Today’s guest is Cal Poly professor Dr. Hani Alzraiee. Prior to academia, he spent 17+ years working as an engineer and project manager in heavy and complex projects in the oil and gas industry. In this episode, he talks about what he learned from his own experience, both in school and in the field, that you can apply to your own career.
Tune in to Learn:
- The 2 biggest threats to labor productivity and your project's timeline
- A must-have in school so you can have a successful career afterwards
- What BIM really is — and how it'll change the future of civil engineering projects
- What is the PMP certification and how it can be valuable to your civil engineering career
- The best time to get your FE exam done
- Why you should have the PE license…even if you don't need it for your particular role
- His switch into the academic world — and how you can do the same if you want to
- The challenges of being a university professor you didn't know about
Connect With Dr. Hani:
The Ultimate Civil FE Review Course
The Ultimate Civil PE Review Course
The Ultimate Civil PE Depth Review Courses
FE and PE Practice Exams
Free Facebook Community
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. Excited to be with you on another awesome podcast episode. Today I have a special guest, Dr. Hani Alzraiee. He teaches at Cal Poly; he's a professor there. But previous to that, he was actually a practicing engineer for 17+ years, and dealt a lot in construction projects in the oil & gas industry, and many other things.
Isaac Oakeson: So I bring him on to talk about what that transition was like from going from practicing engineer to the academic world, what challenges he faced as an engineer, and also the challenges he faces as a professor. And really just his whole journey into this world of civil engineering with advice that's gonna help you on your own journey as well. And we also talk about the value of the PMP; he's got that. Which is Project Management Professional, as well as his PE license as well.
Isaac Oakeson: Anyway, lots of tips are shared. I think you're really gonna enjoy this. Definitely give us a like and a subscribe and share this with a friend if you haven't done that already. And check us out if you need help with your FE or PE at civilengineeringacademy.com. We love help helping people on their journey to become a professional engineer.
Isaac Oakeson: So anyway, with all of that said, let's get right into it. It's coming up right after this.
Isaac Oakeson: All right. We are live. Hey, Dr. Hani, thanks for joining me today on the Civil Engineering Academy Podcast. Appreciate you jumping on and doing this with me.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: Thank you for having me, Isaac.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah, this will be fun. So, I always like to start these by just kind of finding out your own background. Like, how did you find yourself into this world of civil engineering? How did we get here?
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: Well, I mean, it started when I was a kid. So I like to build stuff. Small things, small structures together. And this really, you know, triggered my passion about building bigger stuff. So, after I graduated from high school, I mean, civil engineering was, like, my priority. In the 90s, 1996-1997 at that time, computer science and computer engineering were, you know, the top things in the industry. People said like, "Well, we are done with civil engineering." But for me it was like kind of, "No, this is my area." And this is way I, like, continued my career in the future. So that's how it started off.
Isaac Oakeson: Okay. Where was home? Where is high school? Where was that at?
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: So, I'm originally from Gaza, Palestine, the Middle East. I did my high schooling there, and I was lucky to get a scholarship to do my undergrad in civil engineering in India from 1997 to 2001. Then I went back to Gaza. I worked as a structural engineer for some time. And then after that, I did my masters there.
Isaac Oakeson: Wow.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: Yeah. And four years after that, I went to Canada. I did my PhD in Canada there in Montreal, and worked also in the oil and gas sector. But there's a lot of, you know, in between these days. Just a snapshot quickly to you, you know?
Isaac Oakeson: Was it work that took you to Canada and then you got your PhD? Or was it the PhD program that took you to Canada?
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: Well, I started applying in 2007. By that time, I had around six years of experience. And when I did my masters, I felt I needed to continue this journey. So my master was thesis-based, not engineering-based. I would say, like, master in engineering you just take courses. No, I took thesis-based. So I was doing some research regarding labor productivity and all of that. So I said, "Well, I need to continue that journey." So Canada was a good opportunity with my supervisor, Dr. [inaudible]. He offered me to work with him under the product, and this is how it started.
Isaac Oakeson: Wow, that's interesting. So, you went from being, like, an engineer, practicing engineer, doing stuff like that, and now you're an associate professor. You're a professor --
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: An assistant professor.
Isaac Oakeson: Assistant professor. That's okay. And what motivated you to go that route in your career? That you wanted to go back and teach?
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: Yeah. When I started, as I mentioned, I started as a structural engineer. Two years of, you know, calculations and all of that. But I felt like, you know, "I need to see how these designs are built at the end of the day." So then I, you know, I put my interest in construction and I started working as, you know, like a [inaudible], communicating between the construction team and design team to, you know, see the issues there. And this is where I started, like my, you know, construction engineering career, as well as my graduate school is in that.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: So after 17 years within the industry, I feel like, you know, I gained a lot of experience with that. And besides, my love to teach and, you know, help students. I said like, "Well, I think enough for industrial experience. Let me shift gears to academics." And I really like it. I mean, so far, so good, really. And working with the students and, you know, helping them as much as they can.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: And then, I have to mention one thing. In my discipline, like, knowing how things are done in the field is very important things so you can reflect on it during your classes, during your lectures that connect, you know, the real world to the, you know, academic world.
Isaac Oakeson: What advice would you give to anybody that may be considering that same route? Maybe they're working professionals right now, but they wanna maybe go teach, too. Is there any advice there that could help somebody navigate that transition?
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: You know -- There's one thing, also, maybe I forgot to mention. The academic life is kind of, you know, gives you flexibility. But it's a lot of work. I don't wanna say, [inaudible] experience. The industry, you know, work, but it has a lot of time.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: So for people who are really practicing now as practitioners and they want to, you know -- Maybe they can pursue it part-time, sharing their experience with academia is something that we are looking [inaudible].
Isaac Oakeson: Could you describe maybe the best or the biggest project that you worked on? Or some fun projects that you worked on as you were practicing civil engineer?
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: So, yeah. As I mentioned at the beginning, I worked on multiple projects. Infrastructure projects, housing projects. And the last seven years before joining Cal Poly in 2018, I worked in the oil and gas industry. And those projects were really challenging, because it involves many people, different disciplines of engineering. Electrical, Mechanical, Civil, Structural, Geomatics, etc. So these projects were really challenging and fast-paced projects, and I learned a lot from it.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: And I still tell my students stories about those projects and how, you know, sometimes things went bad. Sometimes the client was angry because of the schedule and all of that. So these are mega projects, lots of dynamics challenges there. Yeah. I mean, these are the ones I really remember as, you know, the most -
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. It's funny how we always remember the -- Like, the most challenging projects are the ones that stick with us, right? So, I'm sure your students love hearing about those as you describe them. And very applicable to everything you're teaching.
Isaac Oakeson: You know, switching over to being a professor, what's been, maybe, the biggest challenge tackling that that you've seen so far?
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: You know, from a practical perspective, I was ready to teach and share my experience. But shifting from the industry to academia was a bit challenging the first year. So I joined Cal Poly in 2018. Honestly, like, I would -- You know, even the generation, the students, you know, culture and dynamics change from what, you know, I have seen like, you know, like in 10 years.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: I finished my PhD in 2013. You know, almost like, I don't know, seven, five years; things changed. And this was the first thing, to adapt to new norms there. For example, using the cell phones during the lecture was something common, you know? The first lecture I was a bit like, "Why is this happening?" You know? I remember, like, before, we were not allowed to use cell phones. If you wanna use your cell phone, go out. Even in the industry. Like, if you are in a meeting and using your cell phone. I mean, they don't allow you to do that. So that's what --
Isaac Oakeson: Agree.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: Yeah, that's one of the challenges I have to tackle and to adapt to it. The other things is getting like, you know, up to the speed with what's happening in the teaching world. Like, there are lots of research in that area, new methods, what's called [inaudible]. Things that are not really, you know, clear to me.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: And also Cal Poly is "learn by doing." Here they focus on "learn by doing" culture, and I have to change, you know, the way that I teach the classes in order to ensure, you know, students learn how things are happening in the field in the classroom. And that was a big challenge because, when you come with expertise like that, and to make it small and to make it more understandable to students who have, you know, limited knowledge of how things are done in the field. So that was a big challenge. But after the first year, I think things went great and I'm happier here, really.
Isaac Oakeson: That's an interesting perspective that you've had, and that's kind of why I wanted to talk about it. You know, as you've dived into this. So that's a really interesting thought you have there.
Isaac Oakeson: Do you have any tips for people that, I guess, find themselves in school, in a civil engineering program? Maybe study tips or anything that can make them more effective as a student?
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: Well, I would say connect with your professors all the time. If you are struggling, reach out to them. I'm pretty sure people, you know, wants to just succeed. I mean, no one wants you to fail at this level. Reaching out to professors, making sure you are on top of your things, understanding what's going in the industry. At the end of the day when you graduate, you need to make sure that your resume stands out, you know, compared to other schools or compared to other people who are applying for that.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: Internship is a big thing to consider, you know, from your first year in the industry. Some students, you know, they go for an internship after, you know, first year, and they say, "Look, well, I don't like civil engineering." You see, they switch gears. Some of them, they come from other departments, like chemical. "Oh, I wanna be in civil engineering. I'm from the agricultural field or etc.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: So, making sure that you can connect with the industry, with faculty, with your students, with seniors, is a very important thing. If you isolate yourself in the first year or two years, this will continue with you even after you graduate. So, building your personality, start from the school. Or if you're lucky in high school, you know, you can do that. But in the university, it's a very must to be successful in the industry in the future.
Isaac Oakeson: That makes sense. No, that's great advice. I look back on my own life and, yeah. Professors I connected with and developed a relationship with, did carry through past school. And you kind of stay in touch with them. So that's great advice.
Isaac Oakeson: I think one of the big things that we keep hearing about in the industry is BIM modeling. How do you see that affecting or being implemented now into, I guess, curriculum or even in the industry as a whole? Where do you see that being applicable, I guess, as a faculty member and what you're teaching, and applicable to the civil engineering industry as a whole? How is it helping?
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: So, BIM started a long time ago. Like, in the 70s. It started as a parametric modeling and mostly used in the aviation industry and mechanical engineering. It was so expensive for us as civil engineers to use it. So we were using AutoCAD. 2005, you know, technology improved and things were easier to adapt BIM.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: So people have misconception about BIM. Do you think BIM is a software? BIM is not a software. BIM is a process that we follow to design, to construct, and to maintain, you know, the facility after we are done with the construction. So, unfortunately, in in the United States, we are quite behind on this. Europe, UK, the [inaudible], you know, every governmental project would have a BIM since 2015. Holland, you know, same thing. France, same thing. And Australia and New Zealand, etc.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: In the US, it's gaining lots of momentum, especially in the private sector. And, you know, improves your design, improves your construction, and you can do so many things with it. You know, what is better than having the model, the project that you're gonna build, in the virtual world. You gotta design everything and it exactly mimics what you gotta build in the future. And then after that you can experience with it. You can do testing on it, you can do analysis, simulation, etc. And all of that.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: I remember one of the project that I worked on in the past. We won a project because we created a simulation of the construction. How are we gonna do the construction? And the client convinced with this methodology, and they awarded us the product. So it gives you really a good, you know, edge in the industry to be competitive in order to win projects and be successful.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. I've seen a huge uptick in companies, you know, trying to find employees that do BIM modeling, so I can tell as an industry. Although I did not know, in other countries, how adopted BIM modeling was. So that's an eye-opener to me, but I can tell that it is getting momentum here in the US as people are leaning on that, or they want to see it as part of your overall package of what you can offer when you win a project. So that's an interesting insight that you have there.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: And to add to this, BIM doesn't stop when you are done with the construction. It continues with the facility management. People in the facility management, they use it as a platform to manage the facility for the coming hundred years. Instead of referring to the documents or to the, you know, the stack of files there, they just go to the model and get the number of the item from there. And they know this item is, you know, within the warranty or expired. And send someone to fix it. And you have the pass number and all of that. All of that in digital format rather than on a paper format.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah, I can see it as a huge time saver for continual maintenance of a project. That's awesome. I know in the transmission world, we have similar software that we use, although BIM is not necessarily a software. But yeah, you're designing things in a 3D model space that you can see, and it can imply things to. It's fun to hear that other, I guess, civil branches are catching up to all of that. So that's pretty cool.
Isaac Oakeson: Okay, so that's BIM modeling. You wrote a technical paper about scope changes to projects. Could you quickly describe how scope changes affect projects and labor?
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: You know, this came from a project that I worked on in the past. We ran into a situation we had lots of change order on that project. If I remember, several like 220 change orders on a $35 million project. And the biggest problem was with the engineering designs for that project. So, you know, I used my PhD expertise in order to come up with a process that we can look into how to quantify the impact on labor.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: Because when you have a change order, it's not only the cost of the change order that you are going to, you know, submit for the client, but your labor, you know, who are working on the original scope of the work, are affected by the change orders.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: For example, if you are planning your day to do the foundation and all of a sudden you get a change order; there's something wrong with the foundation. So now you have to switch gears, you have to replan, you have to remobilize your team to somewhere else in order to, you know, make them busy. But with that, you lose your productivity. And this loss of productivity is not quantified when you submit the change order.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: So what I did in this paper, basically, from that experience and from what I learned in that project and what I proposed, you know, to the client and to our team. So I put it together in a paper and I published it. So, the bottom line of it, we need to quantify the labor productivity loss due to change orders. So that was it.
Isaac Oakeson: That was a lot of change orders on that project.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: A lot. You know, a lot. I mean, and at the end of the day, we were losing money on that project. And the client did not acknowledge that. You know, the loss of productivity on our main scope due to these change orders. So we have to prove it. So that's what, you know, basically, I did at that time. And honestly, I did not get time to publish the paper in its current format. And finally I got it publish it, really.
Isaac Oakeson: Nice. So it sounds like there's a huge piece of importance on getting your scope of work right at the beginning. If that's not right and you're dealing with change orders, something happened where we didn't scope this thing correctly. That's a lot of change orders
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: Yeah. You know what the biggest problem in my experience is? Having lots of change orders and lots of RFIs (Requests for Information). So these are the two things that really impact the project performance and, you know, the labor productivity. And eventually, you know, there'll be, you know, conflict between the client and the contractor or the design team, etc. So minimizing these two things make the project really easy and a piece of cake, honestly.
Isaac Oakeson: Okay. That's good to know.
Isaac Oakeson: Well I wanted to talk about this. You have a lot of initials after your name. One of them is PMP, for Project Management Professional. I'm curious why you wanted to get that and how that has helped your engineering career?
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: There's one thing we always, as an engineer, we focus on the technical aspects. You know, designing, calculating, and all of that. But looking into the project management aspect, you know, you need a different set of skills to deal with that. And every project requires a project manager. So I was like, you know, lucky to work with project managers who would have engineering background and some project managers would have, like, business background. And you can see the difference, okay?
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: So I said to myself, "Well, I need to look into this." Because I started acquiring some kind of experience in project management, but it wasn't, you know, I would say, a formal experience. So I wanted to do the PMP and see how, you know, the formal project management, you know, works. And that's really helped me a lot, honestly.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: So many, you know, concepts about the scope change, about, you know, scope, the definition, about project charter and communication. So many stuff, you know, that really I was doing it maybe in a different way or based on how I learned it from the previous, you know, project managers or other projects. So that's really shaped me and helped me, you know, excel and understand sometimes with the business terminology. Accounting and all of that.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. Well, maybe that's something engineers could look at getting in as well. Not everyone dives into that, but sounds like it definitely can help you in your career.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: And that's why I'm proposing a class here that I'm gonna teach next Spring is called Engineering Project Management, focusing on the project management related to the engineers and during the design, construction and what's called commissioning.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah, that makes sense. So there's entire roles out there that are called PEs, or Project Engineers, that is very much in line with, basically project management. So, that's very interesting.
Isaac Oakeson: Could you describe the value of getting your PE license? How important that is?
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: Well, that's something I tell my students all the time. You know, getting your FE when you are a student is something really very important. Don't wait until you graduate to work on this. Do that while you are students. Some of our students really, they got their PE exam, they pass the exam while they are students in their senior year here at Cal Poly.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: So one of the things I tell my students, regardless if you're gonna be like in construction, maybe you don't need the PE and maybe you say, "Well, I don't need a PE for that career." But I tell them like, you know, after three years of graduating, you are not an engineer anymore. And they ask me, "Why? We have the degree." I tell them, "Well, the PE allows you to stay current in the area."
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: There is an organization that really looks after your performance, after your experiences and, you know, make sure that you are still an engineer. If you don't have your PE, I mean, you are gonna work in the industry, but still, like, you didn't know what's going on in the engineering world. You don't know what are changes.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: So the PE required to submit, you know, uh, certain years of experience in order to keep your PE after, I don't know, two years, three years, depends from state to state. So it's a very important thing to have your PE designation after you graduate, right from school. You can do it, you know, later on, but it'll be really difficult because you'll almost forget about, you know, what you learned in the classroom, during the classes, during your degree persuasion. And when you do it right after or during, it'll be easy for you. It will not take much of your time.
Isaac Oakeson: I totally agree with you. Great points. If you haven't earned that, come check us out at civilengineeringacademy.com. We can help you out there too as well. And there's lots of other resources as well to help you.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, this has been really fun. I appreciate you jumping on talking about your experience. You know, moving from engineer to a professor and everything else in between that we've talked about. Definitely has been insightful. Is there a good way for our audience to connect with you if they maybe had questions about anything we've chatted about today?
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: Yeah, sure. They can reach me out through my LinkedIn profile, Hani Alzraiee. Or through my email address at Cal Poly and contact information. You just google my name and you can get all my information. I'll be more than happy to help and assist.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, we'll link all that in the show notes. I appreciate you doing this with me. This has been really fun. And maybe we'll see you on a future episode. Who knows? But thanks for doing this with me.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: Thank you so much. And thanks Civil Engineering Academy for, you know, focusing on the civil engineers and the people who are practicing in this field and helping our future civil engineers.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah, we love it. Wanna spread the word. Thank you. Have a great day. We'll see you.
Dr. Hani Alzraiee: You too. Thank you.
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