This week, YouTube superstar Grady Hillhouse from Practical Engineering jumps on the show! Grady is a geography college graduate, turned professional civil engineer, turned successful content creator with way more than 1+ million views per video. Yeah…what a journey! Tune in to learn about his engineering background, how he started the channel as a hobby, and much more!
What You’ll Learn:
- From Geography to Civil Engineering: Grady’s Unusual Path into the Field
- The Importance of Geotech Classes―Regardless of Your Area of Expertise
- The Biggest Value of an Engineering Degree Most Engineers Don’t Recognize
- Grady's Studying Habit on Sunday Mornings That Helped Him Pass the PE Exam
- How His Desire to Learn Woodworking Skills Got His Channel Started
- How He Scaled His Famous YouTube Channel as a Side Project After Work
- The Power of Feedback to Improve Yourself in Whatever You Do
- How to Balance Technical and Comprehensive Content for a Large Audience
- Grady’s Top Tips for Those Who Also Want to Start Something of Their Own
- Creative and Illustration Resources That Helped Him With His Channel
- How the 100-Year-Old American Civil Engineer’s Handbook Can Help You Today
- A Surprising Announcement by Grady for 2022
School of PE – http://www.civilengineeringacademy.com/sope
CEA Facebook Community – https://ceacommunity.com
Engineer to Entrepreneur – https://engineer2entrepreneur.net
Practical Engineering Website – https://practical.engineering
Practical Engineering YouTube Channel – https://www.youtube.com/c/PracticalEngineeringChannel
What Really Happened During the Texas Power Grid Outage? – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08mwXICY4JM
How Do Sinkholes Form? – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-DVIQPqS8E
Edward Tufte – https://www.edwardtufte.com
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, by Edward Tufte – Click here
David Macaulay – https://davidmacaulay.com
Underground, by David Macaulay – Click here
CEA Website – https://civilengineeringacademy.com
The Ultimate Civil PE Review Course – https://civilpereviewcourse.com
The Ultimate Civil FE Review Course – https://civilfereviewcourse.com
CEA FE and PE Practice Exams – https://civilengineeringacademy.com/exams
CEA Youtube Channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPeFLBZ2gk0uO5M9uE2zj0Q
CEA Facebook Community – https://ceacommunity.com
CEA Newsletter – https://civilengineeringacademy.com/join-our-newsletter
Reach out to Isaac – [email protected]
Additional Resources Mentioned:
NCEES – https://ncees.org
Engineer to Entrepreneur – https://engineer2entrepreneur.net
Civil Engineering Reference Manual – http://www.civilengineeringacademy.com/ppi (Use this link to grab a copy for a 15% discount)
Transcript of Show
You can download our show notes summary here or get our transcript of the show below!
Isaac Oakeson: All right! I got Grady on today with the Civil Engineering Academy Podcast. Grady, how's it going?
Grady Hillhouse: Going great!
Isaac Oakeson: Well, thanks for jumping on the show. I know you're a busy guy, running all your YouTube stuff and making some awesome content there. I thought it'd be fun to connect with you, and not only learn about what you do and maybe some more of your background and maybe why you do it. But why don't we just start with that? Why don't you tell us how you got into engineering? How that became an interest to you as we kick this thing off?
Grady Hillhouse: Sure. Yeah. So I went to -- I really didn't have any interest in engineering. When I was in high school, I didn't really have a lot of exposure to the field and I didn't know any engineers. And so, I went to college and got a degree in geography. But it was focused in water resources. And during my time there, working on my undergraduate degree, I took a few classes within water resources that kind of, you know, gave me a little hints of what was involved in civil engineering. And then I got an internship with the state agency, and there I got to meet some civil engineers who worked there. And that's when I really realized like, "Okay, I should've chosen this as a major. But I'm sure that this is what I want to do." And so I ended up going to graduate school for civil engineering. And it took me a little longer because, you know, I had to take a bunch of undergraduate engineering coursework. But eventually I got there and got my civil engineering degree. So I can kind of have a sinuous path to civil engineering.
Isaac Oakeson: Okay. Well, that's pretty cool that you found your way into it that way. You know, you probably bring a unique perspective to stuff as well. So I take it that your favorite subject is probably water resources. Is that accurate?
Grady Hillhouse: That's what I specialized in in college. And that's what most of my work, my professional experience is in as well. It's water.
Isaac Oakeson: Cool. What advice do you think you would have for someone that is playing around or looking into civil engineering? Maybe just starting out in the world of civil engineering. Do you have any pointers for them?
Grady Hillhouse: Take geo-technical classes. Everything sits on the ground. Every engineer is going to have to deal with soils eventually. So just take the classes. It's worth it.
Isaac Oakeson: You've got to get to that soil, huh?
Grady Hillhouse: I mean, the other thing is just to join some clubs, right? One of the biggest values of an engineering degree is not the knowledge that you take away, but the people that you get to know while you're there. And you know, throughout your career, those people will find their own paths within the same industries as you. And then those will be really valuable connections in the future. And so that was something that was really important to me in college, is kind of being a part of a community. And those relationships have served me really well since then.
Isaac Oakeson: That's great. Now, as part of preparing or becoming a professional engineer, you have to go through those fun exams. The FE, the PE, all that fun stuff. So would you have any advice for people that are going through that or even struggling with getting over this?
Grady Hillhouse: I mean, it's a hard test. It's hard for everyone. I don't think there's anyone who just breezes through it. I don't really remember how I studied for the fundamentals exam. But for the PE exam, it's still drilled in my memory. In Texas, at least at the time I took it, you had to wait four years. And I actually found that to be kind of a nice time to revisit all those things within civil engineering that I had forgotten since I'd started working. But you know, I started, I think, about three or four months before the exam. Set aside about four hours a week on Sunday mornings. And I would just wake up, take a practice exam. Or, if I had already taken the exam, I would just go through the questions and learn how to solve each one, and then take another practice exam and do it again. I mean, when you boil it down, it's not that complicated. But you know, it's a hard test. It just takes a lot of discipline and time and effort to drill that material.
Isaac Oakeson: Got you. Yeah. I mean, people that can get more practice problems under your belt, you're well ahead of the game. So definitely do that. Good tips there. Let's jump into your awesome channel. So why don't you take me through what you were doing, or maybe how you got involved in all of this? Because your YouTube channel, Practical Engineering, is a really fun channel. It's a really popular channel. But as a civil engineer, what were you doing before, and how did this come to be?
Grady Hillhouse: Yeah. Thank you. That's really kind. The channel was -- It's been a slow evolution. It kind of started out with woodworking, right? I got some tools and wanted to learn how to use them. And what do you do? You know, you go on YouTube and you search how to use, you know, a table saw or a band saw or whatever. And that was my first exposure to YouTube as a community, or as a social media platform, rather than just a search engine for videos. Because I was seeing these woodworkers who had, you know, built an audience and were putting out regular content. And I just got so intrigued with that. And so I kind of -- You know, I wanted to be a part of that community. And so the very first videos I made were just about, you know, some projects I did making woodworking and trying to be a part of that woodworking community.
Grady Hillhouse: And at the same time, I was giving presentations about my job to, you know, elementary schools because that's the field my wife is in. And so I was kind of building little demonstrations to show the kids what civil engineers do. And I was like, "Well, I could make a video about that too." And slowly the two things just kind of started meshing, and I realized like, "Oh, I kind of have a unique perspective on this part of everyday life that a lot of people are exposed to: infrastructure. And I can kind of, you know, pull the curtain away and show people what it's like to be a civil engineer and what, you know, some of the infrastructure that they interact with does or how it works." So that's kind of how it evolved over time.
Isaac Oakeson: Wow! So as it evolved, though, you just didn't jump all in. You were still working and doing this kind of as a side thing for fun. I mean, it wasn't something you just jumped all in, right?
Grady Hillhouse: No, no. This was a hobby of mine. It was a way to unwind. It was a way to, you know, to try something new and learn some new skills. I don't have any training or education in video production. And so I was learning these new skills about how to record voiceover and how to, you know, shoot B-roll, and all these different things. It was just something fun to do on the weekends and after work. And I really never had any intention of it coming as big as it did. And I definitely didn't have intentions for the longest time of ever doing it as a full-time gig.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. So fast forward to today. I mean, you are doing it as a full-time gig, right?
Grady Hillhouse: Yeah.
Isaac Oakeson: That's pretty cool. How did you manage your work life and the YouTube stuff? Were you just doing it on the weekends? Or did it come to a point where you were spending a lot of time on this thing and you had to make that decision to go all in?
Grady Hillhouse: I mean, I didn't have any kids at the time. That was a big thing.
Isaac Oakeson: Oh, that makes it easy.
Grady Hillhouse: Yeah. So I had a lot of free time comparatively. So yeah, I was spending, you know, a relatively long amount of time on the videos. But also, it was a hobby, right? I didn't have a production schedule. I just worked on a video until it was done, and then I published it. And then slowly, as I did start to kind of make the uploads more regular, I did start to have to kind of learn a bunch of tricks to make the production process more efficient and take better advantage of the time that I had available. And, you know, I could talk for hours and hours about video production, but I won't bore you with those details.
Isaac Oakeson: Hey, that works.
Grady Hillhouse: But yeah. I mean, it was always a balance of the free time after work and on the weekends.
Isaac Oakeson: That's cool. I feel like there's a lot of engineers that want to do stuff on the side. I even created a course to help engineers maybe learn how to do that through courses. I called it engineertoentrepreneur.net. I mean, do you have any advice that engineers that might have this creative drive to do something similar, or maybe even to start out as a hobby? Do you feel like there's a creative bug that engineers have some time? Or are we just all working for someone and cranking out the calculations? I don't know.
Grady Hillhouse: Yeah. That's a good question. I mean, it definitely, for me was -- You know, I really did have this bug of there's some itches that aren't getting scratched at work. And so that's kind of what drove my hobby. But also, you know, YouTube was a cool platform because you get so much feedback, right?
Isaac Oakeson: Immediate.
Grady Hillhouse: Those comments. Some are good. Some are bad. And you have to learn how to differentiate.
Isaac Oakeson: Filter.
Grady Hillhouse: Yeah. You have to learn how to filter which ones are constructive and which ones aren't. But you know, it kind of gave me some accountability with my projects. And it gave me good feedback too. Like, ways to improve what I was doing. It was motivating. And I think that's one thing -- You know, if I were just publishing videos to a platform where I didn't have that feedback, I don't think I would've made it as far as I did, because that motivation factor wouldn't have been there. So that might be a good tip for anyone who's trying to create a side hustle, or even just to improve in a hobby that they have, is to find a way to create that feedback loop. Because that can be really motivating.
Isaac Oakeson: That makes sense. What's been your favorite episode to create?
Grady Hillhouse: Oh, that's a tough question. This year I started, um, I started making videos about telling stories about civil engineering, right? Like, you know, a lot of them are failures that happened. But those are the -- You know, when I was a consultant working for a private company, that stuff probably would have been a conflict of interest for me, but now that I'm kind of working on this full-time, it kind of freed me up to be able to, you know, just to dive into topics that I hadn't been able to before. And a lot of those topics have just been really fun. Like, telling the story about the Texas power grid failure that happened recently. I worked in dams for pretty much my whole career. And so, a lot of the recent dam failures I've made videos about. And those have been just really fun stories to tell.
Isaac Oakeson: That's fantastic. So I'm a practicing transmission engineer, so that one kind of perked my ears up. And I've gone to conferences that have been specifically about the Texas issues. So, yeah. Those have been fun ones for me to watch. I imagine, you know, you put so much work into all of these, it's hard to really pick and choose which one might be your favorite. I don't know which one is, like, the most popular for your audience either. But maybe that one.
Grady Hillhouse: Yeah. I think the most popular one on the channel is about how sinkholes are formed. You know, it's about internal erosion. And that was a really cool video to make, because, you know, most of the videos I do, I try to build some kind of physical demonstration in my garage. And for that one -- You know, that idea came straight from my wife. She said, "You should make a video about how sinkholes form, because I don't understand that at all." And I just got this instant idea of, like, how I could build a demo to show how that works. And you know, build the whole thing, plug the pump in, and it was so obvious right away. You know, it was so crystal clear. And that was a really nice Eureka moment. Not every demonstration goes that way, but that one was really fun.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. So that's funny that you bring up your wife that helped give you that idea. Does she help with other things on this?
Grady Hillhouse: She mainly gives feedback on the videos. She helps a lot with topics. A lot of times I'll run ideas by her and kind of, since she's not an engineer, she has kind of a layman's perspective on these topics. And that's really what I want. That's the direction I want the channel to go. And so gives the feeback here.
Isaac Oakeson: She ever said, "That's just not good"?
Grady Hillhouse: Oh, all the time. I mean, without her, I would be diving into topics that people just don't care about at all. I'm a true engineer. I just get interested in the most esoteric things. And so she helps kind of keep me on the surface a little better.
Isaac Oakeson: That brings up a good question. Like, where's the balance? Because you can go into the woods on engineering. You know, really quickly. And then you probably have a weird balance where you're trying to dive into that a little bit without being too overwhelming for a large audience. So is there a balance? Is that an issue you have to figure out.
Grady Hillhouse: That's like -- I mean, it's the million dollar question, right? It's drawing that line. Because, you know, YouTube doesn't have -- You know, anyone could click that video and watch it. And you want anyone who does to come away with something, right? And so a lot of my videos are structured in a way that people who are interested in the technical details find some nuggets in there, but those who aren't don't get so bogged down in it that they just can't finish the video, right? I mean, writing is the most challenging part of the entire production process. Striking that balance between making it engaging and interesting into a topic that most people have never been exposed to versus making it relevant and interesting to them and contextual to their lives, right? So the answer is "Yes". That's a big challenge.
Isaac Oakeson: Tough balance there. Well, uh, do you have any other tips or advice for engineers that want to kind of flex their creative muscle? Anything around that?
Grady Hillhouse: I mean, find out a hobby that you love and just do it. I mean, that's really what got me here. It's just doing it, right? I mean, you could go back in the channel. I've never deleted a video from the channel, so you can go back and look at how bad I used to be at this. I mean, it was bad. But luckily, YouTube is a fairly forgiving platform. Like, no one expects you to be a TV broadcast level production. And so, you know, that gave me the freedom to try new things and to try ideas out and, you know, to learn lessons from each video that I made, and apply those in the future and just get better and better at it. And still, like -- I mean, I'm not going to win any awards for production quality on my videos. But you know, people are really interested in it because it's authentic content, and it's something that they've never seen before. And I feel just super lucky to have chosen a career field where I got to learn all those things and get exposed to all different aspects of infrastructure. And now I can find a way to share that. You know, share my excitement, my passion for that topic with the whole world. There's lots of ways to do that.
Isaac Oakeson: Right. So you know, if you've got something that you're itching to create or do, just do it. Start it on the side and go for it.
Grady Hillhouse: Just get out there and dot it. Yeah.
Isaac Oakeson: That's good advice. Man, is there any books, resources, anything out there that you would recommend to the CEA audience, the Civil Engineering Academy audience? Either on the creative side that you've had fun diving into, or even on the technical side, something that you would recommend to our audience?
Grady Hillhouse: Yeah. I have tons of books that I reference all the time. I'm a very visual person. You know, that's why I got so interested in video production. And so, things like the Edward Tufte's books about visual communication and ways to display quantitative data. He has some awesome books on that. David Macaulay, I don't know. He wrote that kid's book how things work with all the caveman and mammoths. But he has tons of -- I mean, most of them are geared toward kids, but his illustrations are just so rich and they provide such a nice perspective. There's one called "Underground", which is all about subsurface utilities, deep foundation systems. But, you know, the perspectives of the illustrations are like from underneath the building, showing all the piles. They're just like -- I really love books that just, you know, kind of expand your mind and show you something from a whole different perspective that you've never considered. And he does such a good job of that. I also have my American Civil Engineer's handbooks. These are, I think, from the 30s. But it's just so cool to look back at, you know, what the people who were in our career field a hundred years ago, what they used as reference material and how they kind of thought about the career and the work that they were doing. And, you know, a lot hasn't changed, to be honest.
Isaac Oakeson: And some stuff's still standing.
Grady Hillhouse: A lot of it still is. And you know, the illustrations in these books are really good. You know, it's just helpful to give you a little perspective on the career.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. Well, this has been really fun for me. I hope it was fun for everyone to listen to. It's fun to see a civil engineer be very successful in this creative side of things. And I think our audience will really enjoy hearing about it. So Grady, where can people connect with you?
Grady Hillhouse: YouTube is the main place. But I have a website, practical.engineering.
Isaac Oakeson: Go check it out.
Grady Hillhouse: Yeah, you can check it. That's got all the blog posts, a little bit of info about me, and everything else I'm working on too.
Isaac Oakeson: Cool. What's plans for the future? Any plans?
Grady Hillhouse: Yeah. So I'm working hard on the channel. That's the main thing. We've ramped up the production schedule to two videos a month now. And so that's the main thing we do. But I'm also working on a book that will be announced to greater fanfare early next year. And hopefully be released and published later in 2022.
Isaac Oakeson: Any teasers about the book? Because we gotta bring you back on to talk about that one.
Grady Hillhouse: Yeah. I mean, I'm happy to talk a little bit about it. It's basically an illustrated guide to infrastructure. So it's kind of modeled after the field guides to, you know, birds, plants, or animals, or things like that. But it's really focused on the constructed environment and all the different aspects of things you can step outside your door and see and learn about.
Isaac Oakeson: That's great. I mean, it feels like most of society doesn't really understand what civil engineers do. If you say you're an engineer, some people just don't get what that is. So you know, you have to be like, "Well, civil engineers touch everything you use every day."
Grady Hillhouse: That's right. Yeah. One of my favorite authors Randall Munroe has a quote that says "You can look at practically anything man-made around you and know that some engineer was frustrated while they were designing it." And that's very true about civil engineers.
Isaac Oakeson: Yes, it is. And man, I still work as a practicing civil engineer. So I can definitely relate to that. Good stuff. Well Grady, thanks for jumping on. I really do appreciate it.
Grady Hillhouse: Yeah! Thanks for having me.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. I appreciate you jumping on. We'll see you in a future episode. Maybe we can get you back on and talk about your sweet book.
Grady Hillhouse: Yeah, for sure. I look forward to it.
Isaac Oakeson: All right. Thanks. See you.
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