From Intern to Engineer: Tips for Success as a Young Professional

Trang Nguyen

An internship is essential for getting a taste of what it means to be an engineer. Even better is a co-op, which allows you to learn alongside professional engineers for a full year.

I was a full-time co-op at the Austin Office of Freese and Nichols in the summer and fall of 2015 then worked part time in the spring of 2016 while finishing my last semester at the University of Texas at Austin. Being at the firm for a full year allowed me to take on a wide variety of tasks and get involved in more than 10 different projects. With that time to gain the trust of the engineers, I built a reputation that led to more opportunities — including my current job with FNI’s Water and Wastewater Transmission and Utilities Group in Fort Worth.

Freese and Nichols felt like a place where I could grow and learn to be more than just a good engineer, but also a leader who makes a difference in my community, which is exactly what I am finding after two years as an Engineer-in-Training.

Here are some lessons I learned during the transition from student to young professional.

Ask questions: You aren’t expected to know everything…you’re a student! You are, however, expected to speak up, which gets easier when you practice. No one knows what you don’t know if you don’t say anything. Listen to the answers and focus on learning. This will help you learn more about your practice but also give you more confidence as a young engineer to contribute your own ideas.

Do whatever needs doing: I was fortunate that the Treatment, Transmission and Utilities Group where I was a co-op gave me a lot of supporting tasks, including preparing for a variety of meetings, contributing to proposals and collecting information that helped the engineers make design decisions. I felt like my work mattered. One engineer also counseled me to not consider any task too small. You want to be the person who can always be counted on. I finished my co-op with a deep appreciation of FNI’s culture and dedication to great service. I had proven I could pick things up quickly, and they knew I could produce quality work. Upon starting as an Engineer-in-Training, I was then able to get more responsibilities early on and challenge myself.

Make the most of your mentors: A key part of our firm’s culture is people being there for you and guiding you toward the best version of yourself. When people are eager to teach, be eager to learn. That was really helpful when I was hired into a practice group with veteran engineers who have so much knowledge to share about the field and about the company’s history.

Be vulnerable: Lean into the discomfort of being seen for who you really are so that people gain the opportunity to really connect with you. Spend time in the break rooms getting more than just coffee. If you focus on taking the time to learn someone else’s story any chance you get, the pressure to find something in common goes away and happens naturally. At happy hour, sit with someone who isn’t in your group. Talk to people who aren’t your age or who work in a different department. Be engaged!

Find a good fit: My parents were refugees from the Vietnam War, and we moved to Texas when I was 5. Growing up with parents who had to work so hard to provide for us made me the person I am today. I believe that if you put in the time and effort, you can achieve anything you want. I was able to find a firm that shares my values: Hard work with a good work-life balance, teamwork and open communication.

You’ll be in good shape if you surround yourself with people who can help you build a strong foundation, continuously develop your skills and provide high-quality service for your clients and your community.

Freese and Nichols is growing, and we want you to be part of our team. We’re currently hiring across disciplines. Click here to see our job openings. Learn more about a career at Freese and Nichols here.

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