Event Report: Journey to Success, 12th Februrary 2014

Author: Alessandra Villa, Arup

On Wednesday 12th of February 2014 the second edition of Journey to Success, organised by the IABSE British Group, was held at the George on the Strand in London.

The idea for this event was born in 2013, when it was realised that there was a lack of career driven lectures in the construction industry, despite the high number of technical lectures. Journey to Success is an informal event, aimed at young designers in the construction industry and students, about how to make a successful career in Engineering and Architecture.

The aim of the event is to give the opportunity to the audience to hear leading figures reflecting back on their career and sharing their own personal story in an informal environment which allows young designers to ask those questions they never had the opportunity or were afraid to ask before.

More than 50 people, from students to young engineers and architects, to senior and experienced professionals, attended the event, considerably increasing the number of attendees compared to last year. Chair of the event was Antony Oliver, ex editor of the NCE and now editor of Infrastructure Intelligence; the panel included 4 professionals: Ian Firth, Chief Operative Officer at Flint & Neill; Hayley Gryc, Associate at Arup; Sebastian Macmillan, Building Environment Course Director at the University of Cambridge and Caroline Tong, Associate Director at CH2M Hill.

The evening was a real success, thanks to the invaluable stories and tips from the panellists, the energy and vibe produced by the chair and the active participation of all attending people.

Antony, chair of the event, successfully engaged the audience through questions and promoting a constructive discussion. He kept the interest high, challenging the speakers and promoting the audience in sharing personal experience and opinion.

[pullquote align=”left “]I had the courage to go to the boss and say: I really want to do something… [/pullquote]The first speaker was Ian Firth who has worked for Flint & Neill since his graduation. His career took off when he came back after getting a masters qualification, but it really changed when he had the courage to go to his boss and proposed to enter a conceptual design competition, an area in which Flint & Neill were not specialised before that moment. His experience also brought up the discussion about small versus big firms. He said “I really love the buzz of a small company”. In a small company one can have more responsibilities and have a bigger role in a project, while the advantages of a big firm are easier access to big and exciting projects, better mentoring systems and more networking opportunities.

Ian Firth, Flint & Neill
Ian Firth, Flint & Neill

The most frequently used word during the evening was most likely the word “passion”. What really impressed me about Ian is his passion about design. To the question about if he ever had to choose between being a designer or commercial manager, he answered with a clear “I am always excited about design. You have to know how business works but keep a hand on the design”.

All the panellists agreed that they never based their decisions on money but always on their passion.
Hayley Gryc, as well as Ian, has always worked for the same company, Arup, starting when she was still studying through annual summer placements. She started in the building group, working on big projects with well-known architects. It was her dream before she joined, but after a trip to India six years ago she thought that more should be done to help those in need, and she realised that she wanted to work more in developing countries.

[pullquote align=”right”]”I just want to give the people the best I can do”[/pullquote]She worked, in parallel to her daily job, on humanitarian projects, developing a partnership with Habitat for Humanity. When she went through the process of becoming an Associate, she decided she wanted to focus her efforts on those projects where she felt she could add most value. This is when she moved to Arup’s International Development Group. What became apparent in Hayley’s talk was the importance of building up a good technical base and become chartered; to follow your passions and, more importantly, to let people know what you are interested in, so that, when the opportunity arises, they come to you first.

Sebastian Macmillan who currently is the IDBE Course Director at Cambridge University was next. After finishing his degree in architecture he thought that architects should be focusing more on shaping the build environment for the people that use it.

His main advice to a successful career was to know yourself and what you are good at and enjoy doing to eventually find your own specialism. Instead of being like a “boat blown in the wind”, he suggested having a long career plan. Some of the panellists disagreed with this, suggesting to have a plan but not to think too far ahead (2-3 years).

Caroline Tong
Caroline Tong, CH2M Hill

The last speaker was Caroline Tong, Associate Director (Bridges) at CH2M Hill. Caroline focused on the topic of women in engineering and how the trend is changing. She realised that it was possible for a woman to both be a successful engineer and have a family, which was a brave choice at the time, but is becoming more common nowadays. It was her courage that most impressed me, her courage to go and work for long periods on site, for taking up roles that involved plenty of responsibility and for being a strong voice for encouraging more women into engineering. Caroline also encouraged women to speak up more, stating that generally women ask for a promotion only when they master 80% of their current role, while men would do it when they had mastered only around 25%. She also emphasised the importance of having a mentor, who would not necessarily have to be from the same company.

The evening was rounded off with a set of suggestions, which I think can be very useful for all young designers:

• Connect and follow your passions
• Be prepared to step out of your comfort zone
• Be aware of sticky floors – don’t be afraid to change your situation if you feel you are stuck
• Broaden your skill set to be flexible in your work
• Have a plan but don’t think too far ahead
• Seek support
• Network and make your interests and skills known to others
• Know your strengths but don’t worry about your weaknesses

It’s through events like Journey to Success, Future of Design and other initiatives that the British Group of IABSE provides young professional with the opportunity for networking both amongst their peers and those with significant amounts of experience to share. There will be another Journey to Success event in a few months’ time; if anybody has any ideas for speakers please email us at Events@iabse.org.uk.

The conclusion to an evening of useful suggestions, shared thoughts, interesting stories and great networking was:

Alessandra Villa, Arup, on behalf of IABSE BG

– More photos from the event can be seen on here.