Associate at Degenkolb Engineers
1. Can you tell me a bit about your career path and what led you to the role you’re in today?
I decided I wanted to be a Civil Engineer at the age of 15. I was in a class called MESA (Math, Engineering, Science, Achievement) and we had a mock career fair one day. I had always been fascinated with building and wanted to understand the intricate details of how buildings were constructed and how they would withstand earthquakes. That was the day I decided to go down the path towards becoming a Civil Engineer. I loved math and science (not so much for history and English literature), and so taking all of the math classes I needed to prepare for college, was natural for me.
2. What were some of your early roles in the field?
When I started as an intern, I had a huge learning curve ahead of me. I needed to understand how to read construction drawings (blueprints) for buildings and mostly worked in the Construction Administration phase for projects. The Construction Administration process involves checking shop drawings and responding to field questions (RFI’s – requests for field information). Shop drawings involve backchecking the contractor documents against the design documents to make sure that the materials, sizes, quantities, and dimensions match-up between the design and contractor construction documents.
3. What skills do you think are most important for someone interested in a job like yours?
A solid understanding of physics and math is extremely important to be exposed to at an early age (in high school). Understanding the fundamentals of statics helps to apply that knowledge to more difficult science as one develops through their course program. It is also important to have a strong work ethic and to not give up when making mistakes. Stay organized, stay focused, and keep one foot in front of the other.
4. What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out in this career/role?
I wish that someone told me it would be difficult to transition from the school life to the office life. It was a serious adjustment for me. While I loved having “working hours” and the rest of my time was now suddenly free, I had a hard time getting used to the cubicle/office lifestyle. For many engineers who are introverts, the cubicle life is refreshing, but as an extrovert it was energy draining for me.
5. Were there any challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them, if any?
I felt like there was a “boys club” that I was not included in, and I always felt like I should know more than I do. That is very normal for people to feel like they should know more when they are starting out their career, but it took me years to realize that. I would find people in the office that I could connect with on a personal level, quite a few were not engineers, and that helped me to feel connected to the company I was working for.
6. What are, in your eyes, the most sought-after STEM careers of the future?
I believe the most sought-after STEM careers are in software and computer science engineering. I am a structural engineer, which is not the most popular of all the engineering careers, although it is one of the more challenging. I would tell our youth to find a career path that excites you and challenges you and stick with it. You have to be happy and excited about the type of work you are doing, otherwise you will burn out early into your career.