Even though life is full of challenges and sometimes it makes us uncomfortable with where we’re at, more often than not, these individual situations are just steps along the way to something better. Doesn’t matter if you currently are on the job hunt or working with something that you may not be as passionate about as you thought you would, our guest today — who went from bus driver to transportation engineer — explains that these are just part of the process.
Brent Chase is a transportation and project engineer at David Evans & Associates (DEA), focused on the design and construction of roads and highways. After graduating from university, he went to Logan, Utah, so that his wife could start her college program. Even though he had a really good knowledge base and internship experiences, he could not find a job in Logan right away. Therefore, he ended up being a bus driver for a while. Obviously, the goal had always been to work as an engineer, but he didn’t let this temporary condition take him off the track he wanted to go. In fact, the time he spent as a bus driver helped him get to know the city better and he later applied this knowledge to his transportation role at his company — He would think in terms of bus routes!
In today’s episode, Brent mentioned his most memorable project, and why it carries that much sentimental value to him, as well as mentioning his current work on the Aurora-Donald Interchange Project in Oregon. He goes on to talk about the most challenging situations we face when becoming civil engineers, the need for engineers to build connections wherever and whenever possible, and also the benefits that can come out of being a reliable professional in your organization
Some links below are affiliate links, which means that at no cost to you, I receive a small commission for recommending products and services that I personally recommend and I think you'd enjoy too.
Brent Chase – https://www.linkedin.com/in/brent-chase-pe-31308652
David Evans and Associates – https://www.deainc.com
FE Reference Handbook – https://account.ncees.org/exam-prep/387
How to Win Friends & Influence People, by Dale Carnegie – https://amzn.to/3bWL2YjLink
Aurora-Donald Interchange Project – https://www.oregon.gov/odot/projects/pages/project-details.aspx?project=19062
PLS-CADD – https://www.powerlinesystems.com/plscadd
School of PE – http://www.civilengineeringacademy.com/sope
If you need exams, solved problems or courses, make sure to check out our home base – https://civilengineeringacademy.com
Haven’t joined up in our free community? What’s wrong with you? J/K. Ok, just go there and join a group of like-minded civil engineers! – https://ceacommunity.com
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! – https://civilengineeringacademy.com/join-our-newsletter
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. Hey! What's going on, everybody? I've got Brent with us today. How's it going, Brent?
Brent Chase: Good, Isaac.
Isaac Oakeson: Sweet! So, just a quick story. Brent, and I know each other. Kind of been living in the same area for a bit. Brent's now moved away to Kennewick, right? Up in the Tri-States kind of area.
Brent Chase: Yeah. Eastern Washington. You got it.
Isaac Oakeson: Nice! My own career has taken me there a few times, so I'm very familiar with the area doing some transmission work up in that area. So nice, nice area.
Brent Chase: Nice! Yeah.
Isaac Oakeson: WellI wanted to dive into this. I'll give a brief introduction about you, but it's always nice to hear from yourself a little bit about yourself. Maybe even how you got into engineering and what you do today. So, why don't you take us through that?
Brent Chase: Yeah. So, I work for a firm called David Evans and Associates, or DEA. They're based out of Portland, primarily through the Pacific Northwest. I'm out of their Spokane office actually. But yeah, roadway transportation engineer focused on the design of road and highways. And then as far as how I got into civil engineering growing up I always liked construction. You know, a lot of kids have construction vehicles, you play in the sandbox, whatever. And then you like watching the construction and that kind of developed from there. And it was actually like a youth meeting or something like that, and somebody came to a career night to present on civil engineering. I never heard of civil engineering before, and they're talking about it, all the cool things they were doing and things like that. Ended up actually talking with the guy afterwards for another hour saying, "Hey, I was thinking about going into construction". And then he told me about civil engineering and how -- You know, what great opportunities would come from that, how it gives you a good platform for your career. He asked if I was good with math and I said "Sure", you know? Because as we know, civil engineers do a lot of math. And so, that was kind of the first inkling that I got into civil engineering. And it was actually a construction management major in college to start off and, you know, decided that wasn't quite a good fit, quite the direction I wanted to go, and put back into civil engineering and did that. One thing led to another and now I'm a transportation engineer. So, that's kind of the nutshell of it all.
Isaac Oakeson: Wow. That's awesome. Is this guy still -- I mean, was he a mentor at all growing updoing this stuff?
Brent Chase: Little bit, yeah. Kind of a family friend. Kind of -- Actually, it was kind of a family of engineers there. They were husband and wife civil engineer, had their own firm and they did a lot of things in Southern California where I grew up. So, kind of really all over -- I think they've done some projects over the world. So yeah, definitely helped me through my program as I had, you know, questions, career questions and things like that. So, definitely.
Isaac Oakeson: That's great. I mean, when I was deciding on doing this, and I've shared this story before, I saw two brothers graduate, and one of them graduated in civil engineering and one of them graduated in business. And at the time the economy sucked, and the guy with the business degree was finding jobs that was like still a high school wage, you know? Something you could make in high school. And he decided to go on his own, do his own thing in real estate, which has been probably the better route for him. At the time I saw my other brother in civil engineering and, you know, he got a good job and was able to get home and those kinds of things. That kind of set me up on a path of which direction I kind of wanted to head. It's funny how, you know, when we grow up, we see some influences in our life and those people kind of become our benchmark of kind of where we're headed. So that's really --
Brent Chase: Yeah. And you don't think you really realize it at the time. When you kind of look back and it kind of connect the dots and the great come from. And it's pretty interesting sometimes.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah, for sure. So, take us through a typical day, today, of your kind of engineering. You're transportation engineer. Like, give us some details. What software are you using maybe that you would recommend to somebody that wanted to get into this field? Or something that would help an engineer that maybe is looking at transportation. But tell us what you do now and some of the tools and resources you use. I think that'd be fun to know.
Brent Chase: Yeah, sure. So I'm a project engineer essentially. So working on different projects, doing the design, getting in the modeling and the different CAD platforms. A lot of DOTs, Departments Transportation, are using the Bentley software such as InRoads, OpenRoads. It's kind of the latest and greatest that's coming out. A lot of your local cities and counties and other municipalities tend to use more of the Autodesk, the AutoCAD, Civil 3D stuff, which is kind of -- I don't know how it was for you, Isaac. That's what I ended up learning in college. That's what they taught. But then, you know, got all the on-the-job training doing the Bentley stuff.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. I agree. When I was in college, it was AutoCAD as what you learned. I didn't learn any other CAD software and there's a little bit of a -- Oh, my mind's gone blank. But yeah. I mean, there's a little other CAD work, but autoCAD was definitely the main one.
Brent Chase: Yeah. So now, far enough, I can kind of switch between the two a little bit. Definitely more of a Bentley user, depending on who the client is, it can kind of dictate kind of the software you use. But those are definitely the two main ones that are out there. But then as far as working on the projects, you know, what the client needs and looking at the different standards. You know, if you're in a different state, there's a little bit different standards, way of doing things. For example, I'm doing some, they call workshare, some people call it long-haul way. Anyways, you're working on, you know, not necessarily even. I'm in Eastern Washington, I'm actually working on a lot of projects in Oregon for the DOT out there. Andyou know, just working to help the project, you know, meet the design requirements, the standards, and work with the project manager, working with the junior staff to give them tasks and assignments to ultimately, you know, come out with like a model. Plans stand although those are slowly being phased out depending on who the client is. And then just trying to keep the projects on time and under budget, just like anything else.
Isaac Oakeson: So do you feel like you -- I mean, if someone was wanting to learn this position, this job, is a lot of it on the job training? I mean, or is there a leg up that they could have and maybe tipping their toe into some of these softwares or something so that maybe they could put it on a resume to give them a leg up?
Brent Chase: Yeah. Definitely. I mean, for example, one of my internships I had was with a different engineering firm and all I did was just CAD edit work, which is very, you know, simple, straightforward CAD. But I really got to know MicroStation that way and that's how I really got into it. It was basically editing these drawings to be as-built, as the project was going on. You know, they had to be slightly modified to match what was actually built in the field. And so it was just like a lot of red line CAD where you see this plan sheet and you follow the red line marks and change it in the CAD. And that was really how I got that good fundamental understanding of the CAD. Soyou know, you can get that through an internship. You could start learning on your own and there's, especially nowadays online, there's endless training tutorials. You can do YouTube videos to really learn the software.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. I'm looking back in my own career. I mean, I use a software that's very specific to the field I'm in and it's called PLS-CADD. And it's specifically designed to do transmission work or distribution work, but you can model all the structures. And same thing is that the way to kind of get a leg up or at least put it on a resume is start looking at YouTube, looking at tutorials that are on there. A lot of places give you free software if you're a student. And that might be worth looking into, if you're looking at just dipping your toe into learning some of this stuff. But I think if you can and even put that on a resume that you're familiar with it, you've already kind of got a leg up on the next person that has no experience whatsoever.
Brent Chase: Yeah. Definitely
Isaac Oakeson: For sure. What about a lesson learned? Is that ever been a lesson learned or a tough mistake that you've had to go through that maybe you could share with us?
Brent Chase: Lesson learned? I guess I would say -- I mean, there's lots of lessons I've learned through life thus far. But really, I think it comes down to, you know, life isn't fair, but it's all about your attitude and perspective towards it. You know, some people are just dealt different cards, but I think it just comes down to your attitude. And I think reallyjust perspective, just the way you look at something, can really change. For example, I went to school where I graduated in civil engineering. It seemed like a really good degree, it could land a job right away. However, I quickly graduated so we could move to, Logan, Utah, to go to Utah state so my wife could start her school program. And so there wasn't much preparation I could do as far as jobs go. And it was just the small towns, there weren't a ton of like specific civil engineering jobs. So I actually ended up being a bus driver in Logan. So it's kind of interesting. So the joke was, you know, I went to school for four years to be a bus driver. Buy, you know, I just see that as like a step along the way andkind of reevaluated things. I was able to get some internships to get more experience. And then by the time she was graduated, we were able to make it work as we got a job in Salt Lake and, you know, things eventually worked out. But yeah, it's just interesting how things worked out in that way. You just kind of see what you can learn from it, and looking back at that experience, you know, it was a humbling experience, you know, not be able to get a job right away. But you know, I think it worked out the way it did or I wouldn't be where I'm at.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. Maybe even notice some things as a bus driver that applied to transportation and helped in some way there too.
Brent Chase: Right, exactly. Yeah.
Isaac Oakeson: Pretty cool.
Brent Chase: Yeah. It was kind of interesting. How I got to know the city was, I would think about it by bus routes. That's how I got to know. "Yeah. You take this one here and that one there". But yeah. Definitely in-the-field experience, as they call it, was one way to get it, I guess.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. Well, any potential bus drivers out there?
Brent Chase: Yeah. The designated party bus driver, I guess, now.
Isaac Oakeson: Fast foward then to today, what's like a favorite project you've recently worked on or one that's memorable to yourself?
Brent Chase: Yeah. You know, some that's been really cool going about to experience and kind of getting that leg up. Junior engineers sometimes have to do like inspection work, where you're out in the field, you're actually on the project full time, you're reviewing the plans, you're getting to know the specifications, the standard drawings. My situation, I was actually certified to test the materials, test the concrete test all the aggregate and everything by densities and, you know, cone tests and air tests and all that. So really that was like my crash course on engineering and getting to know out in the field kind of when does an inch really matter and that kind of stuff. So I was on this project for one summer and just this one intersection. I got to know that intersection really well. It was a Y intersection, a new signal replacement, had some drainage. So had a little bit of everything on it. And then more recently I'm working in Oregon called Aurora-Donald Interchange. It's a heavy truck traffic interchange off I-5, that tends to be a DDI, or Divergent Diamond Interchange, to try to make it more efficient. So that's been the latest one I've been doing.
Isaac Oakeson: Has that been the most memorable one or is it -- ?
Brent Chase: As of late memorable one is kind of interesting. It's actually a parking lot, which as transportation engineer you don't do a ton of. Those are more developers that are site development type stuff. But no, it was in little Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake. There was this old brick mill site that they wanted to demolish this building on there. [inaudible] I basically did everything from beginning to end because it was a smaller project. So I could do all the modeling, I could do all the CAD, I could do a lot of the plan sheets, I could do all the standards. So it was like a really big test for me to see: Okay, how much I understand the full cross process of a project, from meeting with the client and everything from that? Andthere were some other things associated with the parking lots and the widening on the main road going through there. But that was just like, "Okay, I can do this kind of moment". Like, you know, getting some confidence and understanding. So That's memorable for that way. And it was the first set that as an engineer I had stamped and that kind of thing. So that's kind of why it's also memorable. So yeah, I haven't checked it out yet. It was put on the shelf for a little while, but I think they got the funding and they just completed construction this summer. So I'm just to go check it out.
Isaac Oakeson: You gotta go check it out. I think one of the beauties of being a civil engineer is that you -- I mean, it depends on which field you're in, obviously, but a lot of times you get to see the actual product that you've built, you know? And it's something that's there and it will last for a very, very, very long time. That's always fun to see. So yeah, you definitely gotta check that out. That's crazy. You know, my own work doing with transmission lines and stuff, it's kind of this weird niche, but seeing the final product built, there's something that's very satisfying to move from something on a computer to something in the real world, and seeing it all come together well. And the issues, you know, they start coming in as soon as something is built. Man, that's just part of the fun. Right?
Brent Chase: Yeah, exactly. And you know, you might have a few headaches doing the project, but you kind of forget about them once you see the final product. It's worth it and rewarding for sure.
Isaac Oakeson: Good deal. Well, I want to ask some kind of quick questions. You can answer these as long or as short as you want. Any major obstacles you feel like you face when becoming a civil engineer? That could be boss, exams, anything like that.
Brent Chase: Those math courses in college, man. Those are brutal. [inaudible], Advanced calculus. There's one summer, because I was in a hurry to graduate, and so I ended up taking like two math courses in the shortened like summer term, and it was killers. I was in math every day. It was brutal. But you know, little by little I got through it.
Isaac Oakeson: You knocked it out. Yeah. I mean, engineering is no stroll in the park. You end up learning what the teacher wants you to do and you do your best at it. A lot of people struggle with passing the PE exam. I'm just curious if you have any advice for people taking either the FE or the PE. Just on your own, what any advice for those taking those exams?
Brent Chase: I don't know. You just gotta to find out what works best for you, but it's just those practice problems. Just get keep practicing them, going through them, making sure you know your resources and your references, and where to easily track things down. I think for the FE I ended up buying that reference book ahead of time so I could, you know, become familiar with it. And I think --
Isaac Oakeson: And you're referring to PPI's book? The Civil Engineering Reference Manual, I'm assuming.
Brent Chase: No. Well, for the PE yeah. But I think for the FE, isn't there like an equations book you get when you take the test? You can get like --
Isaac Oakeson: Oh, yeah! The NCEES Reference manual.
Brent Chase: Yeah. That guy. It's been a little while.
Isaac Oakeson: The other big book.
Brent Chase: Yeah. It wasn't as big, but anyways. Just become familiar with that, I think. I think there were a lot of questions that I'm like, "I don't remember learning this", but in that book I could easily, like, look at the formula and give a best guess and then move on to the next one. You know, don't spend too much time on it. Even educated guess is better than just randomly selecting. But just practice. Yeah.
Isaac Oakeson: Good advice. Practice, practice, practice. Just gotta do it. Another fun question is, what advice would you give to someone that wants to pursue a career similar to yours?
Brent Chase: Just get that experience, I think. You know, you'll learn in the engineering world that they say it's a small engineering road and I found that even moving from different States used to make connections all the time. So I think there's two sides. One just, you know, the same network advice. You know, establish relationships, get to know people, what they do, talk to different people, see what they work on and what they do. And then also don't burn bridges as you go through things, you know, especially if you're turning down job offers or, you know, you don't like a certain employee or whatever, you know, those things can travel around with you no matter where you go. So I think it's just -- Relationships are important, so start establishing those now. And then just stick with it and don't give up, and just get as much experience as you can, however that may be. Even if it's an internship that may not be ideal, you know, the best one out there, I think just some experience is better than none.
Isaac Oakeson: I love your story about how you got your experience. And I think that's a real good model for probably any civil engineer get out in the field. If you're taking measurements or doing testing, you know, at least you're out there, boots on the ground, kind of doing that stuff and really seeing what it's like out there. I know a lot of people that don't get that opportunity, maybe they move to an office role pretty quickly and they don't learn that they need to get out in the field often to check things out. And so if you have a chance to do that early that's going to take you a long ways in your career. So I think that's really good advice,
Brent Chase: Right. Yeah. I think get out in the field as much as possible is the way to do it.
Isaac Oakeson: What's a common myth you think about civil engineering profession or your field of work that maybe you'd like to debunk?
Brent Chase: Engineers are boring. Well, interesting enough, I guess speaking of civil engineering, you know, you have the different branches. You have your structures, the transportation, and water, and geo-tech, etc. You know, it was always cool being the structural engineer growing up, you know? Because you design the bridges and all sorts of the tall buildings, and that was like the cool one to do, you know? All the calendar shots and whatnot. So, I think that ou can have a lot of fun. You'll find people you connect with and you can have a lot of fun doing it with your coworkers. Some people may not be as interesting as others, but I think you'll find your group and just, you know, enjoy it and have fun with it.
Isaac Oakeson: That's great advice. I also think a lot of people think we're introverts and maybe that's true for a lot of people. But I had an interviewin a podcast episode in the past and I really liked this quote that was that really an introvert just means how you recharge. And even though you're introverted, doesn't mean you can't give a public speech or talk to other people or communicate effectively. It's really just kind of how you recharge. So, that's kind of a bigmyth as well as civil engineers. So I like what you said, you know, that we're boring. We like to have fun. Yes. We do like to have fun. We're not boring. We're just everyone else.
Brent Chase: Maybe be a little nerdy, you know, driving around with the kids saying, "Hey, look at that. That's what I do". And I could probably care less, but you know. At least your coworker think it's cool, I guess.
Isaac Oakeson: [Inaudible] My wife. Every power pole I look out, "Look at that pole". They don't want to look at it.
Brent Chase: "It Looks like the a hundred other ones you showed me, right?"
Isaac Oakeson: Oh, that's funny. Well, let's ask you another fun question. What's a personal habit that contributes to your success as an engineer?
Brent Chase: I think just being someone who's reliable to get the job done. I think, you know, it comes down to communication and that can really have you stand out and just being reliable and dependable. You know, [inaudible] one that can do it and will get it done and they don't have to worry about it, the project manager, if they give you a task or an assignment, that kind of thing.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah, and I think -- I mean, just my own 2 senses, but when the company realizes you're reliable, then you become a bigger asset to the company. And I think you have more opportunities to grow, more opportunities for a raise. Once they know you're reliable and you're going to do what you're there for, I think that's also a very long way if you can show that. Don't be coming to work late, or if you don't take responsibilities for mistakes that are made and things like that. If you push stuff off. That stuff just never goes well.
Brent Chase: Yeah. And I would also add to that, don't be afraid to ask questions instead of just sitting there all day, not progressing on something. So I'd much rather have you ask a question and, you know, get it to understanding and continue to move on to the next task.
Isaac Oakeson: Very good. Okay. Very nice. Well, is there any resources you would recommend to the Civil Engineering Academy audience? Anything of that nature?
Brent Chase: I think if you're interested in transportation engineering especially, there's mini cities in different municipalities, even, you know, DOTs have, transportation improvement plans that you can usually get online and look into. And they'll have different monthly meetings a lot of times to kind of discuss all the projects. You know, they'll have five- or 10-year plans or more of projects that they want to fund. And so there it'll have the breakout of where the funding comes from, but you can also see what projects are coming up and, you know, whether it's in your own community, you know, they can see where roads are going to be widened, where they're going to put a trail in. But I think it's also a neat opportunity to see, "Okay, what kind of work is out there?" What kind of firms are getting that work and who maybe has those jobs that you maybe are interested in work for. When it's a big job, there might be a demand for people to help out on that job, and you can be a step ahead and "Hey, I heard you just won this job". You're looking for people, whatever. But I think it's just a good way to track what's going on in the industry, what projects are coming out, what the funding is like, and you know, that kind of stuff.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. I think there's an opportunity right now. You can really dive into the details of what's being designed in the cities that you live in. And if you really want to engage with that, those lead you to opportunities of people that are hiring, employment, and firms that are out there working on this stuff. So I think that's good advice. Any books that you'd recommend to our audience? Could be on anything.
Brent Chase: You know, when I was in college, my mom gave me this book. It's kind of funny. It's called How to Win Friends & Influence People. As I go, thanks, mom. You don't have to think I have any friends. But it's by Dale Carnegie. But it's a really good book about just how people, especially relationships, and just, you know, as you working with people you don't know as well, justhow to get that common ground and really have those kind of relationships and winn friends. Everyone could use more friends, right?
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. How you build connections, right. Friends. That's awesome. Your mom thought you couldn't make any friends, so gave you the book.
Brent Chase: Mom's always looking out, Isaac.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, this question is just kind of a fun one, but if you had all the resources in the world, what's something you'd like to be a part of in the civil engineering world or anything you'd like to do with that?
Brent Chase: Yeah. I think one thing that's unique about our field is, you know, it's worldwide. Everybody needs civil engineering in their communities and some really cool humanitarian efforts you can do out there. And so, I'd love to get more involved with that. I haven't done very much with it, but I know people that have. Something I definitely would like to do more of and just, you know, helping the world and communities around using skills and experience that I've been able to have and can gain, and share those with others for the greater good.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. There's a lot of opportunities out there if you just look for them. For sure. Soyou know, it could have to deal with water, could be building buildings, could be building schools. A lot of opportunities.
Brent Chase: Yeah. Definitely.
Isaac Oakeson: That's great. Well Brent, let's go ahead and conclude this. Would you have any last pieces of guidance or a better way for somebody to get ahold of you if they had questions about maybe going into the transportation world?
Brent Chase: Man, I don't know. Just have a plan. I think is good. And, you know, I think your plan can always change, but I think just having a plan and kind of some goals is always good. Know which direction you're heading, and if that doesn't work out, look at ways you can change that. And then as far as connection, I think just LinkedIn. Just shoot me an email or something on there, and I'd be happy to answer any questions anyone has.
Isaac Oakeson: Okay. Go search Brent Chase on there. You'll find him.
Brent Chase: Yeah.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, thank you for joining me, Brent. This has been fun. I think it's fun to get a better glimpse into the transportation world. Going through the tips, tools and advice that you can share with us is always enlightening for any other future engineer that's going in this, or maybe others want to make a whole career pivot, what's out there for them. So, thanks for jumping on and sharing this with us.
Brent Chase: Yeah, no problem. See you, Isaac.
Isaac Oakeson: All right. See you later.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.