In honor of National Mentoring Month, we’ll be sharing several interviews throughout the month that highlight Hyder employees whose career growth has been directly impacted by mentors.

Next up in the series is Michael Sternfeld, who we had a chance to talk with as he was rolling off of Keystone Resort’s Outpost Restaurant Expansion. Thanks for your time, Michael!

An Interview With Project Engineer, Michael Sternfeld

Dana: What do you feel like the importance of mentorship is in your career or in a construction career?

Michael: I think it’s huge. Especially out in the field, you just can’t have training on all the things that you need to know. There’s so many fine details and complicated construction techniques and skills that you need to learn out in the field. And the only way that you do that is by seeing it and getting your hands dirty here and there, and having a great mentor.

I really got lucky with Jacob as my boss on this job because he has a broad construction knowledge and was willing to answer questions. I was firing them off like crazy. I learned at a certain point, “Okay, even if he’s willing to answer these, I don’t want to throw him off.” There’s a time and a place to ask questions, especially bombardment with questions; wait for a time when they’re not actively working on something.

I feel like I got put in a really good position. Having a boss like that who was motivated and was willing to answer the questions, and to see how he worked was motivating too. I’ve had bosses in the past from before my internship with Hyder, where I could tell they didn’t care to pass on any knowledge to me.

Dana: In addition to Jacob, do you feel like there have been other people at Hyder that have been willing to help you learn and grow, and mentor you at Hyder?

Michael: Yeah, Lou was great on the Breckenridge Parking Garage project. At the time, that project was at a slow point, but Lou walked me around the site a lot and explained what was going on each day. He pushed me to step in and help the subcontractors when I had nothing to do, which I did and learned a lot.

Michael Brown has been great as well. He was willing to answer questions, explain some of the roles of project managers to me, and was frequently asking me how I was doing and if I felt overwhelmed or not. I look up to Michael in the way he holds himself in meetings and his mindset, which is to keep things calm and choose the best or most productive plan of action.

Dana: If you want to advance in your career, whose responsibility is it to get you to that place?

Michael: I think the responsibility is on that person that wants to advance, but it helps to have good people around you that aid in your advancement. On this job, it was Michael and Jacob. Michael and I had the duo reviews, which go through the core competencies of skills that I need to know. We highlighted them a certain color based on how well I know them. Our first one, a lot was red, or yellow, meaning I had no experience or little experience, and then more started to go green. And then, I think it takes the initiative from me to start seeing what the project manager and/or superintendent does, and saying, “Okay, I need to start taking over some of these roles soon if I want to be in their shoes at some point.”

Dana: What do you feel like are the qualities of a good mentor?

Michael: Qualities of a good mentor start with the fact that they’re doing their job correctly and getting everything done that they need to get done. That was one of the first things I noticed about Jacob. He was willing to put in that extra time to do everything that needed to get done, even if it meant staying up at the site until 7:00 PM to sweep up the floors or help prepare for the next sequence of work. That’s the first thing. Seeing that they’re good at what they do.

And then, I think it’s just their willingness to teach you and answer questions. For instance, when that mentor has the time, having them really dive into the details of the work that’s going on, why it must be done a certain way, and what the priorities are and what you should be focusing on. I think that makes a great mentor. Then, the next level would be for them to see what kind of progress you’re making, and make sure that they’re setting you up with all the tools you need so you can move on to that next role and advance in your career.

Dana: What are some of the ways your mentors have taught you by example?

Michael: From watching my mentors, it is clear that the priority above all things is getting out on-site and helping whoever needs help. Even if that means sweeping up because it’ll make the site cleaner for the guys in the morning. Anything that needs to be done…just doing it. And that’s why I think this project was able to complete a day early, all those nights of putting in that extra time to save the subcontractors time the next day – with Jacob leading that charge. This applies to office-related work as well – staying on top of RFIs, Submittals, and emails. And following up with people when they don’t respond, not forgetting about certain issues, and keeping a well-organized documentation trail of all items, issues, and important documents.

Dana: I feel like there’s a certain amount of respect that you have for someone who’s in a position above you and is still willing to do the things that essentially no one wants to do, but really are important that they get done, because it’s everyone’s job. And if they do that, then they show you that you’re never in a position where you’re too good for one job.

Michael: Totally. It’s like, “This has to get done one way or another. Let’s get it done.”

Dana: And I feel like that really ties into Hyder’s culture philosophy, that There is No Superman. No one is going to come and do those things for us. And it’s really our job to fix our clients’ problems and do it together as a team. No matter who does it, we all have to pitch in and do it.

Michael: Totally. That just reminded me of Keshawn coming up at the end of the project with the trailer and helping me and Trent get these large heavy signs down out front, helping us set the scaffolding up, and helping shovel snow off the deck. Another example is Colin Stone coming up to the site and shampoo vacuuming the whole existing building. Those were big helps, we got Trent and Jaime up there on short notice for a few weeks and they were willing to help and get things done.

Dana: Any final thoughts on mentoring?

Michael: I think Hyder has many great mentors, which is one of the reasons I love this company. Traits of a great mentor are: being willing to pass on your knowledge to others, showing them what to do by example, and being interested in others and helping advance someone in their career. As a mentee, I think you have to be willing to do whatever is asked of you, have a genuine interest/curiosity for learning and asking questions, and knowing the right time and place to ask questions.

Dana: I think it’s important to have that level of emotional intelligence, where you realize when the time and place is to ask questions.

Michael: Totally. And knowing what the most important questions are to ask and what can wait. No one’s going to get upset with you for asking, “What do we need to do? What are the priorities?” That should be first and foremost. Another big thing I learned from Jacob, as if I haven’t talked about him enough, is the importance of being calm and collected in communication with subs. I know Hyder does a great job of it, but on this project I got to see firsthand. There were no serious conflicts or confrontations. Conflicts and issues like that can really delay a project.

You get in a fight with a sub and whether they leave the project or not, or they take guys off for a week, whatever it may be, those are crucial time factors that you don’t get back. So, that was a big lesson to see Jacob’s composure talking to anyone related to the project. Michael Brown too, I mean, cannot talk highly enough about how they are around other people, especially owners, architects, and subs. Where I would expect them to blow up or snap back on something…nope! They would always just stay calm and collected. And I think that’s so respectful. It’s badass to be like that.