According to the rules specified by NCEES, people can take the PE exam whenever they feel both financially and personally ready for it, but they can only get their license after meeting the experience requirements. Therefore, most test-takers are recent graduates in their twenties and young engineers in their early thirties, which creates the belief that those with a bit more life experience are not as likely to pass the test. Today’s guest, who is in his sixties, will show that this belief is in fact a misbelief.
Born and raised in the Czech Republic (former Czechoslovakia), Zdenek Vymazal is currently a construction roadway designer at the Oregon Department of Transportation. After going to a technical high school and specializing in mining surveying at a Czech university, he decided to get out of his country and move to the West, eventually settling in the US with his family. Working around civil engineers on a daily basis and looking to boost his career, he noticed that he needed to get his professional license since it was the minimum requirement for the higher positions he was aiming at. Therefore, his journey with the FE and PE exams started.
After taking some of the many available online courses and failing to pass his PE exam with the content provided by these courses, he eventually found the Ultimate Civil PE Review Course, by Civil Engineering Academy. Zdenek shares his review of the course and how its features helped him during his journey to get the PE exam done once and for all.
Zdenek mentions how hard it can be, but also how rewarding it is, both personally and financially, after you pass. He received a promotion offer right after passing the exam without even applying for it!
Zdenek Vymazal – [email protected]
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CEA Episode 51 (Tim Miller – NCEES) – https://civilengineeringacademy.com/cea-51-the-ncees-chief-officer-of-exams-tim-miller-pe
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Transcript of Show
You can download our show notes summary here or get our transcript of the show below!
Isaac Oakeson: Hey, welcome everybody! I got Zdenek Vymazal on here, and thank you for being on the show with me. This is awesome. It's going to be great, because I want to hear your experience with not only the PE but your whole life experience. Because this is going to be fun. So, thanks for being on here.
Zdenek Vymazal: Yes.
Isaac Oakeson: Oh, go ahead. Sorry.
Zdenek Vymazal: Yeah. It's my honor to be here and share my experience because I know your course.
Isaac Oakeson: That's great. Let'sdive into a little bit about your background, Zdenek. I know that you were born and raised in Czechoslovakia, but what -- Give us a little background of your history and how you got to the US, and how it's tied to your journey in civil engineer.
Zdenek Vymazal: Yeah, I was, like you said, born and raised in Czechoslovakia. Former Czechoslovakia, it's now Czech Republic. And how I got into engineering? Well, being in grade school, I liked always geometry. So I went to study -- The first three years after that I was 15, I went to trade school for three years, because my grades were not this good. So I couldn't go to different schools. And then, from there, after three years of trade school, I went four years kind of equivalent in here would be technical high school. And then, after that I went to college to study. It was a mining university in Czech Republic. And first two years, I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do. But in second year, I chose to be specialized in mining surveying. They created that. A new new course. And I said that would be nice because it was a lot of to do with the math, geometry. And this is how I got into it. But I lived in Czechoslovakia. It used to be a communist country, and then kind of escaped from the communists tothe West, Austria, and asked for the political asylum in the United States. And we moved here, all family, and I started to work. I wanted to get in surveying again, but in all the interviews and my English barrier, they always say, "What kind of experience do you have?", and I have none. So, I started in construction first, first year, and then I was able to get -- Even I had a master degree in surveying, mining surveying, I started on the lower as a drafter in a small survey firm in Illinois [inaudible] in surveying.
Zdenek Vymazal: And frem being a drafter, I moved to the field, and then we moved from Illinois to -- Although it was North Carolina first, but I want to make [inaudible]. And then Oregon, and I started to, because of my previous experience, working in the surveying firm again for two years. I was in the field and do all the surveying I know. And then I was hired two years later by Oregon Department of Transportation, also in the surveying. And from surveying, I wanted more, and I like design and there was opening in construction. It was designer, construction roadway designer, and I applied. And even I had a little experience, but I just moved to a lower position and moved up. And this was what I like. I first finished in surveying. I got a license. Now I'm a registered Oregon professional land surveyor, but it seems to me like it was -- I tried also photogrammetry, but later I just wanted more. And civil engineering was -- Because a lot of civil engineers work around me, I said, "Well, it would be nice too". And because of the design I was doing, you couldn't move up until you have any -- I reached what I could without the license, promotion-wise. But then if you need more, you need to have a license. So I was doing design as other guys, but because of the PE, I couldn't get more pay. So I just said "It would be great". So I switched rooms: surveying to civil engineering. The FE was also difficult for me. I didn't do it the first time. I don't want to tell you how many times, but I just kept trying, trying. So my famous quote is now "I've been there more than once".
Isaac Oakeson: Very nice. That sounds like such an interesting journey that you've had. And when we first started this interview, you were kind of glowing. And that's because you recently passed the PE exam, which awesome! So congratulations to you.
Zdenek Vymazal: Thank you.
Isaac Oakeson: And, knowing your history, I want to take a step back just a little bit. Maybe you could share advice for any other individuals that are from another country and coming to the United States. Like, what tips would you have for them to find work and get back into engineering? Because I. -- You know, I have heard of a lot of people that have degrees in civil engineering in another country and they come to the United States and kind of have to start new. Do you have any tips for anybody that would be in a similar situation like that?
Zdenek Vymazal: Yes. I would have a tip. Just even they might come. Like my case, I have already degrees, and you have to be willing to start from the bottom as a drafter and move up. Because they will not hire me immediately because you don't know culture here, probably language is the barrier too. You would feel like "I already have degrees. I don't want to be a drafter". No! Take it. You don't not take long time when you can move up. There is always the skills and experience.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. That's great advice. I can see that. So, I mean, even in my own company that I work at, they want you to know the company culture, you know what I mean? And once you -- You have to start somewhere and then once you learn that, then you can move up. They're not going to plug you in to be a manager or a senior designer, if you don't know anything.
Zdenek Vymazal: That's very correct.
Isaac Oakeson: Okay. Well, that's a good tip. Solet's jump into your PE journey then. So it's taken. Another neat thing about you is that you're -- Most people that take the PE exam are usually in their twenties, maybe young thirtiesYou're in what? Your sixties?
Zdenek Vymazal: Sixties.
Isaac Oakeson: Sixties, and you went and took the PE exam.
Zdenek Vymazal: You are very right. Because I've been there also for PE, my favorite quote, "I was there more than once". Mostly, you are competing, in these days, with the just freshly graduated college students. And it is done on the -- It used to be, you have to have a four-year experience, and then you can take the exam. But these days, they switched it a couple years ago, you can take it immediately after you graduated and then wait with your four-year experience. And then you can get the license with the State board.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. More and more States are doing this. They're decoupling the exam from the experience. And so they're saying, "Well, you can go take the exam as soon as you're able to, but you won't be able to get the PE license until you can get the experience requirement". But you can at least get the exam part done with earlier, which is nice.
Zdenek Vymazal: Yes. And so, somebody like me who isfrom school some decades of graduated, you are competing with the youngsters. And they make that very high. They don't get how old are you. It's same for everybody. So, you are competing with them, the freshly that know all because they just studied it full-time. But there are a few, mostly young peopleBut you coud find few like you like me. And so it's very hard, but a good example it can be done.
Isaac Oakeson: Yes. I think that's awesome. I think you're a great example to a lot of people too. So, why don't you take us through your history with that. Did you have to take the exam multiple times? What was your habits? What courses did you take? I know eventually you found our course, The Ultimate Civil PE Review course, and that kind of helped you get over the hump. But, what was that journey like? And maybe, are there any tips you could share with people you know, taking this later in their career?
Zdenek Vymazal: Well, it is still hard work. Any tips? First, when I said, "Oh, FE he is harder. PE is easier". When I went first time, I didn't study. I just want to get the feel of what is there. Well I learned very soon: it's hard. And even you take it second time and you think there will be some similar or same questions, forget about it. No! Different. Every time I was like, "Wow". And after the eight hours, even the last time when my wife asked me when I got home, "How was it?" I said, "I don't really know. It's 50/50. It could go either way". It is so hard. Even I studied so much. So tip I would say, don't think it's easy. Don't think [inaudible]. Every time I thought I studied hard, but if you think you studied hard, think twice and study harder. [inaudible]. This is what I would think. But this is for me because everybody is different. I've heard that some did it in the first time. But there are not many of those. Not many.
Isaac Oakeson: So how long do you think studied for, in terms ofWhat would you recommend?
Zdenek Vymazal: Well, I took your advice when you said three to four months, and I exactly did three and a half months. And I studied -- I've been through your lessons. I went throughthem every day, weekday, I studied about one to two hours. And then when weekend came, Saturday and Sunday, minimum eight to 10 hours each day for three and a half months. I didn't follow sports, even I liked sports. I just determined I have to do it this time. I don't want any distractions. I didn't follow the news. I would just focus it. I said, this is it. I have to do. So, I got the your course, and, when I saw it first, I just liked your approach, how you talk, didn't go through a lot ofinaudible]. You just went through problems and this is what I like. And I like your style. I don't want to brag about it, but this is how it was.
Isaac Oakeson: I'll take all the bragging you want to do. This is fun to hear. Well, we're excited that it could help you for sure. There's many students that it has helped. This has been fun for me to see people's responses. It's always fun to see responses after the exam, when people are getting their results. Andwe've had a lot of fun responses, and yours by far has been one that I have really enjoyed, by far the most. Which is why I wanted to do on the show, because I thinknot only your background and your experience is unique, but it can help a lot of people too. So that's really awesome.
Zdenek Vymazal: If I can add to it as a tip, don't give up. I know here colleagues who tried and they gave up. And the best don't even let that be a -- Some are used to try and say, "Well, I'll take a break". No!. Just hold it, build on it. Every each time, you learn more and it's what you have to do. Don't give up. Some people would say it costs a lot of money. That's true. But it will be rewarded. I will tell you, when I announced I passed, second day they offered me a promotion. I even didn't apply. Because it is cost estimator and I'm a designer, I told them I didn't want to tell them. "Hey Guys, no". I just said, "I'll think about it". But thisI'll just wait, when something fits better to me.
Isaac Oakeson: Congratulations. That's awesome. Yeah. There's a couple of things there. One of them is I always talk about that you need three to four months to prepare for this exam. And you definitely need to study hard for it. Two to three hours a day, plus on the weekends, you should probably do eight to 10 hours. You have to treat this like a part-time job, which means you gotta get your wife and you gotta tell your friends "I'm not going to be watching the sports games", "I don't know what's going on with the latest Mandalorian episode of Star Wars", and, you know, you're out of touch with some stuff for a little bit
Zdenek Vymazal: Isolate yourself. And in my case, I even advertised online I was studying for it, because what bothers me before was "Hey Zdenek, did you pass?". Please don't ask me those questions. I let you know when I pass.
Isaac Oakeson: Stop asking me. Yes. I agree. So, I mean, that's so awesome that you're able to do this, and to see a boost in your pay pretty quickly is actually awesome. I would say most places, that's a little rare too, for a younger engineer. Most of the time you'll get it on your resume, and those raises will come later as you get more experienced and things, but it's definitely going to help your career. But where you're at, I think that's awesome. And you know, things can only go up from here. You can do whatever else you want to do. So, I think it's so cool.
Zdenek Vymazal: Isaac, there were positions, but minimum requirements in many cases were PE. Believe when you were doing the job, you know it, you cannot even apply because it was minimum requirement. So, if somebody is thinking, "Oh, costs a lot of money", not really. Just think that sometimes you can buy something you don't need, and this will be a good investment. And the good feeling. The good feeling when you accomplish it. You will feel good about yourself because you were able to accomplish it.
Isaac Oakeson: That's a great, great point. So I guess one of the things I wanted to ask is kind of outside the course. Are there any other resources that you might you know, suggest to people that they should check out to help them with their studies or anything like that?
Zdenek Vymazal: Yeah. I have a friend who also prepared for years, but he was studying books. I think he wasted kind of time, because the exam itself. You will get the problem, you have to have a solid, and you have six minutes to do it. Well, there were questions -- I read the question and I was, "What did they ask for?". So I had to read it again. And have of the six minutes is gone. So, even you can take as many books as you want use, you have to be good and organized, you know where to look for it, the 30 questions, and some of them you cannot find it. So you have to at least know where it is and use the good judgment, good engineering judgment in some of them. There are tricky questions. It is hard exam. The answer, not many people have.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. One of the things I will always tell people, and this is found in the course too, is that we shouldn't be spending or wasting our time reading a book cover to cover. That's not going to help you very much when you're preparing for this exam. Your head needs to be in the problems, and then you can catch up on those theory as you study the problem and you go back and have to read something related to that concept. And that's where you start picking up the theories as well. But if you go and read a book cover to cover, you'll never properly prepare and you'll never take this exam.
Zdenek Vymazal: Exactly. And some of other hint would be, when I went through your course, before I moved to the next lesson I reviewed. If I even only the open the book and just see what it was previously, because I caught myself when I studied one month later, when I went through the first lesson, I said "I almost forgot a lot of it". So, the good is to, before you move to the next lesson, just even you have to just open it and glance through your eyes and move next to just keep refreshing what you already learned. And I went through your course twice. My goal was three times, but because of time I didn't do my goal of three times. It was two times.
Isaac Oakeson: Wow! Good job. What about practice exams? What's your thoughts on those?
Zdenek Vymazal: These are the best of it, because this is similar what you get on your exam. And it's good to print your problems and -- When I took it I made a binder with the labels. And when I had similar question, I just went to yours, find it real quickly, and just see how it was done. And so it helped me a lot because these in your course, it's similar to what is on, in general, what is on the PE exam. I don't know how you got it, maybe they told you. After they passed the exam, they told you what is there. Yeah. You were in the ballpark.
Isaac Oakeson: Good. Well, the beauty of engineering is that there's only so many questions you can ask related to a topic. So, you know, eventually you can start to get things close. So, that's great. I'm glad to hear that. Well, this has been really fun for me to hear your journey, hear where you've been, hear the whole journey you've had to pass the FE, to pass the PE, your raises that you've been able to get at work, and really advice to help people coming from another country how to really get started here and grow. Is there any last piece of advice you would like to share with the Civil Engineering Academy community?
Zdenek Vymazal: Well, not even kind of sure, because I think it was already covered by everybody. Like, be [inaudible]. So buddy, be determined, be disciplined, and just think about the end. And sometimes, maybe first time when you go through the course, it's foreign. But you have to go through multiple times and everybody that get into it will get it. Yeah. So advice would be nothing total different, just determination because I got tired of trying and -- I always say "$350 [inaudible]".
Isaac Oakeson: That's a good point. If somebody has found themselves taking this exam five, six, seven times or more, I mean, what kind of mental state do you think they're in and what can they do to get out of that?
Zdenek Vymazal: Just set up the time, like I did the three to four months, and really focuson it. People would say, "Oh, I don't have time". Find the time. It is worth of doing it. And practice problems.
Isaac Oakeson: It sounds like the course helped youmotivate yourself to do it. I think one of the nice things we have in the course is a lot of support as well, whether that's through email or the private Facebook community that we have as part of it, if you take advantage of that as well. But the course itself, so the Ultimate Civil PE Review course comes with lecture modules, comes with a lot of practice problems that we try to add to, comes with exams for your breadth and depth. And we have a lot of little bonuses too, like a planner that comes with that. There's also an equation reference guide that kind of jumps to the most common equations found in the CERMs, the Civil Engineering Reference Manual, which is kind of the Bible when you're preparing for this exam. And so we try to reference and use that a lot. And a another good point is, if you can get the exam done, it would be a good time to do it in 2021. I did an interview with the NCEES director of the exam, and they're moving the exams from being computer-based in 2023 into 2022. So, in 2022, it'll be a closed book exam, except for the reference manual that they will provide you similar to the FE exam. So, yeah. I think it's good that you got it done. I'm happy you were able to, andit's great. Soif people wanted to get ahold of you, maybe they had questions or maybe they wanted some more advice from you. What's the best way to get ahold of you?
Zdenek Vymazal: The best would be by email and I can provide it. It's easy. It's my initials. Z G V. Z as in zebra, G as in George, V as in Victor, @juno.com. [email protected]
Isaac Oakeson: Perfect. Z G V.
Zdenek Vymazal: If I can add it also, now just poped in my head, I liked when you did problem, when you reference it to the CERM. Because in the exam itself, when I got in the topic and I saw what it is in CERM, I just went to the CERM real quickly. This also helped a lot. The CERM is the book you need to. I had all kinds of books, but the CERM I was using the most.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah, that's kind of the Bible, always say when you're starting to study. If anybody still needs that we do have a special link and discount. So if you go to civilengineeringacademy.com/ppi and you go buy the book, use a discount code of CIVAC, and you can get 15% off or that book, if you would like it, if you still need it.
Zdenek Vymazal: And also if I can add something else too. When there was a video problem and it was usually not long, like maybe six minutes, I liked that. And also the real questions of the students ask, and it was you or Francesca to answer, and so I like to also read itthe comments and also solution from you. It helped me to go through the problem solving when people had a question.
Isaac Oakeson: Yes, we've tried hard to keep comments on each video because what it does is it helps the next student that goes through that problem. Either highlight something they didn't think about or helps answer the question that's already in your head. So, we try hard to keep those comments there. You know, as the NCEES moves their spec around and things change, it gets a little difficult, but we'll find a way to keep all those comments for each section. So, that's awesome. Zdenek this has been great. Thank you for joining me and sharing your experience. We've got your email out there. We'll put that in the show notes. So, if anybody as later taking this exam, they can come to you and say, "How did you do this, Zdenek? Give me some inspiration".
Zdenek Vymazal: Yes. Inspiratino is just be disciplined, determination is it, and just think at the end, what would be your reward. It's a good feeling, guys. And I would like to let you know, when I discovered I passed in green this time, I was just -- I didn't scream. Like there were people in here before the scream, I didn't know because I was preparing for it. I said, "No, calm down", called my wife, let her know, and you Isaac was the second. I know it was your cause.
Isaac Oakeson: That's great. Thank you. Yeah, you emailed me and you said, "You're the second person I've told about this". And he was just so happy. And even jumping onto this to do this interview, I could tell Zdenek just glowing. And then we figured out it was the lighting, but you look like you were glowing there, Zdenek.
Zdenek Vymazal: Yeah. Just very emotional again because [inaudible]. Good feeling. Guys, it's good. Worth of it to do it. And I've seen many courses like yours, but yours fits to me, your approach, how you solve the problem. Only one thing was if the handwriting in red, it's good, would be little bit bigger.
Isaac Oakeson: Yes. We'll work on that. Little bigger handwriting.
Zdenek Vymazal: There was only a little thing, but it helped me a lot. And I know it was your cause. It's why I sent you an email immediately, almost.
Isaac Oakeson: II appreciate it, the glowing words too. If anybody wants the course, you can go to civilpereviewcourse.com. You can go check it out. That's called the Ultimate Civil PE Review Course. We put that together for you, and it comes with lots of fun stuff that will help you ace this exam. And we'll give you all the tips, tools, and resources, so you can pass just like Zdenek did. And you'll be on here with a glowing review as well. That'd be awesome. Well, thank you again and we'll see you next time.
Zdenek Vymazal: Yes. Thank you, Isaac.
Isaac Oakeson: All right. Bye.
Zdenek Vymazal: Bye.
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