For this edition of ‘A Day in the Life’, we spoke with Casthuri Kamalaraj of Northrop Consulting Engineers to find out what a typical day in her life as a Structural Engineer looks like.
I wake up to the alarm of my phone, more often than not it’s somewhere in the bed with me having fallen asleep texting. I have this weird need to not have an alarm set exactly at the hour, I feel as though my mind will give itself another 5min in that case and just never end up getting out of bed. The next few minutes are crucial where I need to be moving on autopilot. If I start thinking about the day or really anything other than to get my workout clothes on and head downstairs – it’s now or never.
I’ve completed my workout and pack my lunch for the day (trying my best to meal prep and save some of those dollars), before heading back upstairs to get ready for work.
I know 7am is the marker to get to the bus stop, with a solid 45min trip ahead of me down the M2 and into the city. I often have my laptop with me as I commute between the Sydney CBD and Parramatta offices. If this is the case, I’d try to get some email management completed on the bus, however today it’s a headphones in, check the news, social media and reply to messages kind of morning. I try not to keep work activities front of mind after I have gone home, so sometimes the commute into work is my preparation time to think about what I have coming up for the day.
I always manage to arrive at the office just before the doors are open to the public, so I fumble for my access card and walk in to an empty bay of desks. I enjoy coming in early as I settle into the most productive part of my day with little to no distractions. I prepare my brekkie of yoghurt and muesli, returning to my desk to do a quick check of emails to see if anything urgent landed in my inbox since yesterday. I tend to surround myself with familiar belongings (and absolutely a little bit of colour) so my desk ends up personalised to my character and keeps the spirits high.
I also like to use this early morning window to do a quick check in with my team. I’ll make a coffee, then run around and see how their week’s going, ensuring I’m available to have a chat at their desks if they have technical or project issues where I can be a sounding board for their problem. I find just having another engineer to talk through an issue has the greatest value in problem solving.
With the amount of design work I undertake, it is surprising just how little of this occurs sitting at my desk on my own. The role is communication-heavy, both in person as well as through drawings and site instructions. My phone is the avenue for external stakeholders to reach me (builders, architects, clients, other consultants), and of course the first phone call often triggers an avalanche so there’s a lot of listening to voice mails after the fact.
I will be engaged on multiple projects at once, all at varying stages from concept design through to construction. One of my current jobs has a weekly design meeting where all consultants, the architect, the project manager and the client gather to discuss progress and outstanding items for the next deliverable. Fortunately, I have the option of dialling in as a conference call, preventing the 30min commute to the meeting location. Once the meeting is finished, I venture past the kitchen to make some tea to reset my thoughts and move into a different project work block before lunch.
I cannot last very long past 12pm without food so it’s a quick round of messages to the team, mainly in the form of “food?” followed by “do you need to buy?” to allow everyone to gather their meals before we regroup in the breakout space for lunch. I make the effort to be away from my desk during lunch to mentally disconnect from project work. As a group, we end up discussing happenings from the week, the weekend, crazy projects, or upcoming events. There’s a good mix of characters in the office so many laughs and solid banter ensue to break up the day successfully.
I usually return to my desk to fit in some business development time before my next appointment. I am part of an internal business development team contributing to the area of ‘People and Talent’, focusing on the attraction, retention and development of our staff. I also lead the company’s Giving Back strategy, currently working on a mentoring program for refugees, asylum seekers and skilled migrants. Today I am organising a series of mock interviews to be held for these candidates, pairing up our staff members with mentees from the program. This is a bit of administrative coordination, but ultimately will serve a great cause in supporting skilled migrants in our industry.
I have a project currently under construction in Alexandria, and today I’ll head out to do a quick slab inspection of a roof slab. I get my site gear and jump in the car to head out with my colleague. This building will be an architect’s office, and predictably has an incredible architectural design in every aspect of the project.
The cantilevered steel framed internal stairs use 2km worth of continuous cable as a feature design element along the edge and above as a balustrade to the upper floor.
The brick arches on top of the building have turned out well and feel a lot bigger in person than when I analysed them last year. The workmanship with brickwork on this building is impeccable.
It’s quite exciting to walk through a project near completion, as the structure that I designed is just barely visible before being clad for final occupation. You start to get an understanding of how the space will be used, and not just see the skeleton of a building frame which it was for most of the construction phase. The architectural half of my education is absolutely seeing the intent of every light well and purposeful shadow line throughout the space; it will be a knockout building once complete.
I’ve returned to the office, feeling like a second coffee is needed. I make a quick one in the kitchen and run into a colleague from our Civil engineering section. We discuss a current project we’re both working on, trying to gauge whether there is any outstanding information for the client with an upcoming tender derivable of drawings. The benefit of working in a company who delivers on multidiscipline jobs inhouse is exactly this, I can just walk over and co-ordinate items beyond the structural scope rather than chasing consultants down after many attempts on the phone.
Looks as though I have a few hours before I need to head out. I fit in some design checks on a project whilst answering documentation questions from my drafter on another. The design checks are then interrupted needing to answer email RFIs from a builder on a different project – I know that I am multitasking beyond normal limits, but it feels pretty good to be on top of it all.
Time to stop work, and tonight I am getting ready for a client event. We work with great clients who share a similar work and play culture to our own, and tonight I’m going to a 10th year anniversary of an architect I’ve worked with for the last three years. Following a quick wardrobe change, I walk down to the MCA at the Rocks for what will be a fun night of celebration and networking. You cannot walk past this view at sunset without taking a moment.
The food is exceptional compared to normal event standards, with an actual yum cha table ready to go, continuously restocked with delicious food. You know it is a great event when a group of strangers end up on the dancefloor, and that certainly happened tonight.
I slowly venture, exhausted, back to my nearest bus stop to make the slightly shorter trip home now that there is no traffic. Once I get home it’s time to mentally unwind and get ready for bed. This usually means easing some light social media and Youtube adventures before calling it a night.