Plus, if I moved to Canada I could get that sweet iron ring.
August 1, 2012 12:28 PM   Subscribe

Civil engineers, talk about yourselves! What do you do, what's your average workday like, what kind of money do you make and how did you get to the point in your career you're at right now?

If you look at my post history you'll see that I've been trying to figure out a career path for several months now. I've been reading posts on various civil engineering forums and r/engineering and it seems like a good blend of applicable skillset, work/life balance, and income. Plus, transportation engineering is really interesting to me.

I'm also interested in an MUP/MCP (Master of Urban Planning/Master of City Planning) and after reading posts both here and on planning forums, having an engineering background could provide a good perspective as a city planner if I chose that route.

Here's a long list of cumbersome questions:

What do you do for a living and how did you get to where you currently are in your career?
What's your average workday like?
What was your salary when you started out and what is it now? (If you don't feel comfortable posting your salary, could you give a range?)
How much do you work in an average week and how much free time do you have to pursue other non-work things? Do you have passions in non-engineering areas and if you do, are you satisfied with the amount of time you have to engage in them?
What was the most difficult academic aspect about undergrad as a civil engineering student (a certain class, the pace/workload, etc.)? How did you overcome it?
Is there anything you regret about your career path, academically or professionally?

Thanks so much. AskMe has been incredibly helpful.
posted by bumpjump to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
didn't we just do this?

(You'll only get the iron ring if you get your degree in Canada, and feel okay about signing/pledging this, btw.)
posted by scruss at 1:06 PM on August 1, 2012

scruss that was the inspiration for this post. I wanted to hear answers more specific to civil engineering and I had a couple questions that weren't answered in that thread. Also thanks the link about the ring pledge, that was fascinating.
posted by bumpjump at 1:25 PM on August 1, 2012

Thanks for the link
posted by bumpjump at 1:26 PM on August 1, 2012

Since I think I was one of only two civils to answer that other question I guess I'm on the hook for this one too.  

There is a lot of variation in what you can do with a civil engineering degree - I have only done roadway design in my career, so I can only speak to that.

One thing to consider when looking at engineering (that I don't think gets talked about enough with those just starting out) is that often the default career path is taking you towards project management and away from actual day-to-day design work. No one ever talked about that with me and my first foray into managing a project was sort of trial by fire and didn't go well.  I ended up finding a place where I could follow a more technical path and am enjoying that much more - though no matter what, project management is part of every job.  An average day for me involves plenty of sitting at my computer, looking at various files, drawing in CAD, doing calculations, looking over plans, lots of redoing things (design can be very iterative) but it isn't a solitary job - I spend a lot of time working directly with colleagues either in person or on the phone.  

I normally work around 45 hours a week, but with big projects or deadlines I will work a lot more - a week or two of 60 hours maybe 7 or 8 times a year.  Normally, you can see these coming and can schedule your life around the crazy weeks.  I do work with some people who can just never let things go and let the job dominate their life, but I think that is much more about them than about the job.

I'd say the most difficult thing about undergrad was the final for Matrix Method of Structural Analysis.  Seriously.  I was one of those kids who got encouraged to go into engineering because I was good in math and science and I thought bridges were cool and that class just did not come easily to me and prompted a lot of thinking about where I was headed.  Also differential equations and dynamics - I totally admit that I passed those classes more through rote memorization than real understanding of the material. Mostly I liked my classes - looking back I do wish I had been more involved in my major outside of classes - done something like joining the concrete canoe team. 

Your senior year you will be expected to take the EIT exam - take it! I waited a year and it was surprising how much I had lost in that year.

Hope this helps.
posted by Sabby at 9:18 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'll add a bit more to my previous post as well.

Sabby is spot on about the project management track. That's where I am at now. How did I get there? I think because I wasn't passionate about staying on the tools - as it were, and it really is a natural progression - providing of course you have good language and communication skills.

2nd questions been answered in my previous post.

How much did I start on? It's been a while but I distinctly remember a roustabout (someone who picks up the fleece after a shearer has shorn the sheep) laughing at me when I told her how much I was on. Maybe $17/hr.

Twenty years on and it's about $55/hr. Comparing the risks to the compensation we do it for love.

What does that translate to - well my hours are similar to Sabby, but I have had positions where every hour I have worked has been paid and others where I was really interested/ vested in the work and worked many more hours than paid.

I currently have a job where I get weekends off, but generally in construction you also work Saturdays.

Passions outside of engineering? As an engineer you will find you apply your training to everything!!! So when i indulge in my passion for cooking and entertaining, there' a gantt chart in my head! Weekend are also never long enough because there's always a project going on at home as well.

The hardest part of university for me was structural dynamics. Fortunately I had a great group of friends in my course and we all had our strengths and weaknesses. The other hard part of uni was avoiding gbh charges after listening to marketing students bitch about their course load "it's so hard this semester, I've got 6 contact hours and I get full government support"

My only regrets have been when I failed to asked enough questions when I haven't understood something. Gotta love hindsight.
posted by insomniax at 3:07 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

My husband is a civil engineer, so I will get him to respond later. But I can tell you that one thing he has done is to pick up a professional surveyor's license. He works for a 2-person firm, so this gives him the flexibility to go out and get his own measurements on a project instead of keeping a surveyor on staff, or contracting with a surveyor. Because of this, his time is split about 70/30 between engineering and field work.

From observation, I can also say that unless you work for a big firm with strictly defined roles, you have to have a lot of people skills. He spends a lot of time on the phone trying to convince people (clients, village engineers, etc.) to pay him, or approve plans, or provide information, etc.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:17 AM on August 2, 2012

I'm late to the topic but I'll add my comments. I'm relatively new to civil engineering (emphasis in water/ wastewater design/ planning) and recently received my PE license. The EIT/PE process is critical for being taken seriously as a practicing civil engineer, although imho it's a worthless measure of anything you'll be doing at your job on regular basis. You have to take the stupid tests, though.

To answer your questions:
- I am an engineering consultant by process of elimination, really. I'm an analytical thinker who was interested in environmental issues, and tried a few other things more on the liberal arts and science side first. I have a bachelor's degree in a science, a master's in civil eng, and a master's in pub policy. I missed out on a few experiences/ classes by not having a full 4-yr engineering degree, but I think (for my field at least), it was good to come to my job with a different perspective. For me, the foundational (math/ science/ engineering) classes early in undergrad were the hardest because none of that stuff was applied and it was hard to see the big picture of why I was learning it and how it pertained to a future career.
- I now work for a top 20 (by revenue) civil engineering firm w/thousands of employees. I work 40 hr weeks, very rarely over 45 (maybe once/ twice a year), though many of my coworkers put in more time than I do. This is by choice as I highly value my life/ hobbies outside of work and my brain turns to goo after about 40 hrs/week. I'm not sure if this has prevented me from progressing as quickly up the corporate ladder as some of my colleagues...probably, but I'm comfortable. I have a suspicion that as you move up the ladder you have to put in more time. I'm not looking forward to that.
-Starting salary was ~65K, now it's about ~80K (5 yrs later).
-In addition to the obvious calcs and drawings, I do a ton of writing (every day). Writing and having good social skills (to woo clients and to get along with others on large team projects that are very cross-discipline) is imperative to success in consulting.
-As described by others above, most CE firms allow you opportunities to choose a more managerial career track, marketing career track, or specialist track. For most civil engineers, the typical career trajectory is grinder -> finder -> minder: do the work, sell the work, then get paid to think about the work.
-I don't really regret anything about my career choice, but I'm definitely not married to it either. At this point in my life, being a civil engineer allows me the financial security and time/ flexibility to do the things I really love outside of work. And at the end of the day, I feel like I've accomplished something which is a bonus. There's something very satisfying about seeing something you've designed get constructed.
posted by ch3ch2oh at 1:48 AM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

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