Jessica joined HH Angus in 2017 and is a Senior Engineering Designer in our Technology Division.
What is your favourite thing about working at HH Angus?
By far, it’s the sense of camaraderie and community - not only with my immediate colleagues, but between junior staff and management. Everybody genuinely cares about everybody else’s well-being, everyone is very open. It is always a positive working environment.
What drew you to consulting engineering and to HH Angus coming out of school?
The summer before I graduated, I worked for ACML (Angus Consulting Management Limited) at the TD Centre in downtown Toronto. Many of my colleagues there told me I had done a great job and recommended that I apply to HH Angus next year. It helped get my foot into the door but also opened my eyes to consulting engineering. Seeing HH Angus in action at the TD Centre site attracted me to the company specifically, but also to consulting, because I had a clearer idea about what it is.
How do you personally contribute to design and construction here at the company?
I am doing a lot of construction administration (CA) work for the Health Division during the (COVID-19) pandemic, which has been a rewarding way to give back to the company and my community. I also do CA on my own projects because I appreciate construction and find it interesting to see a project through from a design on paper to a completed installation in front of me.
What is Contract Administration?
The majority of it is attending site meetings and walking through the site. We take the drawings that HH Angus issues and, essentially, review and verify the contractor’s progress, and help when the contractor has questions or challenges along the way. We handle the RFIs (Requests for Information), shop drawings, examine change notices, review costs and make recommendations to the owner…just generally being a steward between the owner and the constructor.
I really like the company culture and how open people are. As someone who learns best verbally, I often walk over to someone’s desk and ask
How has working at HH Angus helped you grow your career?
This being my first job, I warrant an incredible amount of technical advice from my mentor as well as my manager. As you get onto different projects, you are exposed to different things. I always have an abundance of questions, so the answers add to my technical knowledge. I’ve worked on diverse projects and have had really good exposure to the construction industry and how it works from a trades perspective rather than from an engineering perspective. I feel that I have a better sense of what it actually takes to get that thing built that I am designing.
Why did you decide to become an engineer?
I always liked science and math, but I disliked biology, so that took me out of the path of health sciences. In my Grade 12 Physics class, a former student made a Women in Engineering presentation – I was at an all-girls school. I remember thinking, ‘this is so interesting’ – I loved the idea of females in engineering and that push forward for woman getting into STEM and the varied career opportunities you can have with those skills. I remember thinking, “Oh, engineering… I could do that. I would be good at that! Let’s focus my energy there now”.
What HH Angus projects are you proud to have worked on?
I’m proud of the laboratory jobs that I have worked on, mostly because I have firsthand experience performing research during my undergrad at Queen’s University. Through that experience, I recognize how important a functional lab is to quality of research, and then how important research is for the greater good of society. I’m always proud that we can build the lab that meets a professor’s standards. I’ve never had a happier client than a professor who gets to go in and start getting their hands dirty in their new lab.
Which lab projects have you worked on?
I’ve worked on a small cleanroom at the University of Toronto. And I am doing CA for a virology lab at Sunnybrook that is going to be testing Coronavirus samples so, very relevant. The state-of-the-art lab was already in development, but when the hospital saw that Coronavirus was on the rise, they designated it as a testing facility. It was all hands on deck to get the project out the door and up and running; it was unusual to see everybody from the construction team completely come together. And when the owner says something “needs to be done yesterday”, the construction team responds - no questions asked - because everybody knows how important this is.
Describe a typical day.
There really is no typical day! 50% of the week, I’m on site. When I am in the office, it’s answering emails, doing design-related work, etc. Often, I find a big chunk of my day goes towards coordination between the disciplines. I usually work on projects where we’re the Prime Consultant, so I make sure that the sub-consultants have all the information they need. I also look at their drawings and our drawings and make sure that when the package leaves the door the client receives a unified design.
Is what you are doing now at HH Angus what you expected to be doing when you graduated?
When I graduated, I thought, ‘I am a mechanical engineer, I’ll be working on mechanical things’. I didn’t realize that I’d also be working with architects to learn what an effective building envelope is, structural engineers to learn about load carrying, and even acoustic engineers. Not to mention that I work closely with our in-house electrical engineering group. I find that, because I am working with so many different disciplines, I have learned quite a bit about each segment of the industry such that I can hold a conversation with each party and understand their scope. That was a big surprise.
What are some of the things that you like about HH Angus apart from the work itself?
I really like the company culture and how open people are. As someone who learns best verbally, I often walk over to someone’s desk and ask a question. I find that my colleagues will always take the time to sit down with me and go into an in-depth analysis so that I understand. I love that I’m comfortable doing that, which I think is unique and probably one of the things that is of the most of value. Everyone knows that the company has to put its best foot forward and one of the ways we do that is by senior team members helping junior ones.
What is your proudest moment here?
I have two answers. One is fun: I’m super-proud that I won the HH Angus Limerick Contest this year! I’ve been trying to win for years. I’ve submitted an entry every year and I’ve always run them by my colleagues for a laugh. As nerdy as it is (and the limericks are always nerdy), I think they’re great! But this year I won and I was very proud.
My serious answer is that I am most proud that I can gain people’s respect at a meeting, despite being both young and female. I’m often the only woman in the room. When I first started, I found that the older contractors with a lot of experience would ask me a question and if I couldn’t immediately answer, I didn’t gain their respect. This would quickly become evident when they would later go over my head to someone more senior. So, I’m proud that in the meetings now I have people’s respect from the start, they come to me immediately and trust my judgment.
How did you get to that point?
It happened when I was able to demonstrate in-depth technical knowledge about my drawings. I find that when I’m meeting a contractor for the first time, they will always fire questions at me and if I can answer each one and they’re satisfied, I gain their respect for the duration of the project. So, it’s having complete knowledge of the drawings and being able to communicate that effectively. With clients, I’m good at taking something that is highly technical and explaining it in a way that people without technical training can understand. That was learned on the job… although it is a trait I also developed through tutoring in high school and university.
Can you recall a time when a senior staff member helped you, maybe early in your career?
I have a vivid memory of being in a client meeting with my manager when he unknowingly taught me something important just by example. We knew going in that it was going to be a difficult meeting and there was some tension on both sides. My manager led the meeting and every time it started to get out of hand, he immediately deflated the situation and you could feel the tension de-escalate. I remember thinking, ‘wow, look at how he handled a difficult client so well’. Now, when I am in a meeting on my own and find myself in a similar situation, I think, ‘okay, well what would he do?’ and it helps my judgment.
Jessica, at left with colleagues
When you’re with friends who are not in the industry, what’s the first thing you tell them about HH Angus?
That we have a lot of fun! For example, I started a staff softball team with my colleagues. Or I tell them about our annual Golf Day - I’m horrible at golf, but it is always a memorable day. The office has a relaxed environment and the entire staff gets along well. I think that is largely because the company genuinely cares about their employees and work/life balance.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired by seeing other females thrive in engineering. One of our young female managers in my division really inspires me, and I am happy to see a decreasing gender gap in the industry. I have been helping my mother, who is an elementary school teacher, expose her female students to things like building robots and coding. I guess, it’s just bringing more women into this field.
What are some of the trends and tech that excite you?
I love the 3D scanner and the fact that you can put goggles on and walk around a site virtually. And I love the developing field of being able to take a 3D scan and, by clicking a button, have it to go into AutoCAD or Revit. We are not quite there yet, but the technology is going that way and that’s really exciting for our industry.
Do you have any secret talents?
I love to bake bread! And being at home during the pandemic, I am experimenting with sourdough starter and making sourdough bread. I think I have made 12 loaves so far!