Simply Chic Design

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RegularWP8 visitors to my site may notice the new look and feel of the page. In recent months, I have struggled to find content to post. Since starting EngineerChic in 2010, I have always reflected so much of my own self through my writing but as I have grown and changed, so has writing style, priorities and taste. In order to stay true to who I am and seek inspiration for writing, I have decided to make a few changes that I hope you find Simply Chic!

I have also  finally secured the EngineerChic.com URL for the site – until now being held hostage.

 ** Yaay **

A recent business trip to Austria took me through Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. I have been to some beautiful architectural-masterpiece airports around the world – not least of all Denver and Dubai – but the CDG creation by architect Paul Andreu was more than chic – it was breathtaking!

cdg2While walking through Terminal 2, I marveled at the design of the interior. As an engineer who has worked in construction, I was amazed at the effortlessly smooth lines of curved concrete which encased the terminals – a subtle reminder of an airplane fuselage. This sweeping design features apertures in the side-walls, allowing in natural sunlight to balance the severe atmosphere created by the avant-garde design.

The execution of this masterful design came at a cost. In 2004, part of terminal 2E which had recently opened to travelers collapsed killing 4 people. It was found that some inconsistencies occurred in the construction of the concrete structure (preparation of concrete and inclusion of some steel work adding points of weakness) which undermined a design with an already low safety factor.

If you’re wondering about the inspiration of my site’s new look, CDG definitely played a big part! During my short layover, I had some time to deeply reflect on how to translate my older and wiser self into my long-standing blog, and the clean lines of beauty surrounding me reminded what it was about engineering that I loved in the first place – at its core, it is also art. For most of my career, I have had to struggle to balance my scientific and artistic selves – both demanding breathing space from me. In my unending quest to achieve balance in all things, architecture has always been a safe haven for me.

Beautiful!

There is something distinctly feminine about architecture like this – so unusual in design

Everything about this airport merges functionality and art, from its expressionistic support beams to its use of natural light and shadow.

Don’t you just love how the planes look parked in gentle curves outside the terminals?

2014 in review – thanks for the awesome support

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

Madison Square Garden can seat 20,000 people for a concert. This blog was viewed about 68,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Madison Square Garden, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Female Engineers – Winning with the Velvet Glove

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So this blog and others like it have exhausted the facts and figured about women in engineering and how wonderful it all is for us to be there. I want to talk about something I’ve experienced that gave a new spin on why companies should hire and promote female engineers. Not all female engineers will agree to this but there is something to say about the inherent soft-skills that women possess and how this can be put to use to the advantage of the project team.

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One of the first female engineers in the South African construction industry told me that a female engineer should always be wearing a boxing glove on one hand, and a velvet glove on the other. Well most of my career thus far has involved me using the boxing glove, in recent months I’ve come to understand what the old bird meant about the velvet glove.

On my first project with my new company, I was eager to earn respect within the team as a project engineer.  Somewhere along the way, I started doing more Client-interfacing. I coordinated and accompanied the Clients team to site-visits, met with people to diffuse difficult situations and managed their (very long) wishlist of changes and corrections on the plant. The more I worked in this role, the more I liked it and the more my PM/ project sponsor assigned me to these tasks.

Was this hard engineering? No – really it wasn’t. The hard-engineering decisions were still taken between corresponding engineers on their team and ours. Yes, I missed the hard engineering of being on site and making things happen, and the pace and impact of project engineering. But there is a certain level of technical know-how required to interact with a technical Client’s team, that made it necessary for an engineer to do this. And somewhere along the way, I guess someone realised that I could be good at this.

Having a really large Client’s team (up-side of 20 individuals) it really was difficult to manage every request and expectation. I flew to the middle of the Northern Cape, as well as to Cape Town several times to meet with individuals and groups to ensure they were being personally attended to. I really put my heart into this as I could see its affect on the project and our image as a company. I find that so often, we forget the impact of the image we portray at a grass-roots level after a project is sold.

I left the Company before the project’s completion and before I did, I had many calls from members on our Client’s team to say goodbye and good luck. Although, truthfully, I probably did less for the project’s execution than any other engineer on the team, it was unbelievable to hear the feedback I received. Contemplating on it, I realise that this is something that maybe is missing from engineering consultancies. Balancing Client relationships with project progress is a PM function, but with the masses of time a PM has to spend on project execution, he/ she can’t also afford to take care of the requests and concerns of an entire Client team as well.

Female engineers are ideal for this role that requires charisma as well a technical prowess, professionalism and charm. Being  – for the most part – better communicators than men, less intimidating and more accommodating, women at the Client-interface can reshape the image of a company.  Women with good interpersonal skills can be trained to work at the apex of technical, project and social interactions – perfect for Client relationship-building in a technically-minded industry. Their unique set of skills tied to their femininity can be a great advantage to their careers and this should be leveraged by project managers and sponsors.

What makes engineering consulting different

Its been a while since I posted – readers will realise that my lull in posts has coincided with my move to Johannesburg and my starting a new job in engineering consulting.

The past 2.5 months at my new company have been a whirlwind of excitement. Being thrown into two projects in the midst of implementation was more challenging than I could have anticipated. Also, learning a new company’s way of operating and getting a feel of how to find and leverage the resources available always takes some time.

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My new company is vastly different to my previous one: I now live in the city and take 5 minutes to get to work, as opposed to driving 65kms everyday to my project site. I work in a large, open-planned office with white walls dotted with brightly coloured panels. Colleagues bounce around on pilates balls at their desks and work flexible hours to beat the traffic. I have swapped out my pink hard-hat for a white one (still gonna try get my pink one back though) and have exchanged safety boots for elegant pencil skirts and heels.

The most interesting and different thing about my job however is that now I have a Client. It wasn’t 3 months ago when I was the Client! Sitting on the other side of the table is quite interesting. For one, I cant be the absolute brat that I am anymore. I really enjoyed being the end-user. Working for a huge multinational gives you the feeling that anything can be possible. Everything is just large – especially in capital projects and the suppliers and consultants that work for you know the value of a customer like that. As a consultant executing two projects for a large multinational, I realise how very difficult it sometimes can be on the receiving-end.

Saying that, it has allowed me to develop in areas I never had a chance to before. I am now very diplomatic about what I say and careful about how I say it. I am conscious about what I do and the quality and detail of my work is ever-more important. I cant say that I don’t enjoy it, in fact, I love it! Its a professional environment in which I am thriving.

The other side of the coin is that now I work even more closely with people than before. Coordinating activities between draughtsmen, engineers and project administrators is all about communication and relationship building. It requires a lot of energy though, and sometimes there is a bit of conflict – but I have come to enjoy a bit of conflict once in a while😉. Just to shake things up, you know?

All in all, everyone is different and are suited to different environments. Production and mining was great experience and something that has launched my career. I would definitely recommend that all engineers get this exposure a an early stage in their careers. However, consulting is very exciting and you get broader exposure to the industry as a whole. Some people start off in consulting and never leave. It may be stressful, but if you are a very driven individual who values professionalism and detail, I would recommend it to you!

What to consider before dating an engineer

Seeing as though I have dated not one, but two engineers, and I am constantly surrounded by (male) engineers, I seem to have become the authority on this topic. My site stats agree that this content – strange as it may be – attracts substantial traffic. So here it is: why not to date an engineer part two.

As much as I hate to generalise, and agree that there are surely many engineers out there who don’t fit the mold, I have picked up certain patterns that should be considered before getting yourself involved with an engineer guy.

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You will not get more of his time – so get over it

Whether your engineer boyfriend is a student, a graduate or senior-level engineer, our workload tends to border on ridiculous.  He will spend more time with his classmates and colleagues than with you.  One of the engineers I worked with and I spent so much time together at work that I knew his wife’s weekly schedule and reminded him a couple of times that he needed to be home early that day to babysit as his wife had book club.  Another graduate engineer at work recently got married and brought his young wife out to the little mining town we lived in. She found it really difficult to adjust to a new home and was always frustrated that her new husband consistently was at the plant late into the night.

Rest assured though – when your engineer boyfriend says he’s at work, he really is at work! And he is busy making a ton of money which you will enjoy spending. Sacrifices.

He will never be the life of a party – so get over it

Engineers are sensitive creatures underneath that tough exterior. They are genuine without being simple and smart without being arrogant. What they will never be is the social butterfly that you want them to be. If they are anything like my ex, they will be reserved and even shy in social situations. They feel most comfortable around family and familiar friends, and will sometimes even close down if forced to make conversation with someone new.  If having a cool, popular and outgoing partner is what you crave, date a guy who studied commerce.

What has worked for me though, is to ply them with a substantial amount of alcohol before introducing them to people. They tend to get on quite well once mildly inebriated.

Engineers are nesters – and you may not like their particular nesting habits – but get over it

An engineer’s home is his safe place and they spend a lot of time making it just right and comfortable for their needs. I have NEVER seen straight men take so much care and pride in their homes.  I might add that not all of them are particularly neat nesters! My first engineer boyfriend was positively a mess! The random stuff he had accumulated over years was stored everywhere – including a massive set of couches which took up most of his room and served no apparent purpose. Nevertheless, what the engineers I know have in common is that they detest anyone trying to rearrange their homes. My first engineer boyfriend would not let me (a neat freak) throw anything out and the second – who I somehow convinced to allow me to redecorate his bedroom – held this against me until the day we broke up. He happened to be an even bigger neat-freak than I was and thought I was a mess. (the irony)

Your engineer boyfriend will have to trust you completely and be confident that you know them and their taste before you can attempt to rearrange their homes. Tread with care ladies – you have been warned.

Their dress-code is bizarre – so get over it

You will notice that your engineer boyfriend has a certain dress-code which he will stick to most days. This may be the standard t-shirt and jeans/ shorts as a student, which may transform into a golf-shirt and jeans/ shorts once he graduates. In short, engineers are most comfortable in their casual clothes and you may have to even put up with awful sock/sandals combinations which will make most women cringe (despite their expansive shoe-collections – don’t bother trying to figure this one out). Unfortunately, attire is not a high priority to engineers as they are practical beings who don’t see a practical reason to dress better than they do.

When engineers go out to a formal function, they realise that they need to dress up to conform to social expectations. Although this is a great start, their execution very often misses the mark entirely.  Ladies, be warned, you will have to guide them in this regard. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES let them dress themselves. Oversee and direct this process as far as you can. They will likely appreciate the guidance in this area.  Basics such as dressing for your height and body shape, or choosing appropriate and fashionable ties (from this decade) – things that you will take for granted – will need to be supervised. You don’t want to end up at the races dressed in a classy, neutral, chiffon dress alongside your engineer boyfriend who is wearing a shiny, silver suit (which, to make matters worse, he is swimming in).

Yes, yes this actually happened.

So should you date him?

Despite all of the above, the engineers I have dated/ worked with have been great boyfriends. They are sincere and caring and if you can put up with the hours and bad dress sense, I’d say go for it!  Like most men, they will not understand you, will try and solve all your problems when all you want to do is vent a bit, and like any of us will have to make their own mistakes in relationships before they get it right. However, nothing in your house will ever remain broken for more than a week, you will have personalised and trustworthy advice when it comes to cars, cameras, laptops and just about any other mechanical/ electronic purchases and they will be there for you when you are in trouble.

Good luck!

6 Top Time Management Tips for Project Management

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An old varsity friend contacted me the other day for some advice.  He also now works in project management but as a scheduler for several projects happening on various sites. He recently had an incident where the incorrect information was communicated for the progress on one of the sites – which landed him in some hot water.  He asked how he could better keep track of the various tasks and bits of information you have to juggle and keep track of in the fast-paced world of project management

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6 Top Tips for Time Management

Tip 5 – Keep a tracking register

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the vast amounts of content generated by a project and are finding it difficult to keep track of everything, a useful tool is a tracking register. It’s a simple excel spreadsheet where you log each task you are responsible for and input any and all bits of information you can add to each task, including responsible persons, follow-up reminders, due dates and contact information of key persons.  I have used this tool with great effect.  The best part is that you can tick of completed tasks which is sometimes a much-needed ego boost in the demanding environment of project management.

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Tip 5 – Record everything as it comes up

Make sure your tracking register is in an accessible location on your computer, phone or tablet so you can add any new information you receive from site, suppliers or the design team as soon as you become aware of it. If you can’t carry a tablet on site, keep a journal and record absolutely all information. Its amazing how much you will forget when you have a lot going on so don’t rely on your memory.

Tip 4 – Be wary of secondhand information

I have been burned several times by relying on information which I took to be facts, and which ended up being a stretch of the truth. When it comes to keeping track of progress and the completion of tasks, the best thing to do is check for yourself. I cannot tell you how many times a person has sworn that a milestone had been reached only to discover for myself (or worse, from my project manager) that they contractor was still busy!  If you cannot get onto site to check, make sure that the contact you have on that site is reliable and not conflicted.

Make sure you do spot-checks every once in a while to ensure that everyone is being perfectly honest. Remember, different people have different motivations and reporting a task that has run behind may cause that person great discomfort in his/ her chain of reporting.

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Tip 3 – Never open an email twice

How many times have you opened an email and flagged it for a follow-up only to overshoot the deadline on the task?  Take a systematic approach to your emails and action anything important immediately.  If you cannot action it, mark it as unread- this is sometimes more effective than flagging it.

Tip 2 – Prioritize

Within our project team, we use the following method to prioritize tasks: a priority task is either flagged as urgent or important depending on what it is. With so much going on, its easy to just manage the urgent tasks and let the important, yet not immediately urgent tasks overrun your schedule. Sometimes you need to take a firm stance on taking on new urgent tasks and put them on the back-burner for a bit while you attend to the important ones.  This may mean being assertive enough to refuse a task or being firm about how realistic your deadlines are.

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Tip 1 – Communication is key

Working within a multidisciplinary project team, you have a constant stream of information coming in. It also means that you need to constantly be feeding back to your team members and updating them on the tasks under your scope of responsibility.  If you’re falling behind, its best to communicate this early so that your teammates have the opportunity to assist you in easing the load, and are conscious about the amount of new work they are giving you.  When you become aware of a problem or a hiccup, the golden rule is to communicate this immediately to the relevant party. By keeping the lines of communication open at all times, your project team and manager will feel confident in your abilities and you will gain the appreciation you deserve.

Conclusion

Whether you are a student, graduate or professional engineer, project management is a critical skill and good time-management abilities are essential for success. Use the above techniques as they are tried and tested and will make your life a little easier.

What to do after a car accident

I recently had a major accident where I rolled my car about 5 times. The car was a mess and was written off, but by some miracle (it had to be a miracle) I climbed out of the upside down wreck relatively fine. The whiplash was one thing, but trust me, the admin that I had to deal with afterwards was quite another. It surprised me that directly after the accident, I had no idea what to do. I relied 100% on the kindness of absolute strangers who stopped on the side of the road to help me, to get medical attention and attend to immediate concerns.

To see pictures of the car after the crash see this post Changing jobs? Why I did it, and why you should do it too.

So in good, ol’ EngineerChic fashion, I am now going to share some essential advice in the unfortunate circumstance that you end up in a similar situation.

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Immediately after a crash

The first thing you want to do if you’re in a badly crumpled car is to check that you are indeed okay. You may have suffered a neck injury or something else may be broken that you wont even notice because of the adrenaline in your system at that point. Only hours after the accident I noticed that my knee and neck were in some serious pain!  If you suspect that you or anyone else in the vehicle has a neck injury, don’t allow anyone but a paramedic to move them, unless of course the car is on fire or something.

If you are hanging from a seat-belt upside down (like I was), be very careful when you un-clip yourself as you may land on your head and injure your neck further. The procedure is as follows:

  • Put one hand on the ceiling (which is now on the floor and push up to take the weight of the belt.
  • Turn your head to one side and with your other hand, release your seat-belt clip. (this is literally what I had to do)
  • Try to open the door. Luckily mine opened a bit and I just had to kick it a few times to get it opened enough to escape
  • If the door wont open, try breaking the window with a heavy object. Remember that other doors may have less damage than the one that is nearest to you
  • Check and see if there is anyone else you can assist

If the vehicle is still on, TURN IT OFF and remove the keys from the ignition! The car may ignite leaked fuel or something.  This may just be an old wive’s tale, but no hurt in doing it anyway. 

So you’re out. Now what?

Okay, so you’ve escaped the smoking wreck. The thing not to do is jump back in to retrieve any valuables at this stage. In the case of my wreck, the car was still smoking and the petrol tank had spilled. Make sure the vehicle is safe before going anywhere near it. You may want to consider keeping a fire extinguisher in your vehicle – which can also be used to smash windows.

This may seem like complete crazy-talk, but trust me, you never know when something like this will happen to you!

So what you want to do (especially if you’re alone like I was) is to wave someone down. It’s very likely that people will stop. In my case, many people stopped to help. It’s absolutely amazing the kindness and compassion that absolute strangers showed me during that time. I think they were mostly shocked to see that I had survived.  You may need to seek medical attention.  If you do, then ask someone to call an ambulance or give you a lift to a hospital. This is the only good reason to leave the scene of the accident. If you are not injured, you must stay and call the police.

Reporting the accident

You need to call the local police authorities who will meet you at the scene and take down your details. In minor fender-benders with no injuries, you may want to move the vehicles out of the line of traffic after taking pictures of the vehicles positions. If someone has been seriously injured or killed, you may not under any circumstances move the vehicles involved as this would be considered tampering with evidence.

The policeman who helped me allowed me to fill out an accident report on the scene (for insurance) and I received the Accident Number in a few minutes on my cellphone.

Claiming from Insurance

The accident really brought home how important being with a good insurance company is.  I called in to their call center to report the accident. The guy on the phone could not believe how calm I was as I explained the accident and the condition of the vehicle. I was incredibly lucky! They took their time in assessing the vehicle and approving the pay-out, but they eventually did. In the mean time, I had a courtesy car to drive around in.  Luckily I had already broken even on my car repayments so I actually got a decent deposit to put towards my next vehicle.

Dealing with PTSD

Like the hero I believe myself to be, I tried going in to work the following day. By then, the adrenaline had set in and severe stiffness and pain had set in.  My project manager took one look at me in a neck-brace, starting to tear up from the pain and self-pity and sent me home to rest for a week. Do not underestimate the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. You will not believe the thoughts and questions that go through your mind after an experience such as this. Even if the accident/ incident was not as severe, you may have some serious fears to deal with! I went to stay with my aunt and grandmother for those few days and made sure I dealt with my accident properly.

Injury Recovery

As I am an avid runner, I had to take a 6-week break from strenuous physical exercise whilst attending physiotherapy twice a week for my neck spasm. Fortunately my injuries were not worse. In the end, my down-time had to be extended to 8 weeks and I started Pilates after about 4, but I am thankful that I took the time to recover properly.

In closing

Well, I sincerely hope you will never have to live through something like this, but if you do, I hop this post will help you.

I’d like to say thank you to a few people:

  • Those kind and caring strangers who went out their way to help me at the worst time of my life
  • BIG UPS to the South African Police Service and the Roosenakal Police Station for their help!
  • Thank you to the colleagues and friends who made sure I was safe and helped me in the day following the accident
  • Being surrounded by family and the outpouring of love and support from friends and family over that week was so helpful in pulling me through and I thank them all for it!
  • Thank you to my sister and mum who flew up from Cape Town and Durban to see me that week. I love you both very much!
  • Thank you to my amazing physio/ Pilates instructor/ friend who was so very supportive during this process.
  • And most of all, thank you to the higher power – what ever you choose to define it as – for keeping me safe and allowing me to emerge from such an experience. Whether it was to teach me something, or point me in a certain direction, I believe that there was a reason I survived.

Changing jobs? Why I did it, and why you should do it too.

After my recent post about my unemployed status, an old varsity-buddy contacted me on Twitter to ask what inspired me to do this. I suppose I should share my reasons as some of you out there may be in the same boat.

See what I’m up to with my time off: LeisureChic

For the past three years I have been working in project management for a multi-national mining company. The project sites were far out of major cities/ airports and because there was not much to do out there, I ended up making many four-hour trips to the city and back. Returning to site one Monday morning last October, I was driven off the road by a carrier-truck and my SUV rolled several times and came to a grinding halt on its roof. I managed to get out of the car with minor whiplash injuries. I was incredibly lucky, but from the photographs below you can see that my car was not as lucky.

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Since then, I have been seriously thinking about my lifestyle and the fact that I am so far away from family and friends.  I moved out to Steelpoort to gain valuable experience in the field. I feel that I have done that and have succeeded in a very tough, cut-throat and demanding industry.  Another important point is that my growth curve – very steep throughout my last project – has recently started to plateau.  It all points to the fact that it is now time to apply the experience I have gained to a broader project environment.  I have taken a project engineer position with an engineering consultancy working on major projects for the mining industry across Africa. This is the type of company my previous employer would have outsourced its design and manufacturing services out to.

It’s exciting that I’m now going to see the other side of the coin. Having insight into the operations of a multi-national, as well as the management of a major project will (hopefully) give me an advantage in the consulting climate.  For one, I know the real-world impact of poor design decisions taken months or even years before.  In my experience, design engineers who have never worked in the field sometimes fall short in terms of operability and maintainability of equipment, or how difficult its assembly would be.  Having commissioned a plant and been involved in the running and problem solving of design blunders from the ground, I hope to avoid these basic mistakes.

But for those of you out there who are asking yourselves whether it may be time to make a change, perhaps the following questions would be able to help make your mind up:

  • Are you still learning at a very rapid rate? And if so, is this new experience/ knowledge valuable to your career long-term?
  • Does the experience you are gaining justify any major sacrifices to your lifestyle, health and well-being?
  • Do you enjoy what you do and is there scope for growth and promotion into a position that is attractive to you?

The answers to the above questions were a “no” for me. Perhaps you are in a different situation and still have more to gain where you are, or maybe it is time for you to move on.  You will know what is right when the time comes to decide.

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