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Career Quick Look
Salary: $69,850* Education:
Years in Field: 2.5 B.S. in Mechanical Engineering; E.I.T. (Engineer in Training) Certificate
City/State: Concord, CA View Lyn L. Longley's Resume

Getting Started: "I never really thought I was going to college," Lyn says. She did reasonably well in her high school math and science classes, but insists "I wasn't a math whiz." She enjoyed drawing but preferred something structured to sketching freehand - and for a while she considered a career in architecture.

In her senior year of high school, Lyn's 1972 MG was having mechanical problems, and when she and her step-father set to work overhauling the transmission together, she says she discovered a passion. "Watching all the gears turning around in there, all working together," she says, "was just a miracle. That's when I decided to become a mechanical engineer."

Education: After high school, Lyn enrolled at Santa Barbara City College (2-year), and hoped to transfer into the engineering program at Cal Polytechnic at San Luis Obispo, but her application was rejected two years running. After a third year at Santa Barbara, she was sure she'd completed all the necessary requirements in high-level science and math to get in, but was frustrated to find her application turned down for a third time. When she spoke to the Dean to find out what was missing, they discovered her application (by computer diskette, as the college requested) hadn't been correctly reviewed. Finally she was admitted to Cal Poly, and was able to pursue her engineering degree.

Even though it took seven years to realize her goal of receiving a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, Lyn says, "I wouldn't change a thing." Her time in Santa Barbara City College gave Lyn a chance to tackle difficult math and science courses in a small class environment, with professors who were always accessible. "Cal Poly has a particularly rigorous Mechanical Engineering program," Lyn says, but she felt very well prepared by the time she arrived there. While at Cal Poly, she also had the opportunity to complete two six-month work internships in the engineering field, which was a boost when she graduated and began her job search. "The employers saw that I had a year of working already," Lyn says.

Greatest Professional Achievement: Earlier this year, Lyn served as Mechanical Engineering Lead on a major data center project built for a subsidiary of GTE Corp., a leading telephone and electric company, in Oakland, CA. She had to create the mechanical engineering design (including both the Heating and Air Conditioning piping designs) for a variety of environments within the 10,000 square-foot structure - from an equipment-filled network room with special temperature requirements, to a more general-purpose office space. "I had to select the equipment, generate the calculations, and then I had to delegate tasks related to the design to designers and drafters working on the project, in addition to coordinating my design with the other engineering disciplines [electrical engineers, structural engineers, and architects]" she says. "Sometimes I was working 50 or 60 hours a week."

Barriers: In the workplace, she has sometimes encountered a difficult supervisor, but has always made an effort to seek out other mentors, or co-workers who could offer more positive feedback and advice.
"Remember you're the person who's in charge of your career," Lyn says. "Find a good ally or support person, and be sure to communicate your goals to them."

Working with Men:
"I've never really had much of a problem working with men," Lyn says. "If anything, I think I put pressure on myself to exceed expectations. And sometimes that's made things stressful."

It was difficult at first, she says, going from a 50/50 male-female environment in high school to an engineering program where women made up only 10-15% of the students. "In business, there are even fewer women," she says. "And you have some technicians and engineers who have been working with men all the time. So when a woman comes in, it's an unknown quantity, and sometimes they don't know what to do."

"A lot of these men are afraid of sexual harassment and things like that," she says. In these situations, good communication can make all the difference. "With a good sexual harassment prevention program on both sides, I think it really helps," she says. "Working together closely also helps, and just giving each other trust."

Advice for Women:
Lyn says she's always remembered this quote someone once shared with her: "Nothing is worth doing that doesn't scare you to death at first." She says it's perfectly naturally to be afraid sometimes - "but don't let that fear keep you from trying something."

As far as core engineering skills, Lyn says communication, spatial skills and a solid knowledge of math are important - but don't be put off if you didn't ace calculus your first time around. "I believe engineering is learned," she says. If it's something you really want to pursue, Lyn advises, "stick to it. Persistence and a good attitude will get you a long way."

Typical Workday/Environment:
"I work in an office environment," Lyn says. "90% of the time I'm in the office, working at my computer." She may be making calculations, researching a particular project, selecting different types of equipment to be installed, or negotiating with architects and civil engineers about the correct placement of the equipment within the work site. " And sometimes we go on site visits, which is important to get a feel for the space we're working with," she says.

Even with the heavy emphasis on math and calculation in the engineering field, Lyn stresses that communication skills are equally important in her day-to-day work. "You're communicating what you want your space to be like," she says. "So you've got to be able to communicate your ideas clearly, whether it's an e-mail, a fax, or a conversation with somebody there in the office."

Career Ladder: "In the beginning," she says, "you'll be given one task a time." This may involve crunching numbers, checking other people's calculations, or making some small equipment selection for a project. "You might also do specifications - which are documents prepared for the construction or design team, to let them know what you need."

With experience, your involvement on a project will become more technical and more complicated, Lyn says. "Eventually you'll become a Discipline Lead," she explains, which means the head of personnel working in your particular area (mechanical, civil, structural, etc.), then a Lead Engineer and eventually a Project Manager, with responsibility for the budget and staff of an entire assignment. From here, Lyn says, "the sky's the limit." Some engineers decide to shift away from technical work and go into the lucrative areas of construction or office management - where salaries reach as high as $250,000/year.

Lyn recommends earning your Engineer In Training (E.I.T.) certificate before you graduate from college, by taking the engineering fundamentals exam. It's first step in preparing for a professional engineer's license, an important credential in the consulting/design/construction field. While state requirements vary, California engineers need six years of work experience before they can qualify for a Professional Engineer's (P.E.) license (or two years, if you've gone through an accredited college or University). "Getting your P.E. really bumps you up in terms of salary and job level," she says.

Professional Associations: Lyn is a member of ASHRAE, the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineering.

Hobbies: "I still like working on cars," she says. "I also sew. And I'm learning how to fly fish." When she's able to escape outside, Lyn says, "I love to hike." She's also an enthusiastic dancer - everything from salsa and two-step to swing.

*Annual salary number is not the role model's actual salary. Salary for Mechanical Engineer based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition

 


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