What does it mean to cultivate a culture of support? What does that support look like in the day-to-day operations of an engineering consulting firm? And most importantly, how is that support felt from new hires all the way up through senior leadership?
We dive into those questions in this episode of Beyond Engineering, a podcast by RTM Engineering Consultants, as mentor and mentee discuss a bond that bridges a geographical hurdle. The mentor, RTM Principal Jessica Iverson, leads RTM’s Seattle office. The mentee, Cory Kucey, works on the opposite coast. How do they make it work?
Here is an edited transcript of the discussion, beginning with some background on Jessica’s journey to Principal and office leader:
Jessica Iversen: My engineering journey started in high school, and I continued in college, focusing on architectural engineering with an electrical specialty. I found RTM Engineering at my college’s career fair. I was looking for an office where I could talk and be myself and make personal connections. When I interviewed at RTM there was chatter and interaction, and that’s what drew me in.
I interviewed with our CEO Tony Mirchandani. I will never forget his first question. He looked at my resume and saw I had a very high GPA and asked, “Where are the other three hundredths of a GPA percentage?” And then he laughed, and it broke up the tension. But it definitely stood out and I could tell this is a place that really cares about the people who work here.
Three years ago, I moved to Seattle to start a new office, which has been quite the adventure. Part of that journey included the opportunity to mentor a number of people at RTM. Some of those people now lead their own teams. Our Principals raise the people up around them – and that’s the core of it. Which brings me to Cory. Cory, how did you come to RTM?
Cory Kucey: During my senior year, my roommate got a job with RTM and spoke very highly of the culture. He encouraged me to apply. I sent in my resume and ended up having a conversation with one of our Principals, Tim Hedrick. We seemed to gel, and I soon got an invitation to visit headquarters. When I got there, I met with a guy who had been at RTM for 2 and a half years at the time. The next guy I met had been there for about 10 years. And then Tim came in and he had been at RTM for about 15 years. That gave me confidence – seeing those gradual steps. Even my interview was very structured to show intentional mentorship.
Jessica: Since joining the team, have there been moments when you’ve thought: This is why I’m here?
Cory: Yes. It is something that’s reinforced pretty frequently. But there’s one definite moment that happened early on that cemented the fact that this is where I want to be for the long haul. Back in 2017, my father was diagnosed with cancer. I was interviewing at RTM and going through my senior year. When I had an offer from RTM, he was at a point where he was in the clear. My parents knew I was excited about this opportunity, and they wanted me to take it.
That October, after my senior year, I got the call from my father saying his cancer had been declared as stage four. I had become close with a guy at the office, and I shared with him that I felt the need to go back home. He told me that when he was a young engineer his father got sick, and he went home every few weeks to spend time with him. He said he wished he could have done things differently and spent even more time with him. That was a cool conversation to be able to have.
I love working at RTM. I love the mentorship I’m getting and the work that I’m doing and the things that I’m learning – but family comes first. That’s what was going on in my head. And I was just about to start a project. One of the things with this new project rollout was a desire to train just one engineer. They didn’t want to have a team that moved around. Tony, our CEO, and Aaron Birch were the team leads. I went to meet with the team knowing it was a cool opportunity, but also knowing I might have to go back home.
I messaged Aaron and told him about the situation. And he told me, “We’re happy with you, and family comes first. We totally understand, and we want you to keep your job.” I was shocked. It wasn’t like I had been there for 10 or 15 years. At the time, I was only 5 months in and still very green. As much as I loved RTM, I wasn’t expecting that response. It was a massive weight that was taken off me.
At the time I was working with the Iowa team, and I had to have that conversation with my mentor, Courtney [Leaf] and the Principal I was working under, Kat Duytschaever. Courtney didn’t skip a beat. She told me not to worry and we’d figure it out. Again, it was almost dumbfounding. There’s a sense of gratitude that comes with having a team that supports each other. From the top down, even as a new grad engineer, I felt that support. To be honest, I felt like I hadn’t earned it yet. But that support solidified my feelings of wanting to be with this company for the long haul.
Jessica: Thanks for sharing such a personal story. I think everything that you’ve shared really demonstrates that the relationships at RTM go well beyond technical engineering. It’s actually more important than the technical details. It’s these relationships that keep me at RTM. Is there anything you see during your normal work week that reinforces your choice to be here?
Cory: We are part of the virtual studio. We’re a hybrid with you being in Seattle. That flexibility reminds me that yes, this is where I want to be. We have daily calls with our team and 90% of them may be joking around. Being able to enjoy each other and our unique structure helps us get through our projects and ask for or offer help. As a team member, you’re never on an island by yourself. We work together so that we don’t leave one person hanging. Those daily calls serve a twofold purpose of team building and making sure that we’re all on the same page.
Jessica: I agree. Something else that I see on those daily calls is that people aren’t afraid to admit when they don’t know something. They are comfortable reaching out for help – and that’s really important. Another team dynamic is that feeling of having the whole team behind you. At RTM you are immediately put on a team with a support system built in. If you’re a young engineer and are struggling with something, you have that support structure available to you.
Listen to this entire conversation and find future podcasts here.
Beyond Engineering is a podcast from RTM Engineering Consultants, a MEP and Civil engineering firm that goes beyond a typical consulting role. Listen as RTM technologists share stories about innovative design, collaborative development and exacting execution that help buildings, businesses and the people working inside them, work better.
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