Today’s guest is Vanessa, a transportation engineer who “accidentally” got into the field and later became an Instagram superstar sharing her career experiences. In this episode, she breaks down all the lessons she learned along this journey into actionable tips you can apply to your own career.
Tune in to Learn:
- The two scenarios in which civil engineering is (or was) a great career choice for you
- How to succeed in civil engineering — even if you don't like math and science
- One myth about the field that needs to be debunked right away
- Five tips to prepare for your PE exam to pass it once and for all
- What Vanessa regrets about her FE Exam that you should do differently
- What's the Femineer ® Program at San Diego State University?
- The reason she started her famous Instagram account focused on civil engineering
- Her top tips for those engineers who also want to start and scale a creative outlet
Vanessa's Instagram (@itsvnessa) – https://www.instagram.com/itsvnessa
Vanessa's TikTok (@its_engineervnessa)- https://www.tiktok.com/@its_engineervnessa
Vanessa's YouTube Chanel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8qCPstxlZ1hJJXsc-ZIL2Q
Engineer to Entrepreneur – https://engineer2entrepreneur.net
ASCE – https://asce.org
Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) – https://www.wtsinternational.org
American Public Works Association (APWA) – https://www.apwa.net
San Diego State University – https://www.sdsu.edu
Femineer ® Program – https://www.engineering.sdsu.edu/explore/femineer_program.aspx
Cal Poly Pomona – https://www.cpp.edu
The Ultimate Civil FE Review Course – https://civilfereviewcourse.com
The Ultimate Civil PE Review Course – https://civilpereviewcourse.com
FE and PE Practice Exams – https://civilengineeringacademy.com/exams
Free Facebook Community – https://ceacommunity.com
YouTube Channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPeFLBZ2gk0uO5M9uE2zj0Q
Newsletter – https://civilengineeringacademy.com/newsletter
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/theceacademy
Twitter – https://twitter.com/civilengacad
Reach out to Isaac – [email protected]
Indeed – https://indeed.com
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com
Glassdoor – https://www.glassdoor.co
NCEES Annual Report – https://ncees.org/wp-content/uploads/Annual-report-2021_web.pdf
Advance: An NCEES Podcast Series – https://ncees.org/podcast
CEA Podcast #51 with Tim Miller – https://civilengineeringacademy.com/cea51
Engineers Without Borders – https://www.ewb-usa.org
McKinley Advisors – https://www.mckinley-advisors.com
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 get our transcript of the show below!
Isaac Oakeson: Hey, what's up everybody? Isaac here with Civil Engineering Academy. And we've got another awesome podcast for you. So today I bring on Vanessa. She runs a very popular Instagram channel that she has. She also has YouTube and other social media presence. But we connected over social media because she's diving deep into fun civil engineering stuff, and she does a lot of fun posts about civil engineering. And I thought it would be fun to have Vanessa come onto the show and talk about her experience with social media, how that's working out for her, why she started it, and really these creative outlets that civil engineers are finding to express themselves in this world of civil engineering that we're in. And you know, you could be a part of that too. So I love seeing it.
Isaac Oakeson: She is heavy into transportation engineering and loves what she's doing. She's heavily involved in the ASCE, and really takes up a lot of time there. She's preparing for her PE exam. So we talk about tips related to the to that as well, and her journey into the world of civil engineering and what she's doing to prepare for the PE exam as well. I just had a fun conversation. I just thought it was really fun. I think you're gonna enjoy this one. Vanessa jumps on to talk about her social media presence, her experience with ASCE, studying for the PE, and more. And it's all coming up right after this. We'll see you in a minute.
Isaac Oakeson: All right, Vanessa. I'm excited to talk to you today. Thanks for jumping on the Civil Engineering Academy Podcast today.
Vanessa: Thanks for having me, Isaac.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah, I'm excited. We kind of connected through social media. I noticed what you've been putting out there, and it's been fun to watch it. I wanted to bring you on and kind of talk about that a little bit. But really just know more about your background and see how you're growing.
Isaac Oakeson: But before we jump in, I always love to ask how you found yourself into the world of civil engineering. Tell me a little bit about that.
Vanessa: Yeah. Actually, I stumbled accidentally into civil engineering. I did not know that engineering really was an option for me. I knew I liked math and science, and I know that's a common thing that a lot of people say. But I was never offered or told that civil engineering, or engineering in general, was something that I should pursue, which I found pretty interesting. But --
Isaac Oakeson: Can I ask what they were asking you to pursue? Were they giving you advice?
Vanessa: Honestly, my parents, for one, they were open to whatever I wanted to do as long as I enjoyed it. So I'm glad they didn't push me in any direction. But they were surprised that I even chose engineering. They're like, "Oh, I didn't know that's something that you would like", you know?
Vanessa: The counselors -- Like, I was in, you know, honors societies in high schools, but nobody thought to offer or suggest engineering to me until I was involved in a local Filipino American cultural group. And I talked about how I really liked these subjects in school. And then they said, "why don't you try engineering?" And I, again, had no idea. I completely stumbled across this. I had no idea that this was an option for me whatsoever. And this was during the time of, you know, the recession between like 2007 to 2012. Like, it was kind of hard really at that time.
Vanessa: So I actually just went to community college, although I did get into schools. It was just difficult for me to attend straight out of high school a four-year university. Took an Intro to Engineering class and thought, you know, civil engineering was the one for me. So, long-ended story, but that's how I got to civil engineering.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. And, which discipline do you practice right now? What kind of area did you go into?
Vanessa: I'm currently practicing transportation engineering. I did work out of school for land development, which was general civil. And honestly I recommend a lot of people to maybe start off in land development, or at least general civil. I learned so much and it has helped in the basis of my transportation engineering knowledge. So, yeah.
Isaac Oakeson: It's great. Do you have any tips or advice for those just considering engineering in general, and anything around it? You know, accidentally discovering they like it.
Vanessa: Yeah, definitely. I think it's one of those things where I've talked to a lot of people also asking how do they find civil engineering. And I think, through talking to them, a lot of people either had somebody who already worked in engineering or civil engineering as their parents, uncles, aunts, or something one another. So if you have somebody within your family, ask them some tips.
Vanessa: If not, I also heard a lot of people got into civil engineering because they were interested in construction or in architecture. Which is really interesting because a lot of people that I've talked to also said, "Oh, if you like architecture, you wanna build these buildings, you wanna construct these different things that you find beautiful throughout the world." They kind of find that architecture is either (1) really hard to get into or (2) there's just not many jobs. So that's what I recommend. If you're interested in any of those possible topics, I would say consider civil engineering because that's how a lot of people that I know have stumbled upon civil engineering themselves.
Vanessa: And you know, even if you don't like math and science, because I know that's something that I mentioned that I really like, and that's what helped me decide on civil engineering, I would say -- You know, if you just like being able to help society in some way or another and also want to see, you know, something constructed, because we literally live in a world built by civil engineers. So if you find that very interesting, you know, it's okay if you're not good at math and science. It's a learning process. And even then, my day-to-day, I don't do intricate calculus, differential equations. Like, you'll be okay. Just have to pass these classes.
Isaac Oakeson: Get through the hoops.
Vanessa: Get through the hoops. Yeah. And I know that's a barrier for a lot of people who don't seem to, you know, enjoy math as much. But as you get more comfortable and if you get help, it actually is not that bad. So I hope that doesn't stop anybody.
Isaac Oakeson: Perfect. Great advice. I love hearing that. Really good tips on those trying to decide whether that's the area they want go into.
Isaac Oakeson: Could you describe maybe what your favorite project you've worked on so far? Is there been one that stands out?
Vanessa: Yeah. So, I've been at this company that I currently work at for about four years. And what I've noticed with transportation projects as compared to land development projects, it takes a really long time for a lot of these projects to be constructed. So I actually only have one project currently in construction that I've been involved in from the very beginning. And I really enjoy that. That's currently my favorite project mainly because it's almost complete.
Isaac Oakeson: Nice!
Vanessa: Yeah. It's really exciting to see from start to finish. And again, transportation projects, I had no idea they take this long. Usually it takes about a year with land development projects; they're already done. But the reason why I say this project also is one of my favorites is because it's a pedestrian under crossing. So basically there's a current existing railroad track and there's an elementary school on one side and then residential, commercial, like buildings, on the other side.
Vanessa: And a lot of people are crossing these tracks because there's not a station right in front of it or, you know, relatively close by that people are just crossing it dangerously. And you know, honestly I feel scared for them, even though I don't see what's going on. But I've heard like many people are crossing that. So, with a pedestrian under crossing, this is a safe place, a safe way for people to just cross underneath the railroad tracks and not, you know, be in potential danger whatsoever.
Isaac Oakeson: That's great.
Vanessa: Yeah. I hope most people use it once it's constructed.
Isaac Oakeson: I'm sure they will. I hope they do. I think it's neat -- I wanted to go back to your point about, you know, civil engineers developing and creating infrastructure for people and really what that does. You know, keeping people safe. It's in the world all around us. To the water we drink, the roads we drive on and pedestrian stuff that keep people safe. So I think that's a great project you're working on. It's fun to hear about it.
Isaac Oakeson: I have another question. You know, as you've dived into civil engineering, what has been an expectation or a myth that you could bust, or that people talk about engineers that maybe you could shed some light on?
Vanessa: Yeah. This one I think is kind of funny that I've stumbled upon as I got into social media. And I kind of noticed this also when I was in school. But a lot of other engineers would make fun of civil engineers saying we're the easiest major, or easiest engineering major.
Isaac Oakeson: I've heard that.
Vanessa: It drives me nuts, even though I have friends who are in other engineering majors and industries. They're fine. It's just the other people who seem to think that they're so much smarter, so much better, just because they're not in the "easy" engineering major.
Isaac Oakeson: Got you.
Vanessa: So I wanna bust that, because, you know, I don't think it should be whether or not it's easy or hard. There's a lot of people who struggle in all the engineering majors to begin with. And it shouldn't be a comparison thing when we're trying to get more people into STEM to begin with, right?
Isaac Oakeson: Right.
Vanessa: I think that's just a little toxic. And I think that we should stop saying those things. Even though, obviously, I'm in the civil engineering. You know, "easy" engineering major when I don't think it's easy. It can be difficult for so many people, and saying that it's the easiest one makes a lot of people discouraged to even pursue it. And you know, I don't think that's something we should be working together because, without civil engineers --
Vanessa: Like, even though they also joke about us being the targets, we are the reason why society is the way it is. We're the oldest engineering discipline. And we're like the father of all engineering. And that's what bothers me a little bit. And I've noticed that a lot, sometimes also in social media. I should stop reading those comments on other posts making fun of civil engineering. But like, I just have to defend us.
Isaac Oakeson: Got it. I love it. That's great. Yeah. I think all engineering is hard. And you know, people that dive into it like to distinguish what's easier and what's harder. It's all hard, you know? And you can go as deep as you wanna go. So, if you wanna make it extremely hard, you know? Go get that master's in something that's really deep. It's all difficult, I agree with you. And we need more people in STEM and engineering in general. It's tough to see people fight over those topics.
Vanessa: Yeah. It's very discouraging for people who are like, "Oh, I'm not good at math. So I don't wanna be an engineer." It's like, "Well, we should stop saying which is the 'easiest', right?"
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. Yeah. I totally agree. That's a good myth to bust. I'll have to search for social media posts and try to defend that point.
Isaac Oakeson: Good idea. I wanna jump into -- You bring up social media, and that's really how we kind of connected. You've got a fun social media presence. What was the inspiration behind you starting kind of your Instagram and social media about civil engineering?
Vanessa: Well, I think it started sometime in 2019 where I found actually some other engineering accounts and I thought this was really cool because I didn't see a lot of people who look like me, or specifically in civil engineering, at the time. Again, how I mentioned how I stumbled upon civil engineering or engineering in general, I wanted more people to know about my industry or even just STEM. And what better way to connect with the younger generation than social media? So, that's exactly like how -- I'm still learning TikTok; not the best at it.
Isaac Oakeson: I have not dived into that one yet. I'll be honest. Maybe I should.
Vanessa: It's different. I'm still working on it. I think I'm a little -- You're never technically too old for it. But at the same time, I still feel a little old in that generation. I'll just leave it at that. But that's kind of what started me getting into social media. Just trying to share what my experience is as a civil engineer, what my experience is as getting into this industry, and how to, hopefully, promote more people to get into this industry. And it's been really great for the past couple of years, being able to talk to students.
Vanessa: One of my favorite interactions -- I mean, I love all my interactions with the students and the people who have reached out to me. But one of my favorite interactions was from students in the Philippines. They had a project and they had to interview a civil engineer. And they're all the way in the Philippines interviewing me from the US, because I'm Filipino. And it just made me very happy because it's my culture; it's my background. And just being able to connect in that way just made me happy, and being able to continue to do that is why I still do what I do.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, and it sounds like, talking with you, you're very involved too. You're the president of the local chapter for ASCE. Are there other memberships or areas that you're a part of or you've networked and tried to grown that as well?
Vanessa: Well, ASCE is my main one.
Isaac Oakeson: Got you.
Vanessa: Yeah. So I've been involved with ASCE since I first transferred, because I mentioned I started off in community college. Didn't know anything much about civil engineering still in community college. And then when I transferred over to my four-year university, I discovered ASCE after my first or second semester of transferring. I was secretary and have been involved after graduating college for the past six years now. And so, with ASCE within my local chapter, it's a three-year term. So I did president-elect, president currently, and then I have one more year as a director. But yeah, I've been involved for about six years out of college.
Vanessa: And besides that, I am also involved in WTS, which is the Women in Transportation Seminar. So I help out with the scholarship committee there. Sometimes I also participate in APWA, which is the American Public Works association.
Isaac Oakeson: You're busy.
Vanessa: Yeah. And sometimes, I actually have upcoming -- At San Diego State, they have this program called Femineer program. And so, I've been partnering up with them for the past couple of years. And actually they have the flagship location at Cal Poly Pomona, and they have a Femineer program. So I'll be speaking at that in the next couple of weeks.
Isaac Oakeson: Wow. Congratulations! That's big.
Vanessa: Thank you.
Isaac Oakeson: Way to go. Well, you're so busy. On some of your social media, you talked about preparing for the PE exam. One of the things I love paying attention to is kind of your candor on social media. But you recently mentioned taking the PE exam. Could you describe your experience and maybe any tips that you would share with others preparing for that?
Vanessa: Yeah, definitely. The thing with preparing for this current round for the PE, this will be my first time taking it in the new system. Because before it was pencil-and-paper, and now it's gonna be computer-based (CBT). So I don't have exact tips because I haven't taken the computer-based. But what I've been doing has been, I've been taking a course this time around just to get a little bit more familiar and prepare myself for the CBT.
Vanessa: But generally, what I have been doing to prepare is, still setting a binder of all the different topics that I need to study. I love tabbing, my binders and have it color-coordinated per topic, highlighting throughout the different sections. I think even though the test itself has changed in the way that they provide it, the topics and the way that you study shouldn't really change too much.
Vanessa: But definitely practicing problems and going through the different references that they recommend and provide for you are the some of the main things. And having a study schedule. So making sure that, you know, if you set the date for your exam by this date, you would want about three months in advance. And then how are you going to study? How many hours are you gonna study for that?
Vanessa: And just making sure that, you know, you're keeping yourself accountable because it's different when you're in school and everyone has that set date and everyone is studying all at the same time. Whereas now, people are studying all different times. So it's kind of hard sometimes to find like a study group, if you prefer studying in a group
Isaac Oakeson: That is true. And I know -- You know, at Civil Engineering Academy, we've kind of started stuff around that to help people prepare for those exams, and definitely the YouTube channels as well. So check those out if you're interested. But great tips on helping people study for this thing. I know passing the PE is a big deal.
Isaac Oakeson: And actually, one of the questions I get all the time is "Which depth exam is the easiest?" And I've done some videos on this. But I mean, if you go look at just pass rates alone, typically, you know, water resources and transportation, they have higher pass rates. But it's kind of going back to the engineering thing. Like, none of them are easy. None of the exams are easy. They're all difficult. But I guess, if you're looking for a little bit higher pass rates, historically, maybe those two are ones to consider. Anyway, good tips to share.
Isaac Oakeson: Going back to your career and maybe people that are just starting that, what's something that you wish you knew at the start of your career that you know now?
Vanessa: Well, it kind of relates back to your previous question as I wish I would've taken the FE while I was in school. And some colleges, some universities, require you to take it before even graduating. Unfortunately, I did not. And so it was a process for me to remember some topics. Because now I'm working full-time and studying, which is a whole different thing to get used to.
Vanessa: I am currently trying to recommend to my intern and to new interns that are coming in, take your FE before you graduate. And I wish I would've done that. I wish I would've known that. I don't think some of my professors really pushed it enough, which is unfortunate. And I think it's even harder for the students who had the pandemic, you know? Who were studying virtually this entire time. Or for at least the past two years.
Vanessa: So now, even talking with my intern who just recently graduated, there's a lack of people who have their FE or EIT their senior year, which is surprising to me. And I'm trying to really promote that and try to let more students know that they should be taking that or consider taking it before they graduate. Because once you graduate, once you get your full-time job, it's completely different in the sense that you are no longer having this much time to study. You are now working 40 hours. And then after the 40 hours, if you're not used to that, you have to study. So that's what I really recommend and I wish I would've done myself. But you know, that's life. And I still know people who graduated the same year as me who are still working on it.
Isaac Oakeson: It's a difficult exam. I mean, it's definitely not an easy one. I graduated from a school that required it. Like, to graduate, you had to pass the FE exam. So there was additional pressure there to get the thing done. And I remember when I was in school, a lot of people would try to take it their junior year. But you kind of risk not knowing all the subjects that they test you on.
Isaac Oakeson: And so, I think that's great advice to take it around your senior year. And if you're waiting until after your career, it does get harder because, you know, you're treating it like another part-time job to study and prepare for again. And it just makes it harder when you're trying to find time for all that. So good points.
Isaac Oakeson: I just wanted to touch upon other things that -- You know, you've got this fun creative outlet where you're on social media, YouTubeing, and things of that nature. Do you have any tips for other engineers that want to explore that? Whether it's being more creative or maybe even career tips or things of that nature?
Vanessa: Yeah. I guess what I would recommend is find what makes you happy. Because the reason why I do it is because I really enjoyed posting or taking pictures. I really enjoy documenting the things that I do. So I think that's why it comes hand in hand for my creative outlet. I just love being able to post or take pictures, and really experience and show what's going on.
Vanessa: So if that's something that you also enjoy doing, if you really enjoy, you know, sharing what you do or, you know, you like just documenting in some way or another what you do, I recommend just like getting started. Honestly, just get started. You don't really need to know what you're doing when it comes to social media. I still don't really know sometimes what I'm doing. The algorithm, you know, it's one other thing that you just have to somehow figure out.
Vanessa: But just having that creative outlet. You know, do what makes you happy, do what you enjoy. Because you know, you never know what it might lead to. Kind of like how, you know, we found each other through social media basically. And you just never know. If you wanna put yourself out there, I say go for it. I knew I wanted to just do more than work, put my head down. I wanted to do things that could make a difference in some way or another.
Isaac Oakeson: You know, I've thought about that before, and I ended up creating a course to help engineers that want to find a way to be creative and get it on the internet. And I started a website called engineer2entrepreneur.net. And it kind of just walks people through what I do and my world. And if people are interested in that, in trying to find a creative outlet as well, whether it's taking something you know, or creating an idea and getting it online, and, you know, making maybe a side gig out of it. I think it's fun to watch, it's fun to connect with, and it's fun to see what you're doing as well.
Isaac Oakeson: Vanessa, this has been really fun. Thanks for sharing these tips with us. Thanks for talking about your own journey. What's the best place to check out your social media and your YouTube stuff? Where can they find you?
Vanessa: Yeah. Well, if they wanna find me, reach out to me, you can definitely check out my Instagram @itsvnessa. There's also a link in the description that you can reach me through email. And that's also another great way if you want me to answer any questions. If you're a student, I think that's the best way to reach me. I don't really post too much on YouTube, specifically. I did do YouTube interviews or try to do a day in my lives, but that takes quite a lot of time. But I'll try to do more of those.
Vanessa: I'm starting to post a little bit on TikTok and it's just very random. So I wouldn't say that's very specific, but sometimes I try to talk a little bit also about engineering and STEM on TikTok. And I believe my username is slightly different there. It's @its_engineervnessa.
Isaac Oakeson: Okay. Perfect. Well, we'll link all that in our show notes. People can find out and reach out to you. We definitely need more people in STEM. We're thankful for all of our female engineers. We definitely, I think, need more as well. There's just a huge need for engineers in general. So go check out everything and I think you'll really enjoy it. So Vanessa, thanks for jumping on. And let's connect again in the future.
Vanessa: Yeah. Thank you for having me. It was great chatting with you.
Isaac Oakeson: All right. See you.
Vanessa: Bye, Isaac.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
Other Great Content