On today’s episode, Isaac has an intriguing and inspiring conversation with Fernando A. Ceballos, P.E. about the hurdles he faced in his personal and professional lives, from being a kid with divorced parents and losing his dad while still in college to how being dyslexic affected him and his preparation for the PE exam. He is a guy with humble and troubled beginnings who has thrived professionally and is now helping others overcome their own challenges.
Fernando is a project engineer for Pape-Dawson Engineers, a statewide firm in Texas, working with multifamily, commercial, and industrial land development, while also co-hosting the Dealing With Life Stuff podcast, which aims at young professionals and college students, trying to help them in the process of figuring out what the next steps in their lives are. The podcast is focused on career and life, and it teaches how young professionals, the millennials, can navigate through life knowing that it’s going to be hard, but they are perfectly capable of getting through and succeeding at it.
As a career coach himself, Fernando goes through the importance of mentorship in many different areas of life and mentions the different ways he has already used to improve himself as a person and as an engineer. He also provides advice for both those who may be in the same clinical situation as him, having to deal with the hurdles posed by dyslexia, and those who may have to face other types of obstacles. We all know they come in all forms and shapes.
This is an inspiring story for literally anyone and it will certainly provide you with a spark of motivation to do whatever it is that you want to do despite the obstacles, and it will also give you a ton of resources to look into in order to keep developing yourself and learning.
Fernando A. Ceballos Website – www.fdoceballos.com
Fernando A. Ceballos LinkedIn – www.linkedin.com/in/fdoceballos
Fernando A. Ceballos Instagram / Twitter – @fdoceballos
Fernando A. Ceballos Youtube Channel – www.youtube.com/c/fdoceballos/featured
Dealing With Life Stuff Podcast – www.dealingwithlifestuff.com
The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz – Here
The Magic of Thinking Big, by David J. Schwartz – Here
The Dichotomy of Leadership, by Jocko Willink – Here
Extreme Ownership, by Jocko Willink – Here
The Jocko Podcast – jockopodcast.com
Simon Sinek – simonsinek.com
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!
CEA Newsletter – Join over 4000 engineers like you and learn the tips and tricks to passing the FE and PE. We even have a free resource for you!
Reach out to Isaac – [email protected]
Transcript of Show
You can download our show notes summary here or get our transcript of the show below!
Isaac Oakeson: All right, welcome everybody. I'm excited. I got Fernando with me today and this is going to be a good one. Fernando, how are you doing?
Fernando Ceballos: Pretty good. Thanks for the invitation.
Isaac Oakeson: Hey you know, when we jumped on, we noticed we actually have the same shirt on. For those listening, you're just going to have to visualize that. But if you're watching this, it's pretty cool. Which means the engineers --
Fernando Ceballos: The typical engineer uniform.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah, man. We just think alike. That's crazy. But most engineers wear like blue shirts, and we're like wearing this -- What is it? Salmon? Pink?
Fernando Ceballos: Someyhing like that? Yeah. Almost like a pink.
Isaac Oakeson: Wow. That's pretty cool. Well man, Fernando, I'm excited to have you on today. I think as we start, why don't you dive into a little bit, how you got into engineering, why did you want to jump into civil engineering? What got you started?
Fernando Ceballos: Cool. So, I'll start with the beginning and then if I ever go on a tangent, just jump in and say, "Okay, that's good enough for that answer".
Isaac Oakeson: Okay.
Fernando Ceballos: So growing up, I really didn't know what engineering was until I started digging deeper into where I wanted to go to high school. And so, my elementary years I was -- I'm dyslexic. And so early on in the beginning, it was just a matter of, you know, "What is he good at?". And reading wasn't one of them. It was this math and science was kind of what attracted me to, I guess, my studies. And the older I got,he more I started gravitating more towards the things that came natural to me, which was math and science, right? So, once I was able to figure out my life as a kid,s far as being dyslexic and how I studied and how I learned that kind of thing. Fast forward to middle school, high school, I was fortunate enough to go to a high school that was engineering based. And so my whole curriculum in high school, it was an Engineering Magnet School. And so for my freshman year in school, they kind of gave me classes focused on engineering design. So I got my first look into AutoCAD, into Inventor, into Solidworks. And so my first four years, all four years of high school, I got a better idea of that. And so that's kind of where I figured out what engineering was, and then, in addition to that, some of my homeworks was "If you were to pursue engineering, which one would you pick?". And I ended up with civil. So, that's one of the reasons why I went that way.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. I always heard the jokes about civil engineers and stuff, but I'm just like, "Man, It's a sweet -- You know, that's the one to go into".
Fernando Ceballos: Yeah. It's also like the oldest one, right? And I think the other perspective is -- I don't know. From an altruistic perspective it's that one that gives back the most to our communities. So, all jokes aside, I think we make the biggest impact.
Isaac Oakeson: And it's probably the least recognized until it's gone, you know?
Fernando Ceballos: Yeah. I like to say that the civil engineers are the offensive linemen of engineers.
Isaac Oakeson: There you go. I like that. That's cool. So that's a, that's a pretty cool story. And now fast forward to where are you today? What do you do? What do you practice? What's a typical day like?
Fernando Ceballos: Some seven or six, six plus years into my career, almost seven in January this coming month or this coming year. And what I do for a living, I work as a consultant for land development. I am an engineer, project engineer for Pape-Dawson Engineers, statewide firm in Texas. And the work that I do there is multifamily, commercial, industrial development. And so, anything that's not single family work, that's kind of what I dive into. And so from a day to day perspective, it's coordinating with the architect, coordinating with the city, coordinating with the franchise utilities and with the clients, and trying to figure out what we need to do in order to be able to make their project come to a reality, right? And so from a perspective of, you know, day to day, it's a typical engineer's workflow as far as, you know, emails, coordination, meetings. But that's kind of the work that I do on a day to day.
Isaac Oakeson: Okay. I'm curious. Like, what do you like the most about it? And is there a favorite project that you've had to -- You know, that you've been a part of?
Fernando Ceballos: I think the part that like the most is the fast pace of commercial work, because I've done single family in the past and the project timelines are kind of, you know, they're longer. And so being in a fast paced environment and having to pick up the phone and coordinate with different people is probably my favorite part. And then as far as, like, the favorite project I would have to say is the schools that I've worked on, because I feel like that's probably the one that makes the biggest impact in the community. And also from a legacy standpoint, I get to point to a school a few decades from now, you know, to my kids or just to the people I'm with and say, "You know what? I worked in that school". I thinks that's pretty neat.
Isaac Oakeson: That is pretty cool. I love that. I'd say that's a great reason why you want to be a civil engineer, I think. So that's pretty cool. And so you've had a lot of years of working experience. Is there ever been a lesson that you've learned, or a mistake that you've made or, that you've seen someone else make that maybe you could share?
Fernando Ceballos: There's a lot. There's so many. I mean, everything we know as engineers is based on lessons learned for the most part. It's like, you know, "Don't do this and make sure you're doing this instead". I think things that stand out is probably a lack of communication early on in my years, or early on in my career, or not knowing the right way of saying things through email and having things get misunderstood. And so, from that broken communication standpoint, a guess the biggest lesson is just pick up the phone and have a conversation with someone. If you're working internally, get up and go talk to the person face to face rather than just send them an email. Because I think when you start writing novels and you can't explain something to the person reading the email in three sentences, you're better off just picking up the phone. And then small little things too, that I've seen other teams do, is -- One big one that we learned is, someone turned off a powerful [inaudible] on a survey. And so, when you when you're in construction and there's a proposed driveway and there's a [inaudible] in the way of a new driveway, that's kind of a problem. So that was a big lesson learned.
Isaac Oakeson: Expensive move. It can be. That's funny because I work in the utility world, so I deal with the transmission poles and when people call and ask about moving poles, I'm like, "Oh yeah, that's going to be expensive". Yeah. Yeah. We got to get the material. That's going to be awhile. Well, that's cool. I'm curious, what kind of software are you using in your workplace?
Fernando Ceballos: On a day to day, it's mainly AutoCAD Civil and Excel. I mean, there's other softwares, you know, focused on stormwater design or, you know, doing different calculations, but for the most part, I think those are the two major ones. I mean, if you can call Excel software.
Isaac Oakeson: No. Sure. Yeah. You're like a spreadsheet guru.
Fernando Ceballos: I don't know if I would use the word guru. I follow the templates.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. Well I kind of want to detail a little bityour journey into civil engineering a little bit more, like was there a particular struggle that you had in becoming a civil engineer, whether that was school or even passing the FE or PE, or maybe you had a boss that, you know, there was an issue? Anything that was a hurdle for you?
Fernando Ceballos: So I think, from a boss's perspective, I've been fortunate to work with really cool people. So that definitely hasn't been something that is limiting, but I have test anxiety and I figured that out because of my whole dyslexia thing, right? And so, in college, it was difficult taking tasks because I would study all the material to the point where I would tutor people for the test, and then I would walk out of the test, you know, with a lower grade than the person. So, when it came to testing, the physical act of taking the test is a really tough thing for me. I don't know what it is in my brain. I don't know about just keep making excuses throughout my life. It kind of just became a limiting belief, but that was like a big thing thatwas a big hurdle. And so when I first took my PE testthree years into my career. Because in Texas the testing PE was decoupled, I took my test three years into my career. And I went through the process of studying with test masters. I gave myself three months of studying. I took my test and I got my results and I got a 69. So I found out that I had failed the test by one question. So, I think that was like a big, you knowlike a big red flag for me. It was like a reminder of, "Hey, you're not good at taking tests". So I just buckled down and I took a month off. I started studying again and then I took the test again the second time in October, passed that test, and then I got my license in time of what it would not have been if I would've waitedyou know, to take my test with the whole four years of experience. So, all in all, I didn't hold my career back as far as getting my PE license, but, you know, failing the test by a question, it was very -- It took a hit to my ego.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. I have been in your shoes before, so I know that feeling. And when I took it, they mailed you the results and it took extra time before you got the letter and the letter would come in the mail. And if you took the exam in October, that letter would come, like, before Christmas, which is similar, you know, the way it is now, but it was either the best Christmas or the worst Christmas present you ever got.
Fernando Ceballos: But the tough part too is -- I mean, I took my test with a few other coworkers. And so I'm doing my work and one person starts yelling, that person runs to the next person, like, "How'd you do", they log in, and then the whole office at this point is seeing results and they walk over to me and I'm like, "No. I didn't pass".
New Speaker: So, you have dyslexia. What advice could you give to other people that might struggle with test taking in general?
Fernando Ceballos: Don't make any excuse, I think. I think it's very easy to fall into, like -- For lack of a better term, like the victim mentality of saying, "I'm never going to be successful because I have test anxiety", or I'm dyslexic or whatever the case is. Enter excuse here, [ianudible]. And I think, from that perspective, it's trying to figure out -- Take a step back and really understand, from a perspective standpoint, how do you learn? How do you study? You know, this is a successful in what could be successful. And I think when you slow things down in that way, you're able to really understand what gives you the best ROI. And so for me, you know, when I was studying the test for the first time, I really enjoyed going to the class and taking -- You know, because I made an expense to take classes with a tutor and a mentor and coaches and that kind of thing. But they also offered a virtual format of that same class. And so when I was studying for the first test, I remember that I enjoyed watching videos [inaudible] material. So the second time around, instead of taking time off at work to go to those classes, I decided to go into the virtual format. And so I would study the videos. I would pause them. I'd rewind them. I'd watch them again. And that was, like the itch factor if you will. It gave me a better edge. I'm trying to really understand the material and understand how I learn, how I study. So I think trying to do things your way and then also being mindful of what works and what doesn't, and not just listening to everybody else's way of doing things and trying to fit into that mode. That's probably the best advice.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah, that's great, beause I think there's a lot of people that strugglewith the testing environment in genera. You know, it's a big test. People are already anxious about taking it. You know, the quicker you realize everyone's in the same boat and you know, like you said, don't be a victim, try your hardest and you can do it.
Fernando Ceballos: The other thing too, like more from a tactical advice perspective, as far as taking the test itself. I think the other thing for me too, the second time around, was, you know, "removing my ego" and not trying to solve every single question. So one thing that was told was, read every single question and rank them one, two and three. The ones that are easy to do at one, the ones that are medium do it at two, and the ones that are really tough to do at three. Solve all your ones, solve all your twos, and, if you have time, do your threes. But if you're in the middle -- The first time around, I'm in question 10 and I'm cranking through a three and I say, "I don't care. I'm wanting to solve this three until" -- "I will not move on until I pass this question". Like, you just ate up 15, 30 minutes every time and you stole time away from other questions. And so I think that's a big one too, is, from a time management standpoint, is removing yourself from the test and saying, I need to give every show a question time.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. I love that advice, Time management is a big deal on the exam and people don't realize that until they're in it. And they do get stuck on a problem for 10, 15 minutes, and you're like, "Crap. I just ate up a bunch of time". I guess I'm guessing B on the last five. Well, that's called great advice. Thanks for sharing that. I'm curious what has been the best advice you've ever received or just good advice in general? Anything come to mind?
Fernando Ceballos: So much things comes to mind. I'm trying to figure out, like, which one I should share, but I think the biggest one is the importance of mentorship from a perspective of -- I mean, you don't know what you don't know. And I think sometimes engineers are very shy and they're very introverted and they can't just put their head down. And it's a matter of, "I was paid to do this job. I'm going to do my job. Give me more problems and I'll figure them out". They kind of, sometimes -- Unfortunately, I've come across engineers that just put their head down for years and they're just expecting their companies to take care of them, and they don't learn things outside of that. And so I think from a mentorship standpoint, you know, if you're not finding people who can mentor you, who are five years ahead of you, 10 years ahead of you, 20 years ahead of you, you don't know where you're going and you're going to come wake up, you know, five years from now and say, "Well, is this where my life really is?" You know, what could it have been different? And then they're going to start blaming other people. But I think that's probably the best advice is seeking mentors, and seeking mentors who give you different perspective. Like for me, I have mentors who are really good financiallyothers who are really good with their relationships, others who are really good with business development, but I don't have like the one golden person that gives me everything. People who are really good at one thing and not so good at others give me advice.
Isaac Oakeson: That's cool. And what have I heard? You're like the average of the five people you hang out with or something like that. So, you know, finding good mentors and being around people that you want to be like, which includes like, you know, people fall, you know, you're reading good books, you're following people that you want to be like, or that you want to follow in their footsteps. All those things kind of play a role into who you end up wanting to become. So that's good advice.
Fernando Ceballos: And also getting the reps too, right. I think, you know, we want to get good at a certain skillset. Before we started -- You know, hit record, we were talking about storytelling on my part. And I think the only way I'm going to get good at being a good storyteller is by getting the reps. That means, you know, doing more podcasts, doing some more stuff like this. And I think some people want to get good at being a good leader, being a good manager. You're not going to get promoted and become a good manager or become a good leader. Like you have to have those qualities before you get that promotion. The reason you're getting a promotion is because you have those qualities already. And I think people need to be a little bit more proactive on trying to figure out, you know, what do I need to learn in order to take the next step?
Isaac Oakeson: That's great. That's fantastic. Yeah. I meanI think all those are great points, what you're pointing out. Thanks for sharing that. I'm curious, has there been a personal habit that you've been able to do or a habit you've fostered that really has helped you with the success in your career?
Fernando Ceballos: I would say reading. I mean, you were sharing a minute ago, reading books. I mean, everything have back here. The personal development books, the business books. I mean, these give me so much perspective. Llistening to podcasts. I mean, I don't have a lot of people in my life, in my personal network, that I can just reach out to you and learn from, I think from a perspective of learning and you know, consuming books andvideos, gives me a lot of perspective. So, I would say, investing 30 minutes to an hour every single day in my personal development and professional development, is probably like the best habit that I've had in the last five years.
Isaac Oakeson: That's great. That's another great advice. Is there a particular book or something that has stood out in your mind? Something you've read recently?
Fernando Ceballos: One big book that stands out for me, I recently had a book club with it, is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. It's a very elementary book. It's a very, you know, beginner book in the personal development space and it has very simple principles. Some of the people when they first start reading the book, they say it's a little bit "woo woo". And it's not for them. But I think that if you can get through the book and really take a step back and understand where the guy is coming from, it's very practical advice.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. You know, That reminded me of a book I read a little bit ago. I think it's called The Magic of Thinking Big, and it's kind of -- You know, it's kind of basic, but I love how this guy tells stories and he teaches you to think bigger than you think you could. And really pushed me to like think in different ways than I have. So that's a good one too. We'll link those for people if they want to check those out later. They can check that out. So, tell me about what you're doing now. Like, I know you started a podcast, what's that about?
Fernando Ceballos: Yeah. So, the podcast's name is Dealing With Life Stuff. It's me and my cohost. And we started the podcast June -- June - July of last year. A little bit over a year. And you know, myself -- When I met Randy, we just hit it off. And we started having good people conversations, and then we kind of met two or three times and he brought up the idea to me and said, "Hey, I know you want to start doing more career coaching and you want to start doing speaking engagements. Do you think you'd want to, you know, pursue a podcast? One, it's a boost in credibility, and you get your stuff out there, but another ones you kind of get an opportunity for you and I do boost the relationship". So I said, "Yeah, let's go ahead and do it". So we started the podcast with the intention of having a targeted audience, being young professionals, or just students who are still in college trying to figure out what the next steps are in their life. And so it kind of -- The framework of the podcast is focused on philosophy, career and life. And just trying to understand how to navigate life from a perspective of two millennials in the real estate industry, right? He is a broker and I am a civil engineer. And so we have different perspectives in that standpoint. And I think we've also experienced -- Both of us, we've had to grow up really fast in our lives. He lost both of his parents in college. I lost my dad in college. We grew up in somewhat different I guess beginnings. I grew up very, very humble beginnings divorced parents, raised below the poverty line, raised in one of the poorest cities in the country. You know, Spanish is my first language, minority, that kind of thing. And so navigating the worldas being a first generation American, first generation college graduate gives you so much perspective. And same for him. He goes through a different life you know, journey, losing over 120 pounds, keeping them off, going into the real estate industry with no mentors, that kind of thing. So we're just trying to find a way with this project to get some content out there, to give people who are maybe going through similar things, some hope and some perspective on the idea that life is going to be hard, but you can get through it.
Isaac Oakeson: That's really cool, man. You know, I, I've had a few people on the show, but I'm always amazed about their life experiences and what that has done to, you know, cement you and have you move forward in the mindset that you have. And I think that's really admirable about what you've been through and where you are now. And I think that's really great. I wish I spoke Spanish. I don't know Spanish. I need to take lessons from you. That's awesome. Well, cool. I just -- Another question, is there any other resources that maybe you want to mention to our audience besides your podcast or anything else?
Fernando Ceballos: I mean, I was going to say, as biased as I can be, my YouTube channel. I'm building that. You know, kind of aimed at civil engineering students, or just professionals in general. I kind of want to go for more of a vibe on personal development with the engineering twist. But I think, outside of that, there is, you know, several podcasts that I follow. One of them being the Jocko Willink podcast. He's a ex Navy seal condecorated soldier. And he just has so much perspective on pursuing life, and learning the things that he's learned through the military background. One of the books that I really enjoyed from him and his co-host and also co-author of his book is The Dichotomy of Leadership and Extreme Ownership. Those are two books by him, and I think those are really good books that give you very tangible, tactical advice on becoming a better individual and becoming a better leader in your life. So, I would say those are really good resources. And then -- I mean there's people like Simon Sinek. That's another really good coach out there that I would encourage you to look into.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. So, what's your YouTube channel? What's it called?
Fernando Ceballos: It's just my name.
Isaac Oakeson: Oh, just your name. Okay. All right. So go look you up. That sounds good. That's awesome. Sothat's great. This is just kind of a fun question I have. I like to ask people, but if you had all the resources in the world, what's something you'd like to be a part of?
Fernando Ceballos: One of the goals that I have is to build schools throughout the world. And so I think, if I had all the resources available, I would try to find a way to go and parlay my engineering background and go and help build schools in other countries. I think another big thing that I'm really passionate for is public policy when it comes to public education here in the country. And so I think, you know, one of my, you know, 10, 15, 20-year goals is to eventually get to the point where I'm able to bring perspective in developing programs and policies that can really help our country grow and make a difference in what we're doing in the education system.
Isaac Oakeson: Wow. That's awesome. Wow. You bring a lot of perspective and I think it's really fun. So, I really do appreciate that. Man, is there any last piece of guidance that you want to share with our audience or we've got it all?
Fernando Ceballos: I think we've got it all. I think the only other advice, and I think I've said this a little bit here and there is, you know, as engineers, we're sometimes falling into the stereotype of being introverts andyou know, it's really not true. And I think the biggest encouragement that I give engineers is to really get out there and work on their public speaking skills. You know, I still get nervous when I do these types of things. I stutter, I messs up here and there, but I need to get the reps in. And I think as engineers, you know, we need to be able to get out there and share our message because we don't have enough engineers in positions of power. And I think we can have more people like ourselves, you know, making differences in our communities. It's really going to make a difference. And I guess the other thing that I would say is, find someone and mentor them. I think if everybody has opportunity to make a difference in someone's life. And I think sometimes we take things for granted of what we have in our lives. And if you can just look up and lift someone as you're climbing, and that's a huge difference that we can make as a collective.
Isaac Oakeson: I love that advice. You knowjust looking at my own careerand I've brought my brother on board. But I probably wouldn't have gotten into civil engineering had I not seen what he was doing and kind of followed that route. And that's kind of how I startedin civil engineering. In fact, I had two brothers, one of them just graduated with a business degree and we had, you know, it was like two -- What was it? We had a recession or something that was going on. He couldn't find a job or the jobs that he was finding were pretty crappy. And then I had another brother that graduated in engineering. He was a civil engineer and I saw he had a very stable, steady job and he was doing pretty well, you know? And so the time I had started school, that's kind of the route I went. And so I felt like maybe he was a bit of a mentor for me. And now I'm in a position where, you know, I've started Civil Engineering Academy and I've wanted that to try to pass it on to the next generation. So, I love your advice. If you're in a spot where you feel comfortable where you're at, I think it's time to start looking at maybe reaching out to the person that's, you know, just started, see if you can give him some pointers, things of that nature. So, that's great advice. Cool. What's the best way for our audience to get ahold of you if they want to get ahold of you?
Fernando Ceballos: So if they want to connect with me, they can connect with me on LinkedIn or Instagram. My handles for everything, for the most part, even my website is @fdoceballos. FDO being short for Fernando. And so they can just Google that and they could probably find me in different platforms: Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, that kind of thing.
Isaac Oakeson: Okay. @fdo. Perfect. All right, man. Well, thanks for being on the show. I really appreciate it. Hope you're having a good time. I think you shared a lot of knowledge with us and a lot of tips. And I think it was awesome. So, thank you for joining.
Fernando Ceballos: Thanks again for the invitation, Isaac.
Isaac Oakeson: All right. See you later. Bye.
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