Professional Development: The 5 to 9 Hustle After the 9 to 5 Grind

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Professional development doesn’t ONLY happen from Monday to Friday; the activities we pursue outside of the office can build and hone skills that complement our technical skills at work. Today I will break down how I approach the 5 to 9 hustle, why I believe it's important, and what I have learned so far from my pursuits outside of the work environment.

Currently, I am focusing on my 5 to 9 hustle in two active ways. First, I started this blog to (hopefully) positively contribute to the women in engineering community. The blog is an outlet to polish my communication skills by  distilling my fragmented ideas into succinct articles. It’s a grind but I feel like it is getting easier every time we post. The second way I have been approaching professional development is by volunteering with an association related to my engineering field of work.  By volunteering in the professional association, I hope to facilitate new relationships and broaden my knowledge in my industry.

Last weekend, I attended the Water and Environmental Association of Ontario (WEAO) annual conference. WEAO is an association for professionals in the water and wastewater industry including municipal engineers, operators, suppliers, and engineering consultants. This was also my first conference through work.

Most of my colleagues who attended either presented or were committee Chairs. I earned my ticket to the conference as a volunteer for the young professionals mentorship committee. The WEAO mentorship program is restructuring this year and I am really excited to be involved in the process (I have lots of feelings about mentorship, if you didn’t already know). The volunteer role is almost entirely through online work and phone calls so my goal going into the conference was to meet the team in person to make communication easier when we start to do the work. I accomplished this goal on the first day on the conference by asking the YP who led my volunteer orientation to introduce me to my team lead.

The conference had two days of technical sessions that were eye opening innovative approaches to the problems in my field. The technical sessions were excellent to see what other consultants are working on and seeing different approached to similar problems in other wastewater systems. I took notes on new-to-me topics and made a learning list for later research.

The technical sessions were educational but I learned the most by networking during breaks and mealtimes.

My colleagues introduced me to people they knew and included me in their conversations at coffee breaks and at happy hour. Networking is so much easier if you can get someone to do the hard part for you. To my advantage, the WEAO conference was held in London which was my university stomping ground. Apparently you get a lot of free drinks, I mean, brownie points, if you can lead the group from dinner to the bar without Google Maps!

I was seated next to two operators at a dinner so I took the rare opportunity pick their brains. I asked what they would change in their system and what they were most proud of at work. To my surprise, one of the operators was most proud of building MORALE for their field team. Operations and Maintenance (O&M) do the dirty work in wastewater systems to get things running smoothly, of course it makes sense that morale would be crucial to a team’s success.  I recently worked on a conceptual design for a new development and asked candid opinion from the operator’s perspective. They have so much practical wisdom to offer to improve engineering designs!

Hearing an O&M perspective in an unbiased setting (ie not a formal project meeting where parties may have conflicting objectives) was eye-opening and I will try to incorporate an O&M perspective back into my 9 to 5 grind.

Next on my To Do list is connecting with everyone I met at the conference via LinkedIn and showing up to some social events during the year! I also added a short term professional goal: to present at a conference in the next two years.

How are you working on professional development? Do you have a 5 to 9 hustle? Tell us in the comments below!