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Working lives

Tony Baily is 41 and director of structural engineering at consultant Symonds Route to the job

My interest in engineering started with technical drawing at school. I left school at 16 to join Sir Robert McAlpine as a trainee technician.

It was only on joining McAlpine that I realised the full extent of the opportunities available in engineering and I went on to study for a degree at Portsmouth Polytechnic. I left McAlpine for Michael Barclay Partnership in 1985 to pursue my growing interest in design. My last 10 years have been spent at Whitby Bird where I progressed from senior engineer to director before finally moving to Symonds to lead the structural engineering business at the beginning of 2002. I have been extremely fortunate in working on a number of prestigious projects including Croydon Library complex, Mappa Mundi Museum, Sadler's Wells Theatre and headquarters buildings for Grosvenor Estates and AstraZeneca. What I have always enjoyed is working with architects who challenge and clients who demand - there is never a dull moment.

Expectations When I was speaking to Symonds I was candid about my strengths and weaknesses. This frankness was reciprocated by a full and honest explanation of the challenges ahead of me. I came to Symonds knowing that what I would get out of it would be totally dependent on what I put in.

Reality My first three months have been intense and demanding but also very rewarding. I have had great support from the structures team and experienced a superb spirit of co-operation between departments. The level of engineering expertise is very high with engineers quietly going about their business - performing well but not shouting from the roof tops about their successes. The real challenge is to educate the world at large about the work we are doing and stay close to the clients and fellow professionals with whom we are working. Symonds is industry leader in a number of fields but is less well known for building structures. Given the strength of the team, the challenge is there, but there are no real mountains to climb. I now understand the way that Symonds works and how we can use the support available to enable us to concentrate on our engineering and giving our clients the service they rightfully demand. We have some exciting projects on the drawing board and still more in the pipeline. We are preparing to sing about these and other recent achievements - watch this space.

Advice The world is full of opportunities but don't expect them to find you - you have to be prepared to make the effort yourself. The industry is reforming itself and it's now much more about doing business between people rather than organisations. Take an interest in what is happening in the industry outside of your normal working boundaries. The best way to get the most from your career is by always looking to improve and truly act as part of a team.

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