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Things I wish that I had known at the start of my career  


Jason Ingham
Member Admin
Joined: 3 years ago
Posts: 3
27/06/2018 8:25 pm  

Many SESOC members can probably think of lessons that were learned the hard way, and how projects would have run much more smoothly if someone had been able to provide you with some early career advice on what not to do.

A recent SESOC initiative is to foster our Emerging Professional members, and so we are keen to hear from members about some of the things that they now wish that they had known at the start of their career.

So – all suggests and contributions are very welcome, to help support our SESOC Emerging Professional members.

Nick Calvert
New Member
Joined: 3 years ago
Posts: 3
29/06/2018 8:41 am  

Hi Jason,

One thing that jumps to mind is the need to plan projects before commencing work. Failing to plan is planning to fail and the engineer should always plan loadings, load paths and potential issues, and seek approval from a senior member of their team prior to proceeding with design. If designing a full building, a draft design features report is a great way of planning and provides the ability to seek approval prior to doing any calculations or modelling. I have seen a lot of engineers straight out of university heading straight to computer modelling before planning anything which in my experience carries a lot of risk of rework.

Murray Wood
New Member
Joined: 3 years ago
Posts: 1
29/06/2018 2:03 pm  

A few random thoughts.

1. Don’t try to install mechanical anchors closer than 100mm to the edge of concrete – there’s usually a longitudinal bar here.

2. Watch out for Canopies, Retaining Walls, Balustrades and Anchor designs.  Always done at the end of the design process when there’s not enough time to fully design or document.

3. Be careful to leave enough time to draw/document and review.  Don’t plan on designing during the last 1-2 weeks of a project.  Working backwards, the review, approval and drawing reviews take around a week.  The week before that should be tidying up details – not introducing new ones.

4. Do a hand sanity check on models.  Beams should sag downwards under gravity, buildings move sideways. 

5. Things change.  Expect to redo designs, and undertake designs that don’t get built.

Malcolm Nielsen
New Member
Joined: 3 years ago
Posts: 2
02/07/2018 5:51 pm  

Poor weld detailing costs money. I frequently see full penetration butt welds specified where they are not required.

I learned nothing about welding at university, probably because the lecturers knew nothing about it. It took years of interaction with tradesmen to learn the basics.  For welded design, the following guidelines apply:

  • Fillet welds with no joint preparation are the cheapest. Speed of welding, including all phases of preparation, is faster than for butt welds.
  • Double sided welds produce less distortion. Weld shrinkage during cooling can be balanced by using back to back welds.
  • For butt welds, a double sided vee requires less grinding and filler metal than a full penetration vee from one side only. They are therefore faster and cheaper.
  • Fillet welds are inferior to butt welds from the point of view of stress distribution. The stress path is not a direct one, and this gives rise to stress concentrations in the weld metal and heat affected zone.
  • Fillet welds are inferior to butt welds from a fatigue standpoint. The typical notch effect, at the root of a fillet, can lead to brittle fracture from cyclic fatigue.
  • Where stresses are low, intermittent welds reduce cost and produce less distortion.
  • Design for the thinner member. The joint need only be as strong as the weakest part.
  • Welded joints are best made between plates of similar thickness. This helps with heat distribution (ie: avoids burning the thinner plate) and reduces stress concentrations.
  • Consider fatigue – try to avoid abrupt changes of section and stress concentrations.
  • Consider access – if a welder cannot see or reach a joint, they cannot weld it!

Jamie Nguyen
Active Member
Joined: 3 years ago
Posts: 6
24/07/2018 11:22 am  

I am an Emerging Professional myself but here are some I found to be most helpful.

  • MBIE Documents for B1-Structure such as Practice Advisory Notices. MBIE B1 Structure documents link
  • A good mentor that will help guide career path
  • A technically competent and highly experienced senior who can assess your competency and match your responsibility to your competence.
  • Laying out your calculations so someone else can follow without having to even speak to you. Makes things easier when you try to justify decisions further down the line.


Malcolm Nielsen
New Member
Joined: 3 years ago
Posts: 2
11/02/2019 1:58 pm  

Moderators note – approval of this post should not be taken as endorsement of the publications referred to

There are so many things that I wish I had known at the start of my career, forty years ago, that I decided to write a book.

I have recently published “The Practical Engineer’s Primer”, as an ebook in 3 parts, on

You can preview the book at:

The selling price is US$ 2.30 , which is the the lowest price that I am allowed to list.

You don’t need a Kindle reader.  Just select download to PC.

I am currently seeking a publisher for a paperback version.

Malcolm Nielsen


This post was modified 2 years ago by Nic Brooke