Powered by social movements all over the world, women are getting more and more space, visibility, and respect within areas of expertise that were mainly dominated by men some time ago, such as natural sciences and engineering. Today Melissa dives a bit into women in the engineering field and some things she’s had to deal with.
Melissa and Isaac also dive into the details of her life as a mother and an engineer, how she deals with her work-life balance, especially now with COVID and the work-from-home culture, her experiences as a woman in the field, her workload in her transportation industry, and many tips for the aspiring engineer of the future. Listen to the full episode and enjoy this inspirational story.
Melissa is a senior consultant engineer for the roadway-highway team, and a local project operations manager at WSP in Orange County, California. This means she is the project manager for the majority of the large projects they handle, and she also helps other PMs manage the business side of projects.
Melissa Brady – LinkedIn
WSP – Website
WTS – Website
NSCE – Website
Melissa’s Book Recommendation – PMBOK
Chloe, The Engineer – @chloetheengineer
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CEA Show Notes
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Isaac Oakeson: All right. What's going on, everybody? Isaac here. I have Melissa Brady with me today. How's it going, Melissa?
Melissa Brady: Going good. Thanks for having me.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah, I'm excited to have you on. I think before we dive into this, people should know that we actually went to school together.
Melissa Brady: Yes. It's been just a few years. Starting to feel a little old here, but -- It's always good to catch up, though. Especially a few states separating us these days.
Isaac Oakeson: Yes, yes. Andso now you're in California. I'm in Utah. But I wanted to reconnect and I think this is going to be fun. So, thank you for joining me. This is going to be really good. I've provided a little bit of an intro about yourself, but why don't you dive into a little bit more about yourself? Maybe how you got into engineering and what do you do now?
Melissa Brady: Yeah, of course. So, engineering was not originally my desire, but I always had a somewhat connected world. A lot of engineers wanted to go into architecture, our big competitor, right? It's something we don't like to talk about. But when I was in elementary school, an architect came to our school and gave this great presentation and it was something that just really interested me and, you know, got me really kind of thinking about what I wanted to do. So, fortunately, unfortunately, I don't know. I have a big brother. He actually knew since he was three. I don't know how a three-year-old knows this, but that he always wanted to be an engineer. So, he convinced me that architecture was not the way to go. Then I should go with the engineering route. So, kind of switched courses on that way and followed up that, you know, what goes better with architecture than structural engineering? Learned very quickly that was not for me, though. So, that was definitely not it. So, I kind of went through that course of, you know, just trying to figure out what part of engineering really was for me. All throughout middle school, high school, really stuck with the drafting courses and then, of course, entering into college. And then, when I was in college of courseI think you and I had environmental engineering classes together, If I remember right. Those were kind of -- Because you were ahead of me in school.
Isaac Oakeson: I think there was a few we had. Environmental was a tough one.
Melissa Brady: Yeah! That was definitely not for me either. But trying to decide, I was working for a land development firm at the time as an intern and was really enjoying it. But, unfortunately, as we talked about a little while ago you know, that time period was not real stable in our economy. So, when the recession hit, engineering world kind of -- We were fortunate that we were hit last, but, being in land development, kind of changed my whole world. And so I ended up focusing real heavily on water resources. That still didn't work out for me. So, it's like I kept going tumbling down this road that, you know, everywhere I turned it felt like there just wasn't really a whole lot of options. And lo and behold, transportation was still rolling right along. So, at the time in Salt Lake, UDOT had released Mountain View Corridor. So, that was in development. And so, I started -- I would say I was politely trying to get an interview, but it was borderline harassing one of the PMs. I was trying just to get my name on the door constantly calling, trying to get a position, and finally they gave in and hired me. So, obviously I did something right, and kind of fell into transportation in that way. And all honesty I still, at the time, wasn't sure I wanted to be in transportation. I had it in my mind that I didn't want to do transportation, but being on a big project like that just totally changed my mind. And I actually fell in love with it. It was something that I really enjoyed and having, you know, being on the roadway highway side, it's kind of good to see all parts of what goes into it. So, kind of interesting. It's been a kind of a long road. Like I said, I felt like constantly trying and door was closed. I always tell -- I do a lot of presentations with students and I'm always telling them. It's like, "Don't just automatically block out that you're not going to do something", because, I think my sophomore year, I was like, "I am not going to be a transportation engineer". Like "That's not what I'm going to be". And here I am.
Isaac Oakeson: That's great. No, I think that's really wise because, you know, every engineer I think should be flexible in their options that are presented in front of them, and a lot of times you just don't know what you don't know. And when you're in school, you get a very small glimpse of maybe some things that you're studying. But, when you get out in the real world and see how things and all the pieces fit together sometimes you want to change course or you do something you find out you want to do and you go for it. So, that's interesting.
Melissa Brady: Well, yeah. And you know, what really surprised me was some of the aspects about transportation engineering that I didn't think I would like all that much, are actually some of my favorite parts. I really enjoy that the public has a strong opinion about the kind of work that we do. And that was something that I thought I would, without a doubt, hate. I didn't want everybody, or I thought, I didn't want everybody telling me how to do my job. But it's enjoyable because engineering is kind of a mystery to the general public. You say you're an engineer and they're like, "Oh, that's great. So, what do you do?" Yeah. So, it's very much a mystery. But when you say, "Oh, well I'm a transportation engineer. I work on freeways", immediately a light bulb goes off and they can have a conversation. So, there's opportunities to kind of educate about what it is that we do, exactly. And so, it's kind of nice to be able to have that dialogue and not just them turning and walking away.
Isaac Oakeson: Awesome. That's great. So, take us now to what you do. I mean, what's your title? What are you doing today?
Melissa Brady: So, I am currently at WSP in Orange, which is located in Orange County, California. I have two roles in the office. So, one my -- I guess our titles recently changed. So, right now I'm a senior consultant engineer for the roadway-highway team. And then, which is kind of like just a lead engineer on it. Because our projects are very large, I am usually PM or deputy PM on a lot of these projects. And then, aside from that, I am also on the operations team. So, specifically, it's the local project operations manager, is my title. And I oversee two offices for that role. And, essentially what that is, is just helping our PMs manage the business side of their projects and make sure that, you know, we're managing the profitability of our business and that projects continue to be successful. Andyou know, watching it for those warning signs, keeping them on track and checking in with the PMs. So it's an interesting balance between the two, but it's a good insight having the two also.
Isaac Oakeson: Wow. So Melissa, you are super busy. I know this because you also have a family and you're running all this engineering stuff. So like, how do you balance? What's the work-life balance? How do you do all this?
Melissa Brady: Oh, goodness. You know, it's funny because I always get told, "Oh, you're a superhero" By no means am I a superhero or anything even remotely close to that. It's definitely a challenge. Every day is a cahllenge. And it's something that I'm always working at, to try to maintain that work-life balance. One of the key factors isAnd this was a piece of advice that I got through a round table through women's transportation seminar. So, WTS, locally, they did a round table and there was a city manager that said she takes her calendar and before she allows work on it, she circles out time for her family. And that time is automatically blocked off. And I feel like that is such an important thing to do just in our lives, whether or not it's necessarily a dance recital or baseball game or, you know, anything specific, but just to designate that time and not allow work to infringe on it, because it's so easy to allow work to just kind of creep into our personal lives.
Isaac Oakeson: The whole time.
Melissa Brady: Yeah. Especially now. More than anything right now with COVID and working from home. It's so easy to be like, "Oh, it's just five minutes". And then five minutes turns into 20 minutes, and it's an hour later and you're still sitting at your computer. So, it's very easy to allow that time just to get, you know, just to suck you in and the next thing you know, your kids are in bed. So, I just try to always set a time and my husband knows it. He'll tell me, you know, if I need a little bit more time, he's like, "Okay. Well, tell me a time" and he'll come in and he'll tell me. He's like, "Okay, well it's six o'clock". Like, "Okay".
Isaac Oakeson: Get off your computer.
Melissa Brady: Yeah. And we have that policy. You know, when we make the commitment to each other that, you know, the computer goes off, the computer goes off. Like, we're done.
Isaac Oakeson: That's smart.
Melissa Brady: Obviously there's exceptions.
Isaac Oakeson: You brought up the whole COVID thing. I've noticed, I mean, personally and talking with others, that people -- You're constantly working from home, so it's harder to turn it off and a lot of people are missing -- Like, they actually miss that commute time because they could be compressed, driving into work and then leaving work and leaving everything behind and coming home. And now ,with COVID, you're working right at home. And so, it's hard to turn it off because you got to go from like, you know, engineer mode and then you open the door and you heck into family mode and, you know, "what's for dinner?".
Melissa Brady: Yeah. Yeah. That's a good point. Like, my team, we've actually established a check-in time. And initially, when we were first starting at homewe weren't going to do it every day. And we all agreed that we kind of enjoy doing it every day, but we take a half hour at the very end of the day and we all get on a phone call together for Skype and we play games and just catch up on the day with each other. So, it'sI mean, sometimes we'll talk aboutquestions that might've came up, lessons learned or anything like that, but we don't talk project specific details. We don't talk anything like that. One member of our team is a certified yoga instructor. So, we've been known to do yoga with her. She gets on video and we'll do yoga as a team. So, it's been fun in that way. Like you said, it's a good way to break it up and then five o'clock hits and it's like, "All right, everybody have a good night".
Isaac Oakeson: That's great. I think that's a great tip and tool for people, as well for engineers. Do you have any other advice for like any -- I don't know. Tips tools or advice for growing engineers that areI guess -- Whether it's a school tip or adecompress tip, like we just talked about. Is there any other tips you get?
Melissa Brady: You know, the biggest tip I have just for really any level of engineer is to build connections. Get to know everyone and anyone you can within our community. Build those friendships, those relationships. We're a very small community, so it's -- It doesn't feel that way going into it and it's very intimidating when you are first starting out to start going to events and not knowing anybody, but we all have something in common for starters. I mean, we're all engineers, so it's not like we don't have something to talk about. But, you know, we all cross paths in one way or another. I've crossed paths with people from other States, whether it be in my office with people traveling or me traveling to other States crossing paths, but it's good to have those connections for various reasons. Personal, future, meeting your future goalsEven project goals. Maybe they might be a resource needed on a project. You never quite know what kind of connection -- Maybe they might need you for their podcast.
Isaac Oakeson: That's a great connection. Good point. Yeah. I like that make connections, everybody. They're good. It's good stuff. Yeah, I appreciate that. I guess what's a -- Just to keep things moving, but is there been a lesson learned that you've ever had, you know, through a mistake made or something you've observed from a distance even, that you could share?
Melissa Brady: Oh, yes. Trust your gut. I mean, there's been-- Many times it's, you know, you might have even a senior manager or somebody telling you something or you feel like there's a process that maybe you should be doing something a little bit differently, but you just keep proceeding. It's okay to stop and take a moment and back at the second and reevaluate the situation. And it still pops up every now and theneven, you know -- I had one recently that it's happened where I went back and I said, "I should just listen to my gut and stop for a moment". Luckily it wasn't a big deal, but I think the biggest one was very early in my career, and I've used this as an example before, so those who know me that might be listening inMy first six months right out of school, first official engineering job, I had a senior engineer call me up because I sat right outside of the office of a senior manager. And he said, "Hey, I'm trying to get into this file and he has it locked up. Is he there?" I said, "Well, no. His office is dark". He said, "Well, can you get on his computer?" I said, "Well, it's locked". "We'll Just turn it off". I questioned. I said, "I don't think I should do that". Said "No, no, no. It's fine. I've talked to IT. It's fine". This is all over the phone, and, you know, I got instincts, but he was higher up than me and new at the job. And despite not feeling okay about it, I listened and I did it because it was a senior manager and, sure enough, that senior manager had lost all the information. All the work he had been working on. I was very grateful that that senior manager did not hold it against me, which goes into another piece of advice to always be honest and tell the truth. Be willing to admit your mistake, and I was. I told them I questioned it and I, you know, I should have not done it first off and made a stronger attempt and been more forceful to stand my ground. But, thankfull,y he didn't hold it against me.
Isaac Oakeson: That's good. That's a good story. Oh, man. I can't imagine how you would feel in that scenario.
Melissa Brady: Yeah. It's a tough one, but I think people are frequently put in those positions where you have someone that's senior than you telling you to do something that it just doesn't sit quite right with you. And, luckily in that instance, it was something that was ultimately recoverable. It wasn't something that ultimately caused harm. I mean, yeah, it was work. We obviously don't want to lose work, but it didn't cause physical harm in any way. And there are certain situations that couldBut, being put in that situation is never easy for anybody. And sometimes you just have to trust your gut and be able to stand your ground based off of that and know that what you're doing is right. And it's okay to say no.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah, that's great advice. Yeah. Senior people come in and you're brand new. You want to make everybody happy, I imagine. And they ask you to do stuff, you probably just want, you know, you just do it, but trust your gut. Good advice. Trust your gut. So, I'm curious. Is there a favorite project you've worked on before, now, in all the years you've been working?
Melissa Brady: You know, Mountain View Corridor is still very near and dear to my heart, just because it was my first transportation project. And there are a lot of elements to it. But, a current project I'm currently working on is also very close, just because it's new and it's exciting. I'm working one. It's in Ventura County. So, it's a US 101 improvement project. It's a PAED, Project Approval of Environmental Documentation. So, that project we started -- Gosh, it's been two years already into that project. So, we have about another year and a half to go before we pick an official alternative to go into. So, start going towards construction for that. But, it's a fun project.
Isaac Oakeson: What have you -- I mean, what parts of the project have you enjoyed the most?
Melissa Brady: That project has been the most fun just because it's so big. It's 27 miles long. So it has a lot of really unique challenges. So, it has some steep grades hillsides, it's close to the beach in one segment, there's railroad crossings, there's wildlife connectivity and, even better, we're leading it. So our team is leading it all. So, it's a very big team overall. And it's a great team. I mean, really when you -- My manager mentioned this before, when we talked about projects that we like to work on, and he made a great point, which is: his favorite projects usually come down to the team that you work with. And this is a pro example. The entire team -- I mean, right up to the client and, you know, our stuff, just everybody is so fantastic to work with. The whole team has come together.
Isaac Oakeson: That can make a big difference
Melissa Brady: Yeah. And it's a strong team. It's not like they're just kind of letting things go. There are some really good questions that come out of our meetings. We have big meetings every month with all of our agency stakeholders. We've had high level of public involvement in it. So it's just a really interesting project with a strong team. So, it makes it fun and exciting.
Isaac Oakeson: I hope those that are listening that are interested in transportation engineering are hearing all these little details come out of a big project. Maybe some of those things might excite somebody down the road get into transportation engineering. I think that's really neat. So I want to ask you some quick questions, some short answers. You can answer these quickly, you could be short, whatever you want to do with these. But, what's an obstacle you faced when becoming an engineer, whether that was school, FE, PE, career, a bos?
Melissa Brady: Probably just the PE. You know, first just making sure the documents are there. Track everything very closely, very early. Start early on that.
Isaac Oakeson: Yes. Yes.
Melissa Brady: Documentation is a pain.
Isaac Oakeson: I agree. So you got to document your projects, right? And you have to work under a PE. So, don't forget that. If you're looking at jobs and you're finding out that, you know, your manager doesn't have his license, that might be an issue, if you can't find someone to sign off on the work that you're doing. So, good point. Melissa, what's the best advice you've ever received or just some good advice in general, you could share?
Melissa Brady: The best advice which I shared earlier, was just build those connections. They're important. So, long term in your career.
Isaac Oakeson: Perfect. What's a personal habit that's contributed to your success that you feel like?
Melissa Brady: Good habit? That one's probably just trying to be very responsive to my team and that's probably the one that I get the strongest response on as well, even if the response is, you know, providing a "let me look into that". Yeah. Providing a date. "Give Me a few days and I'll get back to you". But just being able to provide some form of response, not leaving people hanging.
Isaac Oakeson: Oh, I totally agree with you. I hate sending something out, not knowing if anything's ever being done with it. You know, send me a response that you've looked at it or, you know, give me a date on this.
Melissa Brady: I'm known to get a little bit more aggressive on sending multiple emails and attaching read receipts if people don't respond to me. So, I start getting a little squeaky there.
Isaac Oakeson: So you know, communication is good, everybody. Communication. How about this one? Who's someone you look up to and why?
Melissa Brady: You knowthis is kind of a, not so much as a single person, but multiple people. And it's -- I'm trying to figure out how to word this, exactly. So there are several women engineers in our industry that aremaking waves and it's very admirable what they're doing. One is a young engineer that I worked with at my previous company who was the YMS president for locally in Orange County for ASCE and has created some great programs locally that I'm hoping she'll be able to expand, but she's really making some waves in that aspect. Her name's Jazzy Cannavo. And then there's another one, and I actually found this one from Jazzy, and she's on Instagram. Her handle is @chloetheengineer and her whole Instagram is focused on showing that basically women can be engineers and still be women. They can be all these other things. It's not one or the other. Break those stereotypes and breaking the molds of what we can and can't be.
Isaac Oakeson: Wow, that's fantastic. We'll have to link some of those resources, those names in the show notes, so people can go find them. So that'd be fun. So, bringing up I guess that topic a little bit, has there been any challenges as a woman in engineering role that you've seen? I'm just curious if there has been a challenge or just, you know, work as normal or what?
Melissa Brady: Absolutely a challenge. And I'm very cautious about the engineering firms that I've worked with as a result. I worked at one very, very briefly as a result. I left very quickly because I had a senior engineer tell me that he's never met a good female engineer. And it was at that moment that I knew that was not somewhere I've wanted to work. It was someone that clearly lacked confidence in the capabilities of women who are very much capable. And, likewise, I've been put in situations where I would be personally discriminated against because I had children by my coworkers that would make comments that were just frankly inappropriate. And so, it is a struggle and I think, you know, women are starting to become much more vocal about it. The Me Too Movement certainly helped. A lot of our prominent women leaders are starting to, within the engineering community, are starting to share their stories and they are very common, unfortunately, much more common than I would like to say that they are. But likewise thankfully there are a lot of men that are seeing it as well and pushing back and helping to help support the women. My company is a great example. I mean, they're really setting up to empower women and help us grow and supporting us. I mean, that's definitely, you know -- That is not something that they stand for or tolerate to discriminate us andthey really help uplift us.
Isaac Oakeson: I appreciate you sharing that. Yeah, I mean women are just as capable as men at doing engineering stuff. So, you know -- It's interesting to hear your point of your stories that you have, because, you know, I think guys have put the blinders on on a lot of this stuff and they don't see those issues, but it's good to hear from you on the issues that you have faced in your own journey to get where you're at. So, thanks for sharing that. Any more on that?
Melissa Brady: Oh no. I was just going to say, yeah when you mentioned the blinders. Yeah. It's important that people share too. I mean, even if it's not directly them impacted because, you know, it's just bringing the knowledge to the forefront to prevent it from happening.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah, for sure. Well, hopefully, you know, being on a podcast episode might help somebody out there. So, appreciate that. Do you have any sweet resources that you would recommend to anybody? This could be a booka book on leadership, education, fun, anything that stands out.
Melissa Brady: So, one of the ones that I would recommend is not so exciting, but it's one that I'm actually working towards myself. But it would be -- I would recommend reading the PMBOK and Working Towards The PMP. So, I see a lot of, for my operations role, that pretty much follows pretty dang closely to what [inaudible 28:50] has. But it's great for understanding the business side of what we do. So, and it really gives you really strong understanding of all the phases that a project goes through
Isaac Oakeson: For project management, right? Yes. So yeah, the PMBOK is a book that will help you to become a project manager. You can become a PMP project management professional. So yeah. That's a good book and it's probably the next step -- I don't know that credential is becoming more and more popular. I've noticed more people want that PMP. So, you know, I'm sure there are more engineers that want to earn that as well. And I think that's a good -- It's a killer combination too. So, it'd be good to get. So, a good resource. This is a kind of a question, but if you had all the resources or knowledge in the world, what's something that you would really like to be a part of?
Melissa Brady: Something I would really like to be a part of. I don't know. To have all their resources. I probably -- Obviously having a family makes a little more challenging, but I'd probably try to be more involved in doing something along the lines of engineers without borders. Think is a great program to be able to go help and put our knowledge and our skills to use in communities that truly need the help. So, that's something that is so important.
Isaac Oakeson: That would be really fun to do. I'm in the same boat. I got three girls. I've got twins. You know, there's a lot of pink and purple going on here or just, you know, kid modes. Times and seasons. Yes. Well, is there any last piece of advice you'd like to share with the community? And what's the best way to get ahold of you if people want to reach out to you, maybe about your experiences or questions about even transportation engineering?
Melissa Brady: So, I'm on LinkedIn. SoI can, if you want to share that link. I'm awful with links. So I'm definitely on LinkedIn. Sodefinitely I've -- Like I mentioned before that's my goal to always be responsive. I'm not on LinkedIn probably all that much, but if I get messages I try to respond on there. So I'm definitely on there. Andlast advice, get involved. Get involved in the community and in programs. I do a lot of presentations to try to give back when I can to students. Our company does a lot with WTS, ASCEin trying to do what we can to share what we do and provide resources. So, there's great programs out there. Take advantage of them.
Isaac Oakeson: Perfect. Well Melissa, thank you for being a guest on the show. This was really fun. I think we learned a lot. You shared a lot about, you know, transportation engineering, your experiences. I think this was really fun and I think the audience will really enjoy it. So, thank you for being on the show. I really do appreciate it.
Melissa Brady: Thanks for having me.
Isaac Oakeson: All right. I'll see you later. Bye.
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