that are similar. My project portfolio is very diverse, ranging from detailed drainage design for major Melbourne Water assets, civil works design for multi-million buildings, and road design works for Melbourne Airport. On top of the engineering technical development, I also get a good picture of how iconic projects are built from the front row which is truly exciting.
What’s the biggest limitation of your job?
I believe that a limitation in one’s eyes may not be a limitation for someone else. I think the nature of traditional engineering dictates that this is a line of work that relies heavily on experience and it really takes time to develop the expertise. Yes, there are different types of digital innovations that are improving the efficiency of project delivery, however, these great tools will not necessarily reduce the time it takes for a young engineer to develop into a technical expert. Young engineers will still need to inevitably make a few mistakes and learn from these to develop. In other industries, we often see people become industry experts at a young age. I personally think this is rare for traditional engineering disciplines which may be interpreted by some people as a limitation. On the other hand, because this industry relies heavily on experience, once young engineers have established a solid understanding of engineering and become trusted advisors, they are not easily replaced by algorithms.
Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student? They don’t necessarily have to be related to your role, or even be career-focused.