Interview with ‘Year in Industry’ student Adeel Sheikh

At Buro Happold, we’re proud of our commitment to help young engineers and consultants gain practical, real world, experience in our industry.

We believe the best way to share these experiences, and help others understand the process and why it is beneficial, is to hear directly from those who have been through it. Graduate and Placement Recruitment Lead Lucy Davidson speaks to Adeel Sheikh after he recently completed his Year in Industry.

How did you hear about the placement?

I saw the job posting on the Buro Happold website.

It was May 2019. I was revising for an exam I had in five days’ time, and for a moment thought, “let’s check the Buro Happold website to see if they have anything available”. Luckily, I saw the post for a Year in Industry Intern in the Bath office. I initially hesitated – I would have preferred my university city, Leeds – but after researching the office and the city, I thought why not.

As a result, I spent quite a bit of time on the application rather than revising for the actual exam. A month later I got a call from Buro Happold, and the rest is history.

adeel arsalan sheikh civil engineering placement student
Civil engineering placement student Adeel Sheikh.

How did you find relocating to a new town?

Relocating has become normal for me. I came to the UK in 2016 and since then I have moved every year. Moving to Bath was very exciting as I knew I would get to explore new things, meet new people, and expand my experience.

However, not everything was as expected. Bath is a beautiful Roman city and when I moved, I felt very familiar with it as I grew up in Italy. However, it is not a big city and there are not many things to do. Especially considering that I was used to living in Leeds, a cosmopolitan city where you get to meet people from all sorts of backgrounds and journeys. During my time in Bath, I learnt a lot and had the opportunity to gain a new perspective.

How was your Year in Industry with Buro Happold?

One of a kind. It was a fantastic, enjoyable, and a fruitful experience. I had the opportunity to work on some interesting and exciting large-scale projects in the education, culture, and sport sectors, up to a value of £450 million.

Outside of my project work, I had the opportunity to contribute to the wider Buro Happold community, becoming involved in activities both inside and outside of office hours.

The experience was not only about project and non-project work, but also the environment. By that I mean the people and the office. Working in such a big office was incredible exposure. I had the opportunity to meet and work with people of all levels and with all sorts of experiences.

And what specific projects were you involved in throughout the year?

The first project was the 3Arena feasibility study. I was given responsibility on my first day, which was very exciting but also a bit daunting. Exciting because I was full of enthusiasm and energy to learn and maximise my time. Daunting because it was my first day and I did not expect to be given responsibility so early on. But, I like challenges and I really got on with the tasks I was given.

During the placement the amount of responsibility I was given increased, as did my confidence. I also got work on the superstructure and substructure of the Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus (TQEC) project as well as a refurbishment building project, Newark works, next to the office.   

In my second half of the placement, I moved to another team. Here, I was working with new people, in a new project team, and most significantly in a new way: working from home. All of this occurred at the same time, which meant it was a new challenge. Everton Football Stadium was the project I was involved with. I was working with the East and West stand team and assisting senior engineers and the project teams.

Now that I look back, I ask myself why I found it a bit daunting and realise how small that task was. Time flies!  

What do you think of the company culture?

Unique. I was fortunate to have great role models and mentors to look up to. They were either leading teams, projects or directly supervising me. Everyone I met and worked with was very welcoming and made me a valued person of the team. Something I really liked was they would always make time for me, answer any question, and do their best to enhance my knowledge and myself. I like the culture of “there is no such thing as a stupid question”. Amazing.

We also took the time to take breaks with cakes and biscuits when we were in the office, and had regular “coffee chats” when working from home.  

I was particularly impressed by the amount of sporting activity that I could take part in. From lunchtime running or plogging, to evening football and everything in between. This draws me back to the first principle of Buro Happold – that the human wellbeing is valued also from this perspective.

What skills have you learned?

I learned a lot. I would end up writing a papyrus if I were to explain it all.

Generally speaking, I learned about self-management and development; how to manage tasks, communication, being able to work with and relate to others, applying knowledge to work problems, reflecting on my own learning outcomes, leadership and taking initiatives, as well as ethical awareness, commercial awareness, health and safety, industry trends, computation, and so many other things.

In difficult situations, it is your character and personality that helps you, not your skills.

Most importantly, I learned the importance of being yourself and improving yourself. Your personal qualities are the ones that will set you apart from the crowd, in my opinion. In fact, they say “attitude is everything”. In difficult situations, it is your character and personality that helps you, not your skills. The good thing is that there is always room for improvement.

What was your best experience?

The best experience was hosting the FAIR (Fairness, Awareness, Inclusion and Respect) Generation event. It was a chain reaction interview series webinar. I invited speakers of different levels and from diverse backgrounds and generations from different offices, which were London, Bath, Leeds, Berlin, and New York. Middle East offices were also invited to attend the event.

My role was to introduce the event and the speakers, then summarise the event at the end. I also had to ensure everyone kept to their timeslots, which was the most challenging part.

On the day, I delivered the event in an enthusiastic, professional, and engaging way. The Partner involved said that he was looking forward to my TV chat show coming up!

It was incredible that after the event, so many people messaged to thank me for the event and asked me for tips on how to speak in public and on the “stage”. Some of the comments were “you are missing out on your calling in life, Adeel”.

What other non-project activities were you involved in?

I took part in the “Shape my City” workshop at the Architecture Centre. I gave a talk on behalf of the Happold Foundation, titled “A Year in Industry” at the University of Bristol. I also applied for the “Jet Pack Funding”. Usually, only those at Director level apply for it, so being a student applicant was incredible, both for me and for others.

I helped organise FAIR Bath and was part of the FAIR UK team. I took part in “Bring your child to work day” in the office, which was a joyful experience. I was part of the Young Engineers Forum (YEF) and had the opportunity to meet and network with so many new people from different disciplines.

I also helped organise the office Friday football and became part of the Buro Happold football team competing against other companies. I was later involved with the Graduate Engineering Engagement Programme (GEEP) event. The list goes on!

That is Incredible, Adeel! The GEEP event is a new important initiative that Buro Happold is supporting. Can you tell more about that?  

The GEEP event was organised by the Royal Academy of Engineering and SEO London. Students and recent graduates from diverse backgrounds were chosen to take part. I represented Buro Happold, and honestly speaking, it was a unique experience for so many reasons.

The main reason was because I got asked the same questions which I used to ask myself. It really shows that doing a placement year totally changes your perspective on things, and that it becomes very easy to take things for granted once you have them, or once you gain experience.

I also think that it allowed students to understand more about the professional world. Given my unique upbringing, it also helped me understand what holds people from minority backgrounds back, and what is lacking to create an inclusive workplace and society, from both sides. This is a stepping stone for all of us in advancing our understanding on how to create that inclusive environment. I am very glad I took part.  

What advice would you give to a new placement?

There is so much advice I could offer, but I will stick to just two key pieces.

First, stick as close as possible to the people you are working with. This is because they have so much knowledge to impart. If you spend time on your own then you will miss out on gaining a lot of knowledge. It is like passive income. You are gaining knowledge by doing nothing, except asking questions.

It is all about how you use the opportunity to maximise your learning outcome and your education experience

But the second, and most important thing, is not about others, it is about yourself. Be genuinely enthusiastic, proactive, and open to opportunities. Ask for constant feedback about your work and yourself. Everyone knows you are a student and that you are at the beginning of your professional experience. It is all about how you use the opportunity to maximise your learning outcome and your education experience. And remember, it is your journey.

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