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Wednesday, 13 November 2019

It is exactly as they teach you in college | Civil Engineering

I remember the free time in college when we used to discuss professional experience and how work is done in reality. I'm not sure why and how we developed a notion that things are different in the industry. There is a general belief in the student community that the syllabus is outdated and stuff that is taught in the institutes is useless during the professional phase of an individual. I was not an exception, and just as many other students even I had a similar mindset that most of the things that they teach in the college/school will be useless or not of any practical application until I was exposed to situations that made me go back and reflect on the concepts that were taught in the classrooms. 

Image Credit: Saheefa Umar | Theory Lecture vs Practical Lecture

All theory evolved from practical experiences, gaining theoretical expertise in a concept can make you an efficient professional.

In the following post, I'd like to share a few reflections on the concepts that I learned in college and were quite useful in the office. But my experiences are limited to structural design, I have been in contact with friends and peers who work in domains such ad energy, town planning, infrastructure, etc. and the general opinion is the nearly same. 

First and Foremost, the experience from college:

Submissions and Termwork

An undeniable pain and pleasure of Engineering life.
I cannot distinguish working these assignments as good or bad, sometimes it was an exciting adventure to perform some practical stuff and at times it was some sort of donkey work. Usually, that donkey work was copy past writing.

But after working for a year now, I can see that these assignments gave us a taste of professional life, you see there's the adventure of performing new tasks, learning new techniques, visiting new locations, collaborating with people and other stuff. On the other hand, there's the boring work of preparing reports, emailing, updating spreadsheets, reviews, etc. this is the kind of donkey work that the college tries to train by giving you copy-paste or boring work.

Just a suggestion, It is also important that you preserve the assignments that you'd performed while being a student. These assignments and termwork will provide you great guidance when acting professional, I regret that I left most of my works at college while graduating and I have a very little reference as to how I had done stuff while learning. So never give your leave term work submission at college, let them have a copy if they like it too much :-)

I would also like to put an emphasis on the subjects that were catered in college and how it is useful in my work:

Structural Design & Analysis

The concepts of load calculations are exactly the way we did in college, IS codes or Eurocode for the determination of the category of the load to considered in the structure.

I used to believe that when I'll be a working professional I might not need to make SFD of BMD, in reality within the first 2 months I had a task where I had to prepare the SFD and BMD as the "Expensive Software" wasn't giving a realistic result. You should note that FEM isn't a tool you might want to use in certain instances. Also sometimes there is very little time to model the structure and then do with all the loading stuff, at times you have to be quick in calculating the loadings and structural requirements. 

Project Planning & Execution

The concepts learned in project management and engineering economics were an asset that helped me in management projects, general stuff like WBS, Gantt charts, etc are actually a part of daily office work. Also, the CPM, PERT (network) based planning that appears to be highly theoretical is put to practical use while working on live projects. One must note that CPM is the driving concept behind software such as Libre Project. At certain times it is better to code a spreadsheet to manage and collaborate efficiently.

While I could write a book detailing the similarities between academia & industry, I would like to keep it short and end the post withing a few lines. 

Reality Check!

The syllabus set by the university (here, SPPU) is great, it might appear to be lagging in certain areas and I agree that there is a lot of scope where improvement can be achieved. The theoretical concepts are the basis that are implemented in the industrial practices yet it is my observation that the people from academia have developed a notion that things are way different than what they've been always teaching. 

For the students, all that you learn in college is applicable in real-life. Never consider the subjects to be a formality and that you need to just get marks to have a good career. I was fortunate to have good mentors and friends while being in college, I could learn and experience a lot of stuff before actually getting into the industry and observe that it is the same old school trick that is being used. I might want to add that industries have processes evolved that help them achieve things at a faster pace, but again deep below these processes and tools are based on the concepts that are taught in college.

A general observation:

Structural engineering or Data Entry! 

In structural engineering having a grip on structural concepts such as analysis, design can provide you a higher edge over the people geared with practical tools such as software and spreadsheets. I do not intend to undermine the implication of practical experience, contrary to that I believe that experience is the best form of knowledge a person can ever have. It is just a trend that I've observed that most students are intrigued by learning software rather than learning the underlying concepts that drive those tools. I agree that most industries have a requirement for a candidate who is well versed in software applications. I recently stumbled across a comment on LinkedIn that goes like, "a Software is only as useful/effective as the user is" meaning that without proper domain knowledge it's certainly a kind of data entry job that most so call engineers to perform. 
There is a certain notion that you need to know a software to be able to do structural design and most people are really skilled at modeling 3D structures, assigning loads and running the model but there they are unable to establish reality or credibility in the output provided by the software. Just putting a bunch of commands in the input field of the software and getting the output won't make you a structural engineer, just a little mistake in assigning the connection type (Hinged, Fixed, Free) and the inexperience of structural analysis will make the entire project into a big disaster. You should be able to notice such mistakes/disparities in the output and provide an engineering solution to the problem.

Again, it's the same as they teach you in college. Master the concepts and enjoy the rest of your professional career. The only kind of software that I would like most engineers to learn is that allows you to automate stuff like programming languages, spreadsheet software such as Excel or tools like Mathcad that allow you to code in and get the output you need or avoid the reiterative steps.

That's it!
One of the big posts that I have ever written.

Thanks for reading

-Shadaab SAYYED
Engineer for the Digital Civilization

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