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Even though I entered this profession almost five years ago, I still feel as if I have only hit the surface of the amount of information there is to know. At the beginning of my career, I felt like I knew nothing and I wanted to know how to get better. I knew that I needed to spend some time gathering information and learning but it was difficult to know where to begin when every concept was so new.
Throughout my career, I have put together a list of resources that have helped me accelerate my knowledge and career as a plumbing/fire protection engineer. I would recommend seeking out resources for yourself — whether you are just starting out or have been an engineer for 50 years — as there is always something new to be learned. The industry is always changing.
The following resources are what help me continue learning about plumbing design and I hope they can help you, too.
1. Get involved in your local society
or organization’s chapter
Not only do the chapters host technical meetings to directly teach you about a certain topic but they also provide a multitude of people who you can network with and reach out to with various questions.
For example, in the American Society of Plumbing Engineers, if you have specific code questions, there are people within the chapter who are dedicated to finding an answer for you. And the chapter website has numerous technical articles separated by topic that are useful.
Most career-oriented organizations have a technical conference or seminar they host every year with educational sessions and typically a trade show.
2. Seek mentors
Whether this means a mentor at your current company or through a local organization, having a mentor can help put you on the learning fast track. If you don’t know of any mentorship programs currently available to you, consider asking your company if it would consider implementing a mentorship program.
And heading up a mentorship program at your place of employment can help you gain leadership skills, as well as get to know and network with more people at your company.
3. Become a mentor
By taking the time to teach someone else, whether it is one hour a month or two hours a day, you are helping someone else understand concepts as well as solidifying your personal understanding of those concepts. Mentoring also allows you to identify any holes in your own knowledge you may not have been aware of.
4. Sign up for magazines relating to what you do
Many online and print magazines are available for you to subscribe to. These magazines not only have technical articles, they also have something new to learn on every page. Advertisements are especially helpful in introducing you to new products you otherwise may not know exist.
5. Call manufacturers
If you have a question about a certain product, there is likely no one who knows more about it than the manufacturer. The phone number to the manufacturer or the manufacturer’s representative can be found on the company website. I have called those numbers many times to gain information on the application of the product, how the product is installed, clearances of the product, electrical connections for the product, etc.
My experience is always that these people want to help and if they can’t answer my questions, they will get me connected to someone who can. Calling manufacturers can be a great resource for product information.
6. Know your local plumbing board
Attending a local plumbing board meeting is beneficial in gaining an understanding of how it decides on code changes and how it processes variances. And it is important to meet with your local plumbing inspector, ideally around the 30 percent to 60 percent design level, to help prevent any surprises that may pop up when you are trying to obtain a building permit or trying to get the final sign off.
Google things you don’t know
If you find yourself wondering how something looks in real life rather than drawn on paper, consider searching the Internet for images to help show you how something is done. Videos are useful for gaining an understanding of how something you typically draw on paper is actually installed in the field. This can help you refine your drawings and consider constructability in your designs.
8. Look at the world around you
When traveling to another part of the country or part of the world, take a look around and see if there is an aspect of plumbing or installation that is done differently than what you are used to. If you have an opportunity, consider attending a plumbing-related educational meeting when you are away from home.
Not only will it build your network but it also will give you the opportunity to ask about the differences you noticed while being in a location you are unaccustomed to. For example, you may notice differences in seismic bracing, locations of equipment being inside or outside and roof drainage design.
9. Make a list
Think about all the things in the past couple of weeks that have stumped you. Additionally, try to come up with as many questions as you can that you would not know how to answer. Those lists are now your basis for discovery. You have pinpointed the holes in your knowledge and you can now proactively find answers to your questions and fill those holes.
10. Look for continuing education credits
Even if you don’t hold a license or have any credentials, seeking continuing education credits is another way to find general learning opportunities in your area.
I want to end with a quote from Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Go forth and find those resources available to you!
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