This is a guest blog post by Hamed Layssi, P.Eng, PhD
I started my bachelor’s in civil engineering in 2001, more than 15 years ago. I wanted to become a civil engineer, design new roads, buildings, power plants, and fancy high-rise buildings. “Design” is a core concept in the civil engineering curriculum, where students learn to calculate loads, predict capacities, and optimize their precise solutions in very specific cases. In doing so, they become familiar with another concept, “risk”. In school, engineering students learn how to identify risk, quantify it, and attempt to minimize it within their design.
As for precision, it is an important aspect of every engineering solution. Every great design, whether it is a high-rise building, a modern vehicle, or a personal computer is built with precision in mind. A perfect design has precision in every detail, from aesthetics to core functions.
Another aspect of life as a civil engineer is learning to work as a team member. Visit any engineering office or construction site, and you will realize how important effective teamwork is in engineering. I remember that during the second year of my studies, I teamed up with three of my classmates to enter into a concrete cube competition, organized by the American Concrete Institute (ACI). We spent the entire summer of 2003 working on our concrete cube samples in a materials laboratory. Working with my friends helped me to develop strong teamwork, and project management skills.
Our third place award was a huge achievement for me personally, as well as the rest of our team, and it facilitated us meeting with professionals in the civil engineering industry.
I have never had the chance to take any courses in entrepreneurship; yet, I have continuously worked with entrepreneurs or within the entrepreneurial ecosystems throughout my career.
I remember how soon I started working as a research assistant in the construction materials laboratory following our success in the concrete cube competition. The position allowed me to participate in industrial projects; learn to deliver within a certain timeframe, and build new solutions; three very important aspects of a successful engineering career. Over a short period of time, I rose through the ranks to become a managing director within the concrete institute. I became responsible for directing different industrial projects, finding new clients, negotiating contracts, and more importantly, directing a group of young and passionate engineering students, and researchers. In doing so, I developed a great passion for starting and developing a business, which has been a huge driver for me.
When I moved to Canada in 2008 to pursue my PhD, I was facing a huge challenge of understanding the new environment. Language and cultural barriers were there to slow me down, but I was ready for the challenge. My doctorate work was a great opportunity for me to focus on something new, develop my research and interpersonal skills, and create a desire within to innovate. It also gave me a platform to build my professional network. During this time, I started exploring entrepreneurship ecosystems in Canada and as an immigrant, I took on the challenge of improving my soft skills and fueling my creativity.
Soon after my PhD (2013), I started working for a start-up company; first as an R&D engineer, and later as a sales engineering specialist, which helped me to develop my entrepreneurial skills. The start-up culture was unique, in a sense that it was a fast-paced environment (compared to that of engineering school), and the landscape was changing at light speed. There was a new challenge every day, and something new to learn on each and every project. However, it was fascinating, since it was giving me a lot of freedom to experiment with my ideas and knowledge that I picked up in school. Another advantage of working there was that it helped me further expand my professional network through technical presentations, and lunch and learn meetings.
My Own Personal Journey
In 2015, I left a great job to start my own entrepreneurial journey. I should admit that I enjoyed my time at my former employer, however, I felt that I would regret not pursuing my very own journey. I discussed this with my wife, and my friend (now business partner), and I came to the conclusion that it was the right time to start this new journey.
Since starting my own business with my business partner, we have come a long way. The early days, as with most start-ups, were extremely difficult; we spent time building relationships, building trust, and partners that would help us down the road. Eventually, our hard work paid off, and we landed our first project. It was a very tough assignment, and then more projects started coming.
We bring to our business (www.fprimec.com), our extensive academic background, and professional skill sets. Together with my business partner and me, we adapted an entrepreneurial ecosystem and used it to start a knowledge-based technology startup with a special focus on developing and implementing non-destructive testing solutions and structural health monitoring in everyday life.
The direct exposure to customers gave us a unique opportunity to see things differently. We could see things more clearly when talking face to face with engineers, managers, and owners across the country.
It is a funny paradox switching from engineering (where all risks are calculated and measured), to the world of entrepreneurship, where you are forced to deal with extreme uncertainties. I have found the expectations that I had from my engineering self-have adapted to this new environment. There is smaller space for perfectionism. However, our learning skills from engineering greatly helped us to understand and analyze what was missing, and what are the real challenges were.
During my very own journey, I have learned three very important lessons, that I hope you can also learn from:
1- Listen carefully. Sometimes you are desperate to close a deal, to sell a product, or finish an ongoing project. There are also times when you are just tired. However, listening to others helps you understand problems better. When you understand the questions or the expectations, it is much easier to deliver solutions.
2- Be passionate. The primary force that keeps us moving forward in our business is the love for what we do, and the desire to the best at it. Being passionate about my work has been a fundamental part of my entire journey. In my opinion, without passion, there is a much higher risk of failure.
3- Ask for help: As an engineer, I used to believe that I had to solve every single problem on my own. In becoming an entrepreneur, I have learned to ask for help. I have accepted that there are so many things that I can’t do on my own, and I often have to ask others for help to succeed. Whether it is writing a blog post for my company’s website, getting introduced to a senior engineer, or talking business with investors, I have learned how asking for help saves me time and dramatically increases my chances of success.
Thank you for allowing me to share my journey with you. I hope you can take from it some strategies to apply successfully in your engineering career.
I am a passionate entrepreneur and professional engineer, and the co-founder of FPrimeC Solutions Inc. in Ottawa, Ontario. As chief structural evaluation engineer, I bring my extensive experience in the field of condition assessment of infrastructure. I hold a PhD from McGill University, and MSc. and BSc. in civil and structural engineering from the University of Tehran. I am a registered professional engineer in Ontario.
Over the last decade, I have been heavily involved in the development of innovative and cost-effective techniques for evaluation of bridges, power plants, trunk sewers, and hydraulic and marine structures. My desire and commitment to R&D and innovation have brought me several R&D awards in Canada.
My passion for entrepreneurship and innovative engineering led me to establish FPrimeC Solutions with my business partner in 2015, which is a knowledge-based company specialized in developing uniquely designed protocols to help identify and solve the complex “real world” engineering problems facing concrete infrastructure.
We would love to hear any questions you might have or stories you might share about your early life as an engineer.
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success