Are you one of those people who is always thinking about how to make the impossible possible? Julia Baumann was fortunate enough to discover that not only did she love that kind of challenge, but that engineering was the perfect career to scratch that itch.
It all really started with what she thought was a terrible job interview.
“Not long after I came to Australia from the US thirteen years ago, I decided to return to consulting. My first interview was with DCE [Dalton Consulting Engineers],” she recalls.
“I remember being in the interview, and the interviewer kept asking me if I knew how to use different types of software, and I had to say that I didn’t know, but I was sure that I could learn. I was sure I was bombing the interview!”
But she hadn’t bombed it at all, she got the job. That interviewer, now an Associate Director at DCE, went on to become her boss.
“He spent the second half of the interview telling me about all the neat aspects of DCE culture.
“That he’d take time to do that, especially with me thinking I had failed the interview, made me feel like DCE would be a welcoming and kind place.”
A fork in the career path
As a teen, Julia thought she’d be a writer ‘when she grew up’.
“I was the editor of the literary magazine at high school and considered a career as an author.”
She considered herself weak in math and science, and figured this would preclude her from a career in something like engineering. Social studies and humanities were more her thing.
But it turned out, to Julia’s great surprise, that mix made her a very interesting candidate in the career she ended up pursuing.
“If I could talk to my high-school self, I’d tell her that she doesn’t have to be the best at math and science to pursue a technical career. It’s enough to just love making stuff and solving problems.
“I’d also encourage her social science and humanities interests. Being well-rounded in terms of interests means that I have a lot of angles to use when starting to address a problem.”
An employer who supports career growth
But, working out the best solutions means getting it wrong sometimes.
Even those at the very top of DCE understand this is just part of the learning curve in any career – as Julia soon discovered for herself.
“Early in my foray into project management, I was managing a ‘bad’ project. We’ve all had them—the work isn’t what the client wants, the client is unhappy, and as the project manager there’s little you can do other than start to rework it.
“I know that now. But at the time, I was inexperienced, and I was taking the situation really personally.”
And when she got a call to meet with the company’s Executive Chairman and founder Shane Dalton, Julia thought this was it, “he’s going to tell me of for how much of a disaster this project was”.
She was shocked with what happened next.
“He talked to me about what was going on, and he told me not to worry. I think I looked at him like he had three heads! All I’d been doing for the last two weeks was worry!”
But he reassured Julia that she was doing a good job, and that she couldn’t do anything more than what she was doing. It was one of the defining moments in her career that cemented her knowledge that DCE was the right place to be.
“I was allowed to learn and grow from that experience, not be defeated by it.”
Looking back at the journey with DCE
From those early thoughts of a writing career, Julie has found she is on a solid career journey, now as Senior Engineering Manager at DCE.
It may have seemed unlikely when she was younger, but she clearly was in the right place at the right time to take advantage of her moment.
She credits her employers for taking her ability to communicate clearly especially via the written word, her willingness to take on challenges, her people management skills, and her passion for learning, and for nurturing it together into the career she has now as a highly successful and respected civil engineer.
Julia says she has never really considered leaving DCE.
“I’ve been able to grow my career from Junior Engineer to Senior Engineering Manager at DCE, and I’ve been able to do that in a single organization because of the support that I’ve been offered.”
She singles out an opportunity she was given to speak at a conference, filling in for her senior manager, as a turning point.
“My manager sat me down and talked me through the technical aspects of the presentation. It was information that I didn’t know — at all. I remember asking him three times to explain one piece of information, but he sat and worked with me until I knew it well enough to present.”
Julia says she’s actually a pretty good public speaker “but no one knew that then,” she laughs. “Not even me!”
“I went for it, and I walked out of that room with a reputation as a great presenter. From then on, I had lots of opportunities to present internally and externally.”
Advice to others who think a technical career is closed to them
Julia says that a successful career path like hers can be reached in many ways, including some you might not have even thought about.
“The best piece of advice I can give is to take your opportunities.”
She often thinks of her interview for DCE, the one she thought she bombed.
“Be honest about your skills, but also be honest about your capabilities and where you may need or want to grow. Stay positive in your abilities!”
Julia seems to have approached her career like it was an engineering project to be examined and worked out. Even now, having progressed into senior roles at DCE, she is still learning, still looking for problems to solve.
“When DCE formed the Engineering Excellence team last year, I knew that I wanted to be part of it.”
This new role is not easy, she admits. But in true style, she is embracing the challenge.
“I’m leaning into it, and I’m looking forward to growing my managerial skills!”
For Julia it’s a case of another day, another solution.