We’re all familiar with the fact that every single person has a distinctly moving and interesting story of how they got into Civil Engineering and the various obstacles each of them had to face while pursuing that path, ranging from family responsibilities to personal difficulties in learning a specific subject. Today, Isaac brings another one of these incredible stories by talking to Jeff Castillo, a fascinating guy with an arduous past, including being homeless for about a year (that’s right) to being placed into handcuffs (that’s right, again), and then turning it all around.
He got his first construction job when he was 17 years old and he literally knew nothing about it. As a result, most of the people involved in the job wanted him fired. So, he had to start learning the construction aspects by himself. This necessity motivated Jeff to pick up a habit that remained throughout his college days and is still present today, and this habit is to be proactive enough to teach yourself the basics of the subjects and things that you want to know. According to one of his college professors: “How teachable are you to yourself?”
Jeff is a true warrior, given all the setbacks and adversities he has already encountered early in his life and is the living example of one of his mantras, which he learned with his construction boss: “You can have anything you want in the world as long as you’re willing to work for it”. Check out the full episode for more details and insights and don’t forget to check out our home base for everything civil engineering.
Brigham Young University, Idaho – BYUI
The Total Money Makeover, by Dave Ramsey – Jeff’s book recommendation
AutoCAD Course – The Source CAD
CEA’s episode on PDH’s – Top Tips and Advice Regarding Professional Development Hours
Civil Engineering Academy – If you need exams, solved problems or courses, make sure to check out our home base
CEA Community – Haven’t joined up on our free community? What’s wrong with you? J/K. Ok, just go there and join a group of like-minded civil engineers!
Reach out to Isaac – [email protected]
Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/civilengineeringacademy/message
CEA Show Notes
Download our Summary Show Notes for free right HERE.
Isaac Oakeson: Hey, what's going on everybody? Today we've got a special guest. I got Jeff on. How's it going, Jeff?
Jeff Castillo: Doing well, Isaac. How about you?
Isaac Oakeson: I'm doing pretty well. You know, these are always fun to do, and it's fun to hear your journey. So, Jeff actually reached out to me not too long ago and wanted to talk about some internship things. And I was like, "Hey, let's go. Let's go for it". And Jeff was nice to jum,p on. So thank you for doing this.
Jeff Castillo: Yeah. Thank you for having me.
Isaac Oakeson: Before we dive in, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself how you got into engineering, maybe even what you do right now.
Jeff Castillo: Okay. So how I got into engineering was very different than most circumstances on when you ask other engineers. I've asked my staff and how they got into it. And when they hear my story, they are puzzled. And I guess the simple expression is, "Wow". I come from Southern California. I was honestly, and I will say this, a very, very dumb kid. I did a lot of dumb stuff and got arrested a couple times.
Isaac Oakeson: Oh wow.
Jeff Castillo: Almost, I held back a couple of times as well. And my parents were divorced. I did have a love for math. That was something that I enjoyed doing. And my teachers saw that as well. With that, they always encouraged me to take as much math classes as I could. I started liking that, but then I got into the group of "school is dumb", and so I started slacking a lot when I got to middle school and I didn't care. In high school, I didn't care either. I first wanted to go on to being a mechanic. And so I was like, "Well, I'll just be a mechanic then, cause that's what my real dad does". My parents were divorced and we were homeless for a while. So I was like, "Mechanics can do pretty well. They can make a good living, I think. So, might as well do it". I never thought about going to college --
Isaac Oakeson: Pause for a second. You were homeless too?
Jeff Castillo: Yes.
Isaac Oakeson: Wow. How long?
Jeff Castillo: It was for, I want to say, almost half a year. Or half a year to eight months, I believe. My mom, me and my little sister -- And she was pregnant. She just got divorced and we had nowhere to go. So, we were just living out of our vehicle or her vehicle. And it was very difficult for us. We were transitioning from Texas to California and it was -- We couldn't afford a plane. So, we just had to put all our stuff into a car and we just drove up there. We had to stop a lot of times and it was fairly difficult. But she ended up getting back on her feet. We ended up staying with my grandmother in California and got to get some assistance. We then one day we were driving --
Isaac Oakeson: Family is great. Families help out a lot.
Jeff Castillo: Yes they are. We were then driving to school one day and my mom was having a sales conversation with me saying, you should think about going to college. And I just got shocked. And I was like, "why would I ever think of that? No one in my family has ever gone. Why am I going to go to college, if no one's ever gone?". Like, "No". And so I just shut it down right away. And then she said, "Well, you like math. Try to do something with that". And it got me thinking a lot. She's like, "If you like math then do mechanical engineering", She surely didn't know anything. It's like, he wants to be a mechanic, engineering cause of math, so, put them together and you get something. So, that's how I got into engineering at first. It was mainly from my mother explaining that I love cars. That's all I want to be a mechanic and I love math. So, let's go with that. And that was my first step to going into "engineering".
Isaac Oakeson: That's cool. Did you know anything about it at that time or it was just thrown out there and you were like, "Huh. I wonder what that's about"?
Jeff Castillo: Yeah. And it was hard because we didn't have internet. So, I couldn't Google anything. And the only, I guess you could say, research I could do was being at the library, but I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to go read books on my free time.
Isaac Oakeson: Don't have time for that.
Jeff Castillo: Yeah.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, that's crazy. That's a very inspiring story, I think from where you've been and where you're at and where you're going. Definitely an inspiration for anybody that's looking to become an engineer, you know? What do you say to somebody that was in your shoes? I mean, what would you say to yourself if you could talk to yourself back then? What advice would you give yourself?
Jeff Castillo: Some advice I'd give myself right now is something that Ashley, my construction boss, gave me when I was 17, 18. He said, "You can have anything you want in the world as long as you're willing to work for it". And I feel that even though I probably wouldn't have taken it very well, I know it still would have stuck to me when he said that. And it's still a statement until today. You truly can have anything in the world you want today. You just have to be willing to work for it hard. And sometimes you have to put in more at work than time, just to get it done.
Isaac Oakeson: That's great. Great advice. I love that because, I mean, you can be whatever you want to be, as long as you're working for it. And a lot of people might not know that, but work is something that you have to do and it actually makes you feel better. The more work you put in, you know you're progressing, you're moving forward and you see the results of that. And a lot of times early in your career, you might not see immediate results on things. Like, especially if you're studying forFE or PE, maybe it won't impact your career immediately. But that stuff goes on a resume and you become just immediately more valuable to everyone around you. So good advice. Let's jump into a question like this: Something that you learned, a lesson, whether it was through a mistake made or something you've seen at a distance. What's a story that you've had where a mistake has been made and you learned something from it?
Jeff Castillo: So, when I was 17, I started construction, my first construction job during the summer. I had no idea what anything was. I didn't know what a [inaudible] was. I didn't know what the tools were. I had no idea what anything was. And I was told to grab the [inaudible] and look for the crown and make sure it's on the inside of the wall for the outside walls, and in the same side with the inside walls. I didn't know what they were talking about. I was like -- I was physically looking for a King's crown. I was like, "I don't see any King's crown on here. What are you talking about?". And I was with a bunch of guys who are like in their forties - thirties, forties. Had like 15, 20 years experience working with a 17 year old and getting super mad at him for not being able to do a simple thing. So I saw this a lot and I was getting yelled at constantly. Always being cursed at, yelled at and it just made me feel bad. Always being told you're not going to make it as a construction. You shouldn't even be here. Just go be a garbage man or go do something that you know how to do. And that got me very frustrated at first. And I remember I couldn't ask questions without getting in trouble as well. So, what I did was, when everyone would leave, I would stay longer. I would make an excuse and say, "Hey, I forgot my tool belt" or "I forgot that tool in the back. Let me go pick it up real quick". And I said, I was just like, "I'm have my car here". I didn't have a car. I would just say, "I have a car here. I'll just drive home. It's fine". So, I'd wait until everyone left. And then I would go around and look to see how stuff was actually done. What do they truly mean? I had a phone then, so I would Google stuff. And so I looked up YouTube videos, looked up pictures, photos, and tried to see more, what it was, what mistakes I was doing. And the mistakes that I saw that I was doing was, I wasn't using my time wisely then. I knew I could have asked this one particular construction worker for assistance, or even during the lunchtime on my boss when it's not busy. Rather, I was always going when there was concrete being poured, when there was something coming up, trying to just get questions asked that I didn't understand right there. I never actually knew the value of time and work being put together in that scenario.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. And it sounds like you could have asked, somebody, could add a little bit of a mentorship there, or you could have at bugged them to find out what's going on and how to build stuff. Sothat's good advice. So, people are hesitant to ask questions, you know, and try to figure out what your job is and what it all entails. And, don't be scared to ask questions. I know there's tons of people that are willing to help. You just have to ask. But sometimes we don't want to ask because it makes us look stupid, or a lot of times engineers in general just feel like they know it all, if you know what I mean, right? So, sometimes, that's the case. But it's helpful to ask people questions. They're willing to help you. You just have to be willing to ask. So that's great advice. Jeff, what are you working on today? Is there a project you're working on today that might help us get to know more about you?
Jeff Castillo: Yeah. So currently I reside in Idaho and I am a staff engineer. I am doing a lot of civil designs. So, dealing with water and doing very secondly with geotechnical, but mainly doing civil. I was able to design a septic system or two septic systems in West Yellowstone, Montana. And right now I'm currently working on a culinary water for a factory in Twin Falls on where we are redesigning their pipes, the pressure, as well as installing boosted pumps, pressure tanks, valves, and all sorts of scenarios. So, right now I'm working more in civil.
Isaac Oakeson: Is there a specific discipline that you have noticed so far that you are gravitating to, or are you still kind of filling it out and seeing what you like?
Jeff Castillo: I know that I want to do more structural. When I first did my internships, I did my first internship doing some sort of geotechnical and then some sort of structural, and then I was doing a little civil. And I found what I was leaning towards more was structural engineering.
Isaac Oakeson: Very good. Yeah. It feels like you know, if you're getting into civil engineering, a lot of people gravitate towards structural for sure. It's kinda the challenging one people want to tackle, but, you know, you're building stuff and that's great. Every discipline of engineering has its own challenges as you are aware. But I think it's fantastic you're getting exposure to different disciplines as well, because, at some point, they're all gonna come together. You worked a little bit with that group, a little bit with that group, and that's awesome you're already doing that. Cool. So, we covered this a little bit, but you talked about that you're interested today in structural engineering. So, it sounds like that's where you're gravitating. These are kind of just quick, short answer, questions, things of that nature. But what's an obstacle you faced when becoming an engineer? I know you briefly -- You covered a lot of obstacles already. But is there any takeaways that you could share with other students or other people that might want to go into this field?
Jeff Castillo: Yeah. So, I didn't take my first official engineering course, which is, in where I went to school at BYU, Idaho, is engineering statics. I didn't take that until my mid sophomore year. And with that being said, I struggled a lot and I found myself struggling and I had a wonderful professor. I went to his office and I told him, I just can't understand this. I'm watching your videos. I'm trying to understand, reading the book, and I just am not understanding it. And he literally sets an office hour time for me so he can work with the one-on-one, and give me more resources. I saw that as an opportunity to utilize my professor's office hours as often as I could. Something also that I did was, I was a volunteer tutor at the -- we had what we called a [inaudible] lab. So that helped me because my professor said, "If you can teach this to somebody, then they will stay. If you can't teach it, then you don't truly understand it". And so that helped me get into the volunteer tutoring, helped me get into the position of being an actual tutor for the department and be able to understand. So the advice I would give is: utilize your professor's office hours. Try to get to know them. Get to know them because you're most likely going to take more classes from them, and if they know you now, then they'll be able to know you as you get more further down the road and actually understand where you're struggling and what questions you may have, so they can resolve for future students that may come to them in a different generation.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. I don't know how rare that is, but I don't know how busy every professor is, but I'm sure some are busier than others, but that's awesome. He was able to open the door and you recognize that that was an opportunity for you to take advantage of. I also liked that you've mentioned becoming a tutor to help other people, you know? Teach what you know and it will stick and you'll get to know it even better. So, that all helped? How did the class end up for you?
Jeff Castillo: It helped a lot. Yeah. I ended up passing. I think I got like a B plus. So, I didn't get an A, but I still was happy and I knew that that was my score. That wasn't from cheating. That wasn't from anything else. It was what I knew. Yeah.
Isaac Oakeson: That's fantastic. I love that. Man, you just sound like a hard worker all around. I'm extremely impressed and that's what you've got going on. Thanks for sharing that. You talked about this already, about the best advice you've ever received, but is there any other good advice in general you had heightened for our audience?
Jeff Castillo: Yes. So one thing that I noticed and I apologize [inaudible] right here. When I was in school, we got a bunch of emails or announcements from different companies. They were constantly saying, "We are looking for interns who know Revit, who know AutoCAD". My university didn't offer that to us. That was offered for construction management and architect majors, and they wouldn't allow us to take it because our schedule was too full, and we had too many credits. We had too much of a heavy load. I saw this emails and announcements as an opportunity to try to teach myself. And that's something that I've learned, especially in the field with my few months of being a full-time staff engineer, sometimes you just have to get a book and read it, or look up a YouTube video and just attempt to teach yourself. You may not be able to teach yourself the full concepts, but if you can just understand the basics, you will build on it off of practice. And that's how I was able to learn Revit and AutoCAD, because I saw that those two were a big factor in the field I wanted. I wanted to go into structural, where I needed to watch a YouTube video and just practice. I went to my professor and asked another professor, the structural engineering one, and asked him how could I learn AutoCAD or how can I learn Revit? And he gave me the advice of "Go out, take some photos of some commercial buildings, or even residential if you can, but don't be creepy. Like, just take some photos of it and try to redraw it in Revit or AutoCAD and see how you can get. Red line your own work. See where you can get. Just practice. Look up videos, look up tutorials. Try to find a course. Try to find whatever you can and just teach yourself". And he said, "That's a skill that you need to be able to develop as you get further in career is how teachable are you to yourself?" And that's something that I would say is look for the demand out there. If you're going into transportation and they say, "You need to know Civil 3D or MicroStation", try to find a course on that. Try to teach yourself something small with that. If you need to learn HEC-RAS, look for that as well. Look for opportunities to teach yourself. It's a difficult concept, but it shows a lot to, not only employers, but to yourself, as you go into your classes further that you are able to teach yourself the basics or get past the basics. To be able to understand the true concept of the problem.
Isaac Oakeson: I love that. You mentioned a lot of software, so I think a lot of this pplies to anybody trying to learn a software in their field. If you want to know more, then great. But yeah, getting to know some of those tools that engineers use -- If you can even just put on a resume that you've got some experience using it, that puts you ahead of the game, because some students that come out of school don't have any experience with any of the tools that are out there. But if you can say, "Yeah, I've been practicing with it for a year and I've modeled some of this stuff", that puts you way ahead of the game. So, that's great advice. Tell us about what course you took to learn those tools.
Jeff Castillo: So for AutoCAD, I was able to take a course where I just literally Googled AutoCAD courses, but I found this one gentleman called The Source CAD. And I had to pay a small fee. It wasn't too expensive. It was something that student can afford, so it was pretty cheap. He was able to walk through it. He dumbed it down to where my wife, who was studying biology, was able to understand it step by step on how to do it. And she was even able to tell me. "Here's What you do". And I was like, "How do you know how to do?". It's' like, "You're studying biology. This doesn't pertain to it. You don't even know what a CAD is". And so I kinda know like, "Wow, this guy is really good. So I should actually start".
Isaac Oakeson: That's good. Anybody can learn it.
Jeff Castillo: That's where I did AutoCAD. Udemy was mainly, honestly, from YouTube videos practice. Sorry, Revit was mainly from YouTube videos practice and a website called Udemy, where it's, you may be familiar with it, but it's like online courses where you can learn many different factors. You got to pay a little bit, a small fee as well, like very, very small. But you get a lot of videos and you ge it for life. So I use that as well. But I would say the main things that I actually use until I want to learn more was YouTube. Those were the main factors that I use.
Isaac Oakeson: You gotta love YouTube. You got to. I mean, when I started Civil Engineering Academy, that was the first thing I did. I knew that people were on YouTube and I started creating problems and solving problems and putting them on YouTube to help people like study for their engineering exams. Beause it was a struggle for me when I took my engineering exams. So I was like, "Hey, let's get this out there". Youtube is fantastic. It's like a magic box, you know? We'll try to link those other courses that you mentioned as wellinto our show notes, so people can find those, if they're wanting to learn Revit or wanting to learn AutoCAD as well, just so they have those available to them. I think that'd be a good thing. So, I guess that we could consider a sweet resource for everyone to know about. Is there any others that you wanted to mention to our audience?
Jeff Castillo: Not that I can think of off the top of my head. Those are the main ones that I use, specifically. For Civil 3D and MicroStation, I use either LinkedIn Learning for Microstation, as I find that a very, very useful category. For HAC-RES, my work was able to provide some videos for that. So I just -- I don't know. I think I got that from the PDH's, which is what you spoke about last week. So they just had those videos saved, and yeah, I would just say Googling them is the best option to teach yourself.
Isaac Oakeson: Good deal. How about this? Who's someone that you've looked up to in your life and why is that?
Jeff Castillo: So, this going to sound really weird, but it was my construction boss. Even though he cursed a lot the engineer, he always hated reading some plans and always trying to say, "How can you fit this [inaudible] with this header? You cannot fit it. It physically will not fit". He helped me learn a lot. He always, and I don't know if it was just him not being able to teach me, but he would always say, "go get this forklift", "pick up those two ply, "take them to the roof, lift them up there" or "go get the staples and staple around here" or "go get this". He always seemed to have trusted me. And with that, it took a while for me to get respect or trust from anybody. Now it's fairly easy. But back then, it was quite difficult getting that. And even though everybody else, all the other members wanted to fire me and everything, he never did. He kept me on and that meant a lot to me. And he always gave me the advice of just be willing to work for it. Just be willing to work for it. You're going to fall down a million times and you have to get up a million times. He's like "The moment you don't want to get up, It's the moment you truly fall to everybody and just let them win".
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah, that's great. I mean, that applies to every aspect of your life. It could be while you're in school, it could be a particular job you've got like that construction job you had. That's really good advice. So, appreciate that. Jeff, is there a particular book that you'd recommend to the CEA community out there? It could be on leadership education, fun, whatever.
Jeff Castillo: Yes, there is. And I would actually go a different route than what I feel most people would. It's called The Total Money Makeover, by Dave Ramsey. I feel something that young engineers don't understand is money. Like, how to manage it, how to go from maybe like a $10 an hour, $14 an hour or $60, or whatever hour are we, to now salary. And I feel that if you understand the business side of stuff, it can also help you with your career, understanding budget wise, deadlines. And if you're going to go over budget or get soon a budget, when they stop and ask questions, so you don't go over the budget. And I feel that Dave Ramsey helps you understand what money is and why, where it comes from and how to use it. Because, as you know, projects have deadlines, have budgets, and if you are stuck, maybe it's like two hours, on something that you could have asked a question to get done with it in like like fifteen minutes. You need to be able to recognize that, rather than just try to figure it out yourself. And I feel he hits a very hard.
Isaac Oakeson: Oh, I love that. Yeah. I'm a big Dave Ramsey fan myself. So if you guys need help with money matters, it's definitely a go-to book and will help you get started, you know? Pointed the right way for sure. So, I appreciate that. That's a really good one. We'll link that in our notes as well. So, cool. I like to ask this to engineers that I interview, but if you had all the resources in the world, what's something you'd like to be a part of in the world of civil engineering or I guess anything in general?
Jeff Castillo: It would be wood design. When I was in my undergrad, I unfortunately had to take either physics to graduate on time, the second physics or wood design. They were the exact same time, so I was like, "Well, I want to graduate on time. So I'm going to take physics". And I got very, very devastated from that. I've been trying to teach myself wood design actually, just get a text -- I bought a textbook and I just been trying to read it and understand it better. I always see myself, especially with my construction background, just looking at wood buildings, commercial buildings. And oftentimes I have friends who are framers there. So I ask, "Can I go inside your site and just look at it?". My wife always gets mad at me because I'll come home and talk about it for hours. Then she just gets like "Jeffrey, just stop". And I can tell she gets annoying, but I would say that just like, I'm not really big into the huge buildings, but just small residential custom homes, like designing homes that you want to have, like you want suited to your lifestyle. That's what I feel. If I could be on resource or knowledge for that, it's where I want my dream positioned to be in. To go helping that.
Isaac Oakeson: Perfect. I really appreciate that. I think also you bring a unique combination of being in the construction world and being in engineering. So, those two together is a really good combination becasue, usually as a new engineer, a lot of engineers haven't been out in the construction world yet. So, they aren't used to working with, you know, a superintendent or a foreman or anything like that. And so, if you're having those skills already, then you're not hesitant to go talk to them, discuss their ideas, find out what they know, because they often know more about a job and its details than you do. You've been working on a computer, you know/ But to see it in real life, sometimes those pieces don't match, but I love that you want to get into or learn more and do more with woodworking. I think that's fantastic. I like wood stuff myself, but I haven't dived into that too much. So, that's great. All right. Well, I appreciate you coming on. Is there any last piece of guidance you got for anyone else out there?
Jeff Castillo: Just never doubt yourself. Never doubt your knowledge and never doubt your abilities to actually be able to achieve something. You know yourself better than anybody else. You can let words offend you or hurt you, but it's up to you to determine how you want to transition those words into actions. You are your own person, you know your capabilities. Yes, you will fail at times, but you need to, as, you know, learn from your mistakes and just carry on. The past is the past. You can change your future more than you can your past. And trudt your knowledge.
Isaac Oakeson: Beautiful. Great advice. I love it. Jeff, I appreciate you jumping on sharing with us, your wisdom you've learned through your own life and your own journey into civil engineering. You've obviously I think you've graduated, so you've got your FE under your belt, right? So the next step is PE, is that right?
Jeff Castillo: Correct. Yeah. And I'm studying for that to take it, hopefully, next year in October
Isaac Oakeson: Next year. October. Sounds good, man. I appreciate you jumping on the show and we'll see you next time.
Jeff Castillo: Thanks. Thanks for having me. Bye.
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