by Julie Lutsky, PE, senior structural engineer
Early in my career, being a structural engineer defined me in many ways and much of my time and energy was devoted to my professional development. I naively set a goal to “master” or at least not be a trainee in my profession prior to having children; thinking this would make it easier once I became a working mother. As a goal, this was not attainable. Continual professional development is one of the keys to a successful career and you don’t know what you don’t know about being a new parent. However, I can confidently say that being a structural engineer has made me a better mom; while at the same time, being a mom has made me a better structural engineer.
I have learned over the years that while having a strong technical background is important to deliver a successful project; many other attributes are required. Communication, anticipation of issues, teamwork, client experience, project management, efficiency, problem solving, collaboration and cost effectiveness. In my opinion, these are the things that make an engineer stand out and are also the skills that have translated over to motherhood. You think business negotiation is hard? Have you ever tried to get a 3-year-old to eat dinner?
My seven-year anniversary at Pennoni is this month and since then I have been involved in many different projects across a wide range of industries. I’m currently working on the renovation of 3000 Market Street for Spark Therapeutics and the Penn’s Landing CAP project. As a project manager on Spark, I have to manage the budget, anticipate potential setbacks, problem solve, practice patience and planning. For example, on many of my projects there were there are many stakeholders and designers involved; and in some situations, we did not all agree. I have found that to reach resolution you need to listen and understand the other side’s position and thought process. In many cases, both sides are not completely right or completely wrong and it’s important to listen and solve a problem based on facts not feelings — I can think of a million scenarios where these skills are essential to getting through the day with two little ones.
But how has motherhood made me a better engineer? I practice more empathy and understanding towards teammates, which makes problem solving easier and the client experience better. I think through projects as an engineer and a mom – how can designs be safer? How can I engage my teammates to solve a problem using our combined experience? My children look at things through a different lens which gives different perspective to a problem. Being able to leverage this same collaboration from younger and older staff is what brings project success. Understanding that there are several ways to tackle a problem, but it is my job to leverage everyone’s experience to reach the best solution.
Ultimately, I do think you can have it all and it is possible to be a successful engineer and parent. Having a team and management at Pennoni that understands the importance of and values family is crucial to my success. Having flexible hours and work from home availability has allowed me to be present as a mom and more productive as an engineer. However, this comes with a lot of trust between me and my manager. My leadership knows when I’m at home, I’m working.
Being a mom has made me a better engineer and being an engineer has made me a better mom. I am proud to be both a structural engineer and a mother. Client feedback and praise from co-workers is terrific; but having my son’s teacher tell me how proud he is that his mom is a structural engineer and how he gushes to his classmates about me is a real measure of success.