As a young engineer, I find myself constantly impressed with how much I don’t know. There have been so many days I’ve been proud of myself for making it through a day of work without asking any questions – and then come in the next day to realize I really should have. Luckily, I’m surrounded by patient coworkers who are willing to answer my dumb questions, assuring me that they remember their days in my shoes. Still, the idea of being in a room surrounded by experienced engineers discussing problems that even they do not understand sounds like an intimidating affair. So, when I got the opportunity to attend the Indiana Section American Water Works Association (AWWA) Annual Conference this year, I was more terrified than excited.
And sure enough, the conference program was filled with presentation names I didn’t even understand, let alone the content of the lectures. People greeted each other like long-lost friends before they threw out acronyms I’d never heard of and discussed the nuances of laws I didn’t even know existed. I took diligent notes, nodding and clapping with the rest of the room, trying to pick up what I could. I learned so much, even if it was just what one acronym meant here and one legality there.
After one particularly high-brow lecture that went completely over my head, I came out exhausted to see one of our own senior project managers – Stan Diamond – smiling and waving at me. I walked over to say hello and when he asked how things were going, I said, “Of all the thing I’ve learned today, I think what I’ve learned is that there’s a lot left to learn.”
But instead of the knowing nod and a comment on how ‘you’ll get there one day’ I was expecting, he agreed with me. He commented how much he had left to learn too and how this was such a fun and exciting conference because we were all there to study together – to learn new things and see how the industry is changing. And throughout the remainder of the conference, I noticed that this was indeed the attitude of many of the experienced engineers in the room. I was so busy being intimidated by how much they know, that I didn’t realize there was much more that they didn’t.
When I got back to the office after the conference, people were discussing which classes they had attended and what cool things they had learned. Personally, I think the best part of the conference was this experience – of realizing how much there is to learn, understanding that this career comes with the promise of forever being a student, and being blessed to be with a company that not only fosters that growth, but gets excited about it.
By the end of the week, I found myself thinking of a Henry Ford quote I heard years ago: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” So, here’s to staying young.