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Miguel Montalla loves engineering's unsolvable problems
We sat down and talked to recent graduate and 2018 Student Award winner Miguel Montalla about his new career at Beca.
WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO ENTER THE AWARDS?
Well, firstly, I considered that I had gained sufficient and the right experience that would allow me to be a contender for the award. Encouragement from my tutors at university following their review also reassured me as others saw potential in it as well.
WHAT DID YOUR WIN MEAN TO YOU?
It meant an awful lot to me firstly in terms of personal growth. From the lecture theatre to applying that knowledge in real projects made me realise that there's more to it than theory.
Secondly, the recognition helped me grow in confidence in my capabilities as a student and graduating professional with the awards judged by professional consultants and academics.
WHAT WAS THE FOCUS OF YOUR REPORT?
My report focussed on the transition from being an academic to working in a professional consultancy. I noticed many crucial differences when entering the workforce. While studying at university, questions generally have one specific right answer and are closed problems. In the workplace, it's about how you turn real problems into a question where you identify what needs to be solved and breaking it down into components you can analyse.
Working in a consultancy requires you to be open to different methods of solving a problem, trusting your judgement, making justified assumptions when required and relying on the experience of the seniors working alongside you. Another focus of my report was the importance of communicating clearly with clients and your team.
DID YOU ENTER YOUR FULL REPORT?
No. It took me a considerable amount of time to complete my entry as I wanted to compact my work so that I submitted what I felt were the main elements of my report. I took a lot of notes during the time I spent doing practical work experience, and they became a vital component of my entry. I felt it was essential to focus on the most critical aspects of my professional development and what perspectives I gained from working in the industry.
WHAT DROVE YOU TO A CAREER IN ENGINEERING?
The main reason I chose engineering was the problem-solving aspect of the job, along with critical thinking and being able to apply science to solve problems. I like the way an engineering degree is not solely based on the memorisation of facts or rote learning. You have to be open to exploring a wide range of solutions while delving into what may appear to be an unsolvable problem at the start. I also believe the skills you gain from the engineering industry are a little challenging to obtain from other careers. Additionally, there is that sense of pride in having designed something that people encounter and occupy as they get on with their daily life.
WHAT IS INVOLVED IN YOUR ROLE AT BECA?
Currently, I am a Structural Engineer in Beca's Commercial Structures Team in Wellington - focused on the technical side of engineering. My main tasks have been in the seismic assessment of commercial buildings and also taking part in some strengthening design work with the company's senior engineers.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?
For me, it's the team aspect and learning culture at Beca that excites me most. Being able to approach senior engineers with vast experience, some of which had worked on iconic structures in New Zealand has been extremely valuable. Tapping into the minds of these wise engineers enabled me to observe how they deal with problems from the lessons they have learnt over the years. Being a sponge and absorbing their insight is something I always look forward to on the job.
Also, being employed at one of the leading engineering consultancies in New Zealand has allowed me to work on some large projects. These projects are part of the daily lives of the community and knowing that you have contributed in some way is rewarding.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU FACE IN YOUR CURRENT ROLE?
One of the significant challenges I faced in my first year of employment with Beca, was being able to complete tasks in the time allowed and being able to stay within budget. Coming out of university, I focussed on seeking the perfect answer, whereas, in the professional industry, you have to be very mindful of time constraints and the client's expectations. This requires a certain amount of flexibility and forces you to hone in on the most critical items. A big part of that is developing a very clear idea of what the actual problem is. Once you have identified the problem, you can determine precisely what solution is required, and that will hopefully prevent you from going overboard with the solution. It is a skill I am working hard on and developing at the moment.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO ANY GRADUATE WHO IS THINKING OF PLACING AN ENTRY INTO THE 2020 ACE NEW ZEALAND AWARDS?
I think the most important thing is to make notes as you work through your practical experience. I made notes every week, which included the work I was involved in and the skills that I had gained. Reviewing my records helped immensely when it came to writing my awards entry. I believe there are lessons to be learnt and skills to be developed from every part of your working day, and it's essential to carry that mindset with you at all times.
HOW DO YOU TRAVEL TO WORK?
Typically I'll walk and train for my daily commute. My lines are mostly always on time which is great!
WHAT'S SOMETHING INTERESTING ABOUT YOURSELF?
I enjoy occasional basketball pick up games with mates, group walks along Wellington's tracks (on good days!) and trying to replicate dishes from YouTube.