We all choose our career path based on our younger self’s dreams and expectations of what we might be able to do and work on someday in the future. Whether we thought we would design and build the next Burj Khalifa or get rich off an extremely high salary right after getting our first job out of college, the truth is that, even though we can still accomplish such things, we have to be mindful of how we go for it.
In today’s episode, Mark Oakeson jumps back on the show to discuss the expectations most of us may have of the civil engineering world as well as how it really works. By drawing on their own experiences within the field and their early days as civil engineers just fresh out of college, Isaac, and Mark talk about the many aspects we got wrong, and the ones we got right when we imagined ourselves as civil engineers even before going to college.
Do engineers really make that much money, even those just starting out? Is your project built exactly as your artistically created Revit model? Is the size of the projects you work on more important than the number of projects you take part in? Tune in to learn about this and much more!
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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: All right! What is up, everybody? Isaac here with Civil Engineering Academy coming at you with another sweet episode of our podcast. Excited to be with you today. Today I'm actually going to talk about a topic that comes up quite frequently. If you do any search online, you'll see this come up quite a bit. And that is the expectations of civil engineers versus the reality of getting into the civil engineering world, the civil engineering career. And so I wanted to talk about a fewbullet points on those topics. Actually bring my brother Mark on. So let me bring Mark on here. Hey, Mark. What's going on?
Mark Oakeson: Hey, guys! How we doing?
Isaac Oakeson: So, we're going to talk about some of the expectations versus the realities. I'm repping the Utah Jazz hat today because they broke the record on threes.
Mark Oakeson: Nice! They've got to take the title this year, don't they? It's got to happen.
Isaac Oakeson: I'm still burned by Jordan in 97 98. So, this is the year! It's going to happen.
Mark Oakeson: This is the year. We hope so.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, Mark, thanks for joining me. This is going to be a fun episode. Let's talk about some realities versus expectations. Or I guess we should reverse that. Expectations versus realities. I just highlighted a few key things, and maybe we can talk about these together because we're both in this world in slightly different industries and can bring some different perspectives on this. So I thought it'd be fun to talk about.
Mark Oakeson: You bet.
Isaac Oakeson: The first one I wanted to talk about is what school teaches you. When you're going to school, you're going there and you're basically learning a ton of different subjects. And I think the expectation that you might have for yourself is that you're going to need to know all of these different topics that you're studying all the time. So what's the reality on that?
Mark Oakeson: Well, the reality is you don't know everything when you get out of school. You haven't been exposed to everything in the field of civil engineering. And there's a lot that you have to learn stillCivil engineering coursework, curriculum whatever university you've gone to, gives you a good foundation, good solid foundation, butyou need to expect tohave to learn a lot of things. I'm justthinking of my experience. You know, when I got out of school, I gravitated -- I looked at working at a design firms then I went with a construction firm. In fact, it was a specialty subcontractor that I went to work for. And there was a lot of things that specialized in structural concrete. And there was a lot of things about structural concrete I had no idea about, you know? And I had to learn. So hopefully, during the course of your career at school, in college, you've learned how to teach yourself new things. I think that's the big thing that you walk away with. You want to be exposed to a nice broad spectrum of civil engineering topics. And thenonce you get out into your field and you realize thatyou don't know everything, why you've taught yourself that you can learn new subjects, you can learn new material and you jump in and you try to learn your field that you've decided to go into.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. So I think the reality is that, you know, you can brush up and learn other things that you need to learn. You're learning how to learn. But you're probably not going to use everything that you study in school when you start diving into the career of your choice. And so that's just the reality of it. So, you know, you end up being specialized, kind of, in the area or field that you go into.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah, that's true.
Isaac Oakeson: That's one of them. Another one I thought about is oftentimes when you're in school, even though you do dive into one particular subject at school, let's say that you gravitate to the truth is, like we said, that you're always going to be learning new things, and you're probably not going to know everything about that subject, even if that's where your focuswas during school. So like we said, school gives you a good foundation. Even if you got a master's degree, let's say in structural engineering, there's probably going to be some stuff that you're going to be learning even when you're out therepracticing.
Mark Oakeson: That's a guarantee. You're definitely going to learn more when you get out there. That's a guarantee.
Isaac Oakeson: So maybe the expectation is that you're going to know your specialty, and the reality is that there's always going to be more to learn there in your own field. We're always learning. I'm always learning too.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. Well, there's actually a feel that you got to get for whatever field you're in in civil engineering. You got to get a feel for how things are designed in the real world, right? So, in a classroom setting, you have the luxury of -- You know, you go through it and you're solving problems, and you're trying to learn concepts, design concepts, but when you get out in the field you're working for firms that are trying to make money. And to do that, they have to be as efficient as possible. And so you'll learn how to design I would say, more efficiently when confronted with typical parameters on a project that you may be doing some design for. You'll learn maybe some shortcuts, you'll learn some -- And not shortcuts in the way of not doing your due diligence and designing a project to the best of your ability in the way it's supposed to be done and doing, you know, your due diligence. But you find those ways to be efficient. It's probably the better word I should use there. And working for a firm like that, they found ways to be efficient so that they can get their design work done and then, you know, make some money after the job's done.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. You got to make that money. You got to make the money. So one of the things that, maybe this rolls into that a little bit, is that there's an expectation of -- I guess this kind of goes both ways. But there's an expectation of what you design in the office might be perfect in the field. Let's say you're a brand new engineer, you're designing stuff in software, and you're thinking this is exactly how it's going to be built in the field. What's the reality on that?
Mark Oakeson: The reality is that it's not. I work withYou know, being an engineer myself, but I also work with practicing engineers. And in the field, things are not put in exactly. They don't match exactly. If we're talking about a structural model, for an example, things in the field are not going to match that structural model exactly the way you've put it into your computer. And thenwhat has to govern is the typical industry standards and industry tolerances. So in my business, I work a lot withACI, American Concrete Institute, type tolerances. And so, as long as my crews are constructing things within the tolerances as defined by ACI, thenwe're good to go. And engineers that are designingprojects need to understand that, you know, you can't --- If something has been dimensioned to seven foot six exactly on a drawing, out in the field it's probably going to be seven foot five and seven eights, you know? There's little tolerances that are due to just constructability issues that you have to work with. And so yeah. What you see on your nice, neat Revit model is not exactly what's going to be produced out in the field. But that's okay.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, and I guess it also goes vice versa. Like, the expectation that what you've specked out and designed is going to be built that way by the field. Sometimes doesn't happenas well. So you know, just like you mentioned, dimensions might be off a little bit. There's some tolerances there. But sometimes mistakes are made too in the field and you end up trying to figure out how to make that work, or get it fixed, or a solution.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. What you discover is that there's like this symbiotic relationship that forms, right? They need your design so they know what they're building, but it can also come all the way around full circle. As an engineer, you need them, a lot of times, to make preferable andgood recommendations that, you know, they like working with you because that's going to generate more work for the firm that you work with. It's going to better your reputation. If you're an engineer that designs good constructable projects, man, that gets around in the industry, and everybody knows who you are, that you do good job, and you design things that are constructable, andcontractors can make money with your designs because they're good designs. If you start getting that kind of a reputation, boy, that just dominoes, right? And then you're looking good, your rep's good, the firm you work for looks good. And that owner that goes out and wants a similar project, he hears about your good reputation because everybody in the construction industry is talking about you. And it can be very helpful when that kind of stuff happens. So it's kind of a symbiotic relationship, I would say.
Isaac Oakeson: Excellent. Yeah, that sounds like a lot of good going on. It's all good. Another one we kind of talked about is the size of projects. I think when you're in school, there might be an expectation that you might be working on something that might look likeanother wonder of the world. And the reality of that is that you probably won't be. You know, not to say that the work you're doing isn't cool and isn't important, but it's probably not going to be, you know, featured on some wall in somebody's office. That's not for everybody, but it's not going to be -- You know, the reality is that you're probably not going to work on the next wonder of the world, is my thoughts there.
Mark Oakeson: Right, right. You're not going to maybe work on the next pyramid or something, is that what you were saying?
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. So that's just the reality of it. You may have a good long career, but you might not be -- You know, everyone goes to school and we go to these senior design classes and maybe you're seeing some really fancy, nice, awesome projects that might get you excited about things.
Mark Oakeson: When I was in school, I was in right before the Olympics came to Salt Lake City. And when I was in my senior designclasses, we had some guys that were coming in, you know, that are working onOlympic venues, you know? And I thought that was really cool. And I've yet to work on an Olympic venue. Well, you know what? And as I say that, I remember I did work on the Olympic ovalfor speed skating. So I can't say that.
Isaac Oakeson: You know what we're saying.
Mark Oakeson: But I did work on an Olympic venue. That was pretty cool. But yes. We know what you're saying. Most of your projects are going to be the run of the mill typical projects. But when you've been in the business as long as I have -- I mean, I can drive downtown Salt Lake City and the surrounding areas. And I mean, I can point out all kinds of "I worked on that one", "I did that one". That's kind of cool.
Isaac Oakeson: And I do transmission work and I can do the same thing, because once, you know, things get put in the ground, they're there for a long, long time. So, it's always fun to see what you designed. And that's part of the beauty of being a civil engineer. But, you know, don't expect to build the next wonder the world.
Mark Oakeson: Maybe expect to have a long career and work on a lot of projects. Maybe just build your repertoire, you know? It should be what you're looking forward to. Not maybe the big iconic projects, but maybe the number of projects is what you should be looking forward to.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, there you go. So size of projects is definitely one of those. Another one I thought of kind of is tied into working relationships and networking. But there are often I think there's an expectation sometimes, especially with younger workers, that they can probably bounce around to a lot of different companies. That's just kind of maybe the mentality these days to move around a lot. And I think the reality of that, if you do move around a lot, is that it kind of, over time, it can affect your networking. It affects what's on your resume a little bit because when employers are looking at you as an employee, that's going to stick around for a little bit and you have stuff on your resume that is just kind of all over the place every six months, you might have to explain that and they might want to know if you're going to bewith the company a little longer than that. So there's an expectation. Maybe you might want to bounce around a lot. And there's also a reality check that maybe that's probably not the best thing for you.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. I would agree with that. I mean, generally in the industry, I've done a lot of hiring in my career and I've had individuals that have bounced around and you look at their resume and they've spent six months here and nine months there. What that tells me is that maybe they're just unhappy. Maybe they're not -- You know maybe they're not happy in the industry that they've chosen. Maybe they lack some focus, you know? To me when I see that, as somebody who does a lot of hiring, it just that that person maybe lacks some commitment, maybe lacks some perseverance. Doesn't matter what job you get, there's going to be some stress that's involved with that job, there's going to be someadversity that's involved with that job occasionally. And somebody that bounces around a lot, to me that says maybe they are not up for those kinds of things. Maybe they can't handle those things very well. SoI don't know. It's critical that you do your due diligence as somebody looking for a job, right? Research, the companies that you're going to interview for and do your best to put togetherwhat that work environment is going to be like, what their philosophies are, what their corporate, you know, goals are, and make sure that those align with your personal goals as best as you can, maybe before you jump in. But you want to spend a few years in one location when you commit to work for somebody, because -- Yeah. It doesn't look good when you're about to --
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. So good points there. Tying into that a little bit is a starting salary as a civil engineer. You might be expectingquite a bit of money. I don't know. It just kind of depends on what you think. You know, you might be owed I guess, but the truth is you might be starting at somewhere lower than you think you're going to be. But the point is that you got to start somewhere. So a starting salary you know, the reality versus what people are expecting, might not line up there. But you know, that also says a lot about a person who's trying to get the job, you know? If they're expecting something that's so far out there, does not make sense. They haven't done any work, they haven't proved anything, they haven't done anything. There's no way that you can command a starting salary that is extremely highwhen you're starting out in this industry. So don't be surprised by that. Don't be
Mark Oakeson: Don't be surprised by that. I've interviewed individuals that have just come out of school in differentpositions that I've offered, and I've encountered individuals like that. My goodness, you know, they want a lot of money for me to kind of essentially take a chance on them. They don't have any track record, they've got their schoolwork behind them, but that's all I know. I don't know how they're going to handle the work environment. I don't know how they're goign to handlethe workload how they're goign to handle certain tasks and responsibilities. I have no idea about that stuff. And so as an employer, you're kind of taking a chance on a new hirecoming out of school. It's an opportunity to get somebody that you can mold and kind of steer in a good direction. But you are kind of taking a chance on that. So keep that in mind as a new, you know, just a new graduate coming out of school, that these firms are kind of taking a chance on you and you haven't proven yourself yet until you get some experience.
Isaac Oakeson: Good point. So salary is part of that. Another reality and expectation kind of check I wanted to bring up is raises per year. And then this might depend on the industry that you are specifically in. But, you know, typically a normal raise is like 3% per year. And this kind of depends on the field. It depends on if you're going through COVID, it depends on what the company's going through itself. But for myself working in the utility world, I think I've only had a full 3%, like, twice, and everything's just been under that. So it's not like -- If you come into the working world, you might be shocked a little bit that you're not always seeing a 3% raise every year. Some people get more than that, just depends probably on the field that you're in and the industry. Butraisesmight raise an eyebrow, is how I might say that.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. I would expect the big raises to happen as you go from position to position, right? So as you move up from maybe an engineer in training type level. Maybe you get, you know, your PE eventually. For sure get a bump in your wage. And then maybe you take on a position as a manager project manager, senior project manager. You go up through the levels therein your company or in your firm that you might be working for. Those are the big jumps I would expect to get.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. Those are way bigger. The yearly you know, might be a little lower than you think they might be. When you move up, you know, in your stages of your career, you really wil see the bigger increases. So that's the reality of that. Another one I thought about is that some people come out maybe thinking their job might be stress-free. That's not true. Not true. So, every job has an element of stress to it. I bet there's a spectrum, though, of careers in civil engineering that some are more stressful and some are less stressful. I don't know. Maybe if I could --Every job has stress. But maybe if there was a spectrum, it'd be like maybe -- Maybe if you're somewhere in the government world, maybe that's a little less stressful, I guess. I don't know. And maybe construction you know, maybe is more on the higher side of things. I don't know. What do you think?
Mark Oakeson: I would agree with that. Of course I think the industry I'm in is the most stressful.
Isaac Oakeson: Construction and management.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. I mean, it gets tough sometimes because you're managingprojects that are multi-million dollar projects. And so your decisionsdictate whetherthey're going to be profitable or not. And so there's a lot of things that you have to look at during the course of the project, a lot of things that you have to manage. Not just the costs andthe actual sequencing and the logistics, but you've got to manage, you know, personnel and make sure that you've put the right teams together. And you're basically asked to look into your crystal ball and predict the future, right? And sometimes weather affects you, COVID affects you. There's lots of things thatyou can't predict that pop up andyou have to deal with them. But yeah. I deal with a lot of stress during the day. I can definitely feel it.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, I wonder if nobody's probably ever done this before. It'd be kind of fun to see a spectrum ofpositions. But you know, every position has stress to it at some level, doesn't matter where you're at. Don't think that your job will be stress-free. Let me know about it, if you find one.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. Because I want it
Isaac Oakeson: Another one I thought of, and maybe this is the last one. I'm sure there's probably moreAnd that is the expectation that when you first start out, you're not going to have a lot of responsibility, so you're not going to have to make big decisions about things. And the reality of that one is that sometimes you are thrown into situations or decision-making processes that you are the guyYou're the responsible person. And, you know, if you design something, you're the guy that's going to have to answer those questions. You can't push it off.
Mark Oakeson: That can be intimidating, man.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. So to think that you're not going to have a lot of responsibility or that you can push decisions off on someone else is not the reality of hat.
Mark Oakeson: No. You've got to own it. And if you got to dig in and figure it out that's what you got to do. I remember when I started my first job, they gave me a plaque, you know? It was on the outside of my office door. It said Mark Oakeson, Civil Engineer. AndI remember looking at that going, "Wow, okay. I guessI better know what I'm talking about. It's official now". And it's true. I mean, there's peoplethat start working for you, working with you, that expect you to be knowledgeable about your craft, about your career, and the things that you do. So you got to make sure you're on top of your game.
Isaac Oakeson: I also wouldn't let that scare you. I mean, we're sharing a lot of stuff here that's reality versus expectations. But you know, you will have responsibilities, but there's also people in your workplace that want to see you succeed. So It's not like --
Mark Oakeson: And it's a process because you're trying to build rapport and respect with your colleagues and everybody you work with. And that happens the more interaction that you have. And that's right. There's people that you work under that you look up to as kind of mentors. I can name a few that I started with that were definitely mentors in the industry. And they're actually the people that understand really where you're coming from, and they're more apt to lend you a helping hand and give you good direction. So, yeah. That's actually good advice, Isaac. Just to seek kind of a mentor or someone that can help you as you're new, you know? Someone of that can take you under a wing and teach you the ropes.
Isaac Oakeson: Maybe that's another one. The expectation that you might be, you know, a lone Wolf doing this. And the reality is that you can find a mentor and you can find people that can support you and help you on this journey. You will not be alone.
Mark Oakeson: It's a little scary, but you're not alone.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. There's other people that are in this industry that you're going into, and they're more than willing to help you learn the ropes. I'm in transmission engineering and when I started, there was a guy that was 70 years old that had come back. He was retired, came back to the company to start working because he had started his own survey business and had told me that he was better off if he would've stayed there his whole life. But, you know, things didn't work out. So he's back there working for a little bit, but he's the one that really showed me how to get going in the transmission world. And it was really valuable to have someone there that you could ask questions to and bug and, you know, all of that stuff. So anyway. All right, man. Is there any others that you can think of or anything else you want to hit?
Mark Oakeson: No, I just -- Civil engineering's an exciting field to be into. I'm amazedall the time when you think of somebody with a civil engineering degree and the career possibilities that that person has at their feet. I mean, it's really amazing. There's just so many things you can do with that degree that it is pretty amazing.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. If you're just starting out, I think you just don't know what you don't know yet. And you probably got blinders on on just getting a job and starting. But once you get into an industry and you start working, your eyes kind of open up to what's out there, and knowing where you could go if you want it to, and what's available to you. And there's just a lot of places you could head. It's not necessarily just civil engineering. So if your expectation --That's another one. Maybe your expectation is that you're going to be a civil engineer for the rest of your life. And that's just not true. Like, you're going to be an engineer for a while, but you can move into management, project management, ownership. I mean, all the way up the ladder. And you just start getting away from engineering a little bit more in managing people.
Mark Oakeson: Oh, yeah. I know people that get into developing and property management. I mean, there's just -- It's amazing when you think about it. The different areas that you can go into. And like you were saying, you don't even know what's available until you start going in a certain direction. And then you realize how big the civil engineering world is. Your career options, they're numberless. I mean, it's crazy how many options you got.
Isaac Oakeson: It's a good field to get into. So if you've joined us, stick with it. You can get there. Anyway, thanks Mark for joining. Go Jazz. And I hope everybody has a great day.
Mark Oakeson: Okay. Thanks, Isaac.
Isaac Oakeson: See you, guys.
Mark Oakeson: See you.
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