Back in 2015, I accepted a job offer as a civil engineer at Atkins Global. I was going to be working on small-to-medium sized construction projects, and primarily split my time between the redesign of Richmond-upon-Thames College (in south-west London) and the LLDC, the continuing legacy build around London's Olympic Park.
Twelve months into my work, I found my learning plateauing - I had gotten to grips with the basics of civils design and desperately wanted to leverage my degree knowledge to my advantage, but it was difficult in the current team I was in. After a few short discussions with my manager, he agreed to support, and went off to find a slightly bigger opportunity for me.
He didn't disappoint. Five weeks later, on a horrendously dreary day in North London, I was called to the Practice Manager's office in Euston Tower. We sat down and he explained that a friend of his, who ran a large team on Crossrail (later renamed the Elizabeth Line), was looking for civils engineers and had a number of packages of work that needed completion ASAP (everything was very late on the project at that point). The offer was pretty simple - go to the Crossrail office across town, work really really hard for 12 months, and then come back.
And that's basically what happened. The next day I was sitting in an Arup office in Fitzrovia, picking up my PPE and meeting my new team. We were delivering a number of projects from Silvertown to Abbey Wood, and the design team had a mountain of work to do. Every day from that point was 4:30 am starts to get to site for 6 am, put on my equipment, and support the site teams in delivering their work, which ranged from steelwork, concrete pouring, utilities installation. Strangely, writing this reminds me of the distinct chippy smell from the on-site canteen, situated directly below the site office we all worked in (sometimes still wearing our hi-vis jackets because it was so cold).
And at the 12 month mark, there was still a lot to do, so my secondment was extended. We completed a number of outstanding designs, and pushed the team on site to get it all delivered. It meant a lot of long hours, and at lot of talking to seasoned experts to come up with the best, most innovative solutions to all the challenges we had to face.
Finally, after 18 months, I rolled off the project. Crossrail was an incredible thing to work on and it was an experience I'll never forget. I went in knowing very little, and had to work flat-out to keep up with the standard of the engineers on the project.
What was brilliant was the effect it had on the rest of my career. Thanks to my manager, I had worked on the largest infrastructure project in Europe at that time. I was still very junior in my role, but had experienced project management, delivery, and engineering design at the absolute highest level.
It took around five years to get round to it, but when I finally launched ditto, everything came full circle. Getting the opportunity to go on a secondment to Crossrail was absolutely defining for my career, and I owe a lot to the manager who pushed me to do it. With ditto, I can now provide this opportunity to others who aren't as lucky as I was when I was a graduate.
Careers are no longer simple and linear, they're squiggly, and I think that's a really good thing.