In this episode of The Civil Engineering Academy Podcast, I interview Matthew Loos, PE, LEED, who works in the real estate development arena. He started a podcast called The Placemaking Podcast that you should check out and also wrote a book called The Business of Engineering. We dive into the real-estate development world, find out how he started, and some of his great tips for civil engineers looking to work in development. He has some great tips for all civil engineers in general so check this out! You’ll be inspired to take action on something to improve your game.
The Business of Engineering – this is the book that Matt wrote. It’s a great one for any civil engineer! Check it out here.
Ego is the Enemy – a book about your ego. Recommended by Matt. Check it out here.
The Placemaking Podcast – give Matt’s podcast a listen and give him a good review! He dives into all the details of real estate development. Check it out here.
CEA Community – join other like-minded civil engineers in our free community built for you! Need help with FE, PE, or career advice? This is for you! Check it out here or at https://www.ceacommunity.com
PPI – If you need books or courses then check out PPI at https://www.civilengineeringacademy.com/ppi and use our discount code of CIVAC to get 15% off any book you order. They also have deals on courses that end at the end of May. Use our link and save some $$.
CEA Show Notes
Isaac: Hey, what's going on everybody? Welcome to the Civil Engineering Academy Podcast. I've got a special guest today. We've got Matt Loos here with us and we're excited to have him. Matt's awesome. He's been in the development world and I think he has a lot to share with everybody.
I discovered you through LinkedIn. I thought it would be really fun to have you on as a guest and discuss how you got into development and maybe share some sweet tips with everybody here.
Matt: Can't wait.
Isaac: Yeah, it's going to be good.
Just to begin, how did you find yourself in civil engineering? How did you choose that path and then how did you end up in the niche that you're in within civil engineering?
Matt: Yeah, I love asking this question to other engineers because it's funny the type of answers you get and a lot of them come back to growing up and things they were interested in and building things, and all this. I would say mine is similar. I loved Legos, loved building, loved taking apart things in the garage, that kind of thing. I enjoyed that type of activity. I would say being outside, enjoying math, and all these things culminated into the idea that I wanted to do engineering. I didn't know what kind, and I think that happens to a lot of people. But ultimately, and this is probably the same for most civils too, it came down to civil or mechanical. I chose civil just because I liked the idea, tangible items that I could work with and build and create places.
Isaac: When I saw the course curriculum for mechanical, I was like, maybe we'll go the civil route.
Matt: I just couldn't see myself doing the things that I expected the mechanicals to do, like the things I heard that they were working on, it just didn't appeal to me in the future. I couldn't see myself doing that.
Isaac: That's good. Yeah. You don't know what you don't know until you start getting into it and you realize what civils are actually working on. Then it kind of opens your eyes to things, which is why you go to school. Right? Figure this stuff out.
How did you get into that development area?
Matt: Yeah, even in school, you don't really know what it actually entails until you get out and start trying new jobs and feeling out what's best for you. I got an internship during my junior year of college and it just happened to be with the site development group and I got to see what they were doing. It really appealed to me from a business side. I enjoyed the business classes that I took. I got a minor in business and enjoyed that. I got to do that along with the engineering. I got to mix both and that really appealed to me. Then, just as luck would have it, going into that internship, I came out and I really enjoyed it. So, I decided to stick with it.
Isaac: That�s awesome. I was similar except I took an internship and discovered that's not what I wanted to do and went a different route.
Matt: That is the value of an internship for sure.
Isaac: Yeah, that's why you do them, right? They're good learning experiences.
Wow, so you have found yourself in the development world. I know you have started a podcast called "The Place Making Podcast". I've listened to a bunch of episodes. I have found them really interesting and its really for anybody that's looking to get tips and tools and advice on how to do development. It's a go-to source. I really liked the one you did about Kelly, about floodplains and Florida and working there. I think you have a lot of good stuff there. So why did you start that?
Matt: Yeah, it's probably similar to you as I saw value in having these conversations with other people and then also recording them. A lot of these conversations I've had day today and thought, �Hey, this might actually be valuable for someone else to listen to, especially if they're interested in development.� The real estate development field is very diverse and there's a lot that goes into it that most people don't understand or know about. I am pulling back the veil and talking to all of these different subject matter experts and developers themselves and getting those tips and tricks. Maybe it helps either convince somebody to do it themselves, maybe it gives them just enough confidence that they say, "Hey, maybe I can do this", or maybe it's for seasoned people that like to hear other points of view or whatnot.
Isaac: Yeah. I think there's a lot of interest in doing that too. I know people just around my own neighborhood. One guy had pulled the trigger on doing development and in some different areas. I was always surprised because you never know who jumps into that game and just goes full bore with it. But I think it's a really neat thing to do. So that's pretty cool. Why don't you take us through a typical day for the kind of engineering that you do?
Matt: So right now I'm more in a management role, quasi management, still doing some design. But for those that aren't really sure about what the site development field is within civil engineering, I primarily focus on developments that consist of multifamily, mixed use, high rise, that kind of thing. It's everything five feet outside the building is how we look at it. That's our domain. So that's drainage, utilities, permitting, pretty much the whole gambit. So an architect comes in, paired up with a developer or an owner and they have a vision for the site and then they hire out the other pieces. We're one piece, and structural engineers are another piece, mechanical engineers another, and we all kind of come together to help this vision. But our piece is pretty much everything on the ground and underneath it.
Isaac: You're in Texas, right? So things are still exploding there or what's it like there? I keep seeing pictures and images of just fields of homes. It must be going crazy there.
Matt: We're still one of the fastest-growing places in the country and it doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
Isaac: Even with COVID?
Matt: Yeah, construction is still going.
Isaac: Wow, that's awesome. Well, it sounds like you've got a lot of experience now. You've worked your way up into a management type role. Is there a tool or any sort of career advice for an up and coming engineer that you think would be valuable for them to know about?
Matt: Yeah, of course.
Isaac: Give some tips for those rising engineers.
Matt: I guess my biggest tip would be to always continue to learn as much as you can. It's a given, but graduating from college is not the pinnacle of your education as much as some people wish it were. Just constantly learn and never get stuck.
Isaac: It's always surprising too how much you learn in college and how much is actually applied to the field that you're in. It's helpful to know all disciplines, but sometimes it's always an eye-opener when you actually get out in the working world, what you're actually pulling from college to help you in your workplace. But it sounds like you've learned a lot of new softwares, and they're maybe not new, but you've learned a lot of software tips and tools as well. Maybe talk about some of those.
Matt: So typically for our line of work, we use a lot of Civil 3D, which is, Autodesk, in the Autodesk family. A lot of what it does is it allows us to basically design a site and we're able to make 3D surfaces for the site and model all the utilities and that kind of thing. Luckily I was able to start out with that because that's pretty much industry-wide, at least for our group. I try to learn the new stuff that's coming out too, like all the BIM softwares that are coming out and Revit. Revit doesn't necessarily apply to us at the moment, but it's nice to understand the capabilities since we share back and forth with architects, mechanicals, and structurals, which all use it.
Isaac: That's good advice. I personally agree with all of that. When you leave college there's definitely a lot more to learn. In my own world, I learned a really specific software because I'm in the transmission world for utility design, designing transmission poles. There is one software that everybody uses and it's called PLS-CADD. It's just something you would never use unless you were in this transmission world. There's always something new to learn.
Isaac: Is there something that you've learned in your journey as an engineer, now in project management? A Lesson that you've learned, whether it was through a mistake that you've made or that you've seen at a distance and what you learned from that?
Matt: Yeah, I would be lying if I said I didn't make any mistakes. So really a lot of those mistakes, my own and others that I've noticed, all stem from a lack of communication. A lot of times just communicating certain things can save people lots of time. It's something that I've learned is much more necessary than maybe was taught in school. We had some team assignments, but even then the actual communication portion wasn't really emphasized.
Isaac: But what do you think happens? Why do you think the communication breaks down?
Matt: Oh man, there's plenty of reasons that I can think of. Ego is often a barrier to communication.
Isaac: Egos, ah, that's a big one. People don't want to admit either when they're wrong on something or when something might need to be looked at again or double-checked.
Matt: Right. That's a big one for engineers.
Isaac: I also think a lot of engineers get so focused on their own projects. You get going on something and you kind of just stay in the zone on it. And a lot of times project managers and other people that are part of the team need to know where you're at or what's going on, or an issue that you've maybe seen that no one else has seen. Those kinds of things come up and sometimes you just never bring it up, you know about it, but you're not telling anybody.
Matt: Yeah. Maybe there are lack of protocols in place for that kind of thing. Yeah. I was going to say management, but that kind of goes along with what you're saying. A lot of times we don't want to be wrong.
Isaac: Yeah. That's probably the main thing I bet with engineers. Okay. Well, good advice there. Is there a recent idea or project that you've worked on where you were involved that might help others know more about you and what's going on in your world? What are you working on these days? You got a big project?
Matt: Yeah. I was thinking more along the lines of my projects that are outside of work. The book I published last year with the Engineering Management Institute was a pretty big project.
Isaac: Oh tell me about that.
Matt: Yeah. It's called The Business of Engineering. I've got it sitting around somewhere, but yeah, I worked with the Engineering Management Institute to publish that last year. It's kind of a passion project for about a little over three years. That was a big one for me to knock that out.
Isaac: That's awesome. You worked on it for three years?
Matt: I would say probably about three years.
Isaac: Wow. So where can people check this out?
Matt: Amazon is probably the best place. I've got it on LinkedIn and all that, but you can find it on Amazon.
Isaac: Do you have some highlights from "The Business of Engineering"?
Matt: Sure. Essentially it's just going through certain things I learned soon after college. It's kind of that mentality of journaling my experience after college and what worked and what didn't, what I gained from the college experience and how it actually helped me out of college and once I got a job and everything. It's basically just saying that the training that engineers have received isn't necessarily it, it needs to be updated to meet what we're seeing right now as far as all the technology that's coming out. As engineers, we're going to be put into more leadership positions. I didn't feel that college quite prepared me for that. So it's basically dissecting all the attributes that can make engineers successful after college.
Isaac: It's almost like you're also becoming a leader sooner. It just feels like in such a rapid-paced world, I know things take time, but a lot of times you're thrust into situations where they're relying on you to be the go-to source or the leader for whatever you're working on. So I can see why that would be very valuable.
Matt: Right, technology has just continued to exponentially climb right now. Back when the first industrial revolution came about, more of these engineers were thrust into these positions because they had the technological mindset that other businessmen or others might not know, professional managers, that kind of thing. We're now into the fourth industrial revolution or getting there and the same thing is going to occur. Professional managers won't quite understand the background needed or won't have that background needed to effectively lead. That's the overall premise of the book, the main lesson is that those skills learned in college don't quite translate to that yet and I'm just trying to bridge that gap.
Isaac: That's fantastic. So "The Business of Engineering" go check that out. That's a sweet resource. As we dive into this a little bit further, is there a favorite project that you've personally worked on or studied?
Matt: Yeah, the first kind of big project I worked on, and it wasn't huge, but it was a 10 story office building and it was exciting because it was kind of a big deal at the time. I learned so much, not only about engineering as a whole, but the business side of communicating with other disciplines, architects, other engineers, shareholders outside of that, the city, and just understanding that whole process. That was a big one for me.
Isaac: Yeah, it's always like that first project becomes usually the most memorable for people. I've ended up learning a lot from either mistakes made or just some stuff like that.
Matt: Sink or swim.
Isaac: Yeah. I remember I designed a steel pole for a transmission line and I go out and hand all this stuff out to the crew members that are out there because I worked a lot with linemen. I worked with the general foreman and this guy has been in the field for like ever, 30 plus years, and he looks at this stuff and he's picking out stuff I screwed up on a big time.
Matt: To your face
Isaac: Yeah. "Hey, you need to come look at this." But those are learning lessons. I have found not to be scared of those because they're going to come one way or another. If you can learn from them, then you don't make those mistakes in the future or you at least know what to look out for. It's just part of the learning process.
Isaac: That's great. What's something you're interested in about today? Any things top of mind that you're very interested in?
Matt: I would say mobility and transportation and how we move things. That's kind of one of those exciting ideas that I really want to learn more about, just autonomous vehicles, ride-sharing, how that's going to impact everyday life and how cities are actually constructed in the future. I think it's exciting stuff.
Isaac: I think so too. It feels like we're right on the cusp of something, those things are coming and we'll maybe be older when that all happens, but it's fun to talk about it now and see where we go.
Matt: Right. Yeah, it's interesting to learn about. It's crazy the integration that is trying to be built into the cities, but they're a long ways off.
Isaac: Okay, well good. Thanks for sharing that with me. I want to throw at you some short questions, some quick answers that you can give to me on a few questions. This is just to help other engineers that are rising up, but just little bits of pieces of advice that you have for others. So the first one I have is, what's an obstacle that you faced when becoming a civil engineer?
Matt: That's a big one.
Isaac: Yeah. What do you think is a bigger obstacle for you?
Matt: I think the biggest obstacle for me was believing that I had to know all the answers to every question I was asked. The idea that I was supposed to be a subject matter expert at these meetings. Even though at a lot of those early meetings I was with others that were actually signing and sealing the plans in the future, I still felt like I went to school for this, I should know this.
Isaac: Yeah. For sure.
Matt: Yeah, I took that very personally, not knowing all those answers. I think that was a big obstacle. It takes some time to learn, not taking it personally when you don't know everything.
Isaac: That's great advice. How about this one? What's the best advice you've ever received? Or just good advice in general?
Matt: This goes along with the book. So the title of the book I got by some advice that was given to me is that we were not just engineers. We were in the business of engineering, hence the book. We're one piece and just learning to work with others and understand why our piece is important and how it affects others. Engineering is a service. You still gotta understand what piece of the puzzle you are and it goes back to management as well, the business side. I think that's the biggest advice that stuck with me is just trying to learn more about the business behind the engineering as well.
Isaac: Okay. That's great. That's really good advice. I personally think working in a utility, I'm kind of a fish out of water a little bit because I'm a civil engineer in an electrical engineering world a little bit. Although they do hire a lot of civil engineers, basically all disciplines are needed. But once you learn what you do and you start learning what other people do, it just opens your eyes to all the pieces that are involved in making it either a company or a business or a project, all move forward. So I do think that's just spot on. Another question for you. What's a personal habit that contributes to your success as an engineer?
Matt: I would say the biggest habit is reading, not just reading, but mainly reading voraciously. I enjoy reading and learning and I think that's ultimately a habit that has created more success for me. This wasn't something I picked up in college. I was not a huge reader in college.
Isaac: I was the same.
Matt: We had enough to read, right?
Isaac: Yeah. You don't have time for that.
Matt: Yeah. So afterwards with all my free time I had. I think learning and reading those go hand in hand.
Isaac: Good habit. Is there a particular book or any books that stand out to you?
Matt: There's a couple. I would say "Ego is the Enemy" is one of my favorites.
Isaac: "Ego is the enemy." Okay. I have never read that.
Matt: That's a good one, by Ryan Holiday. It's kind of talking about what I talked about previously, how ego sometimes stops us from asking questions. Really that's the big one, being too insecure to ask those questions because your ego is in the way to basically stop you from showing somebody that you don't know everything. That book tells you ways that you can actually pull that back a little bit, understand it, and recognize when that's going to be an issue. I thought that was an actionable book.
Isaac: That's great. We'll keep note of that. We'll put it in some notes here so we can let others be reminded of it. That's great. Another question for ya. We already talked about a book that you'd recommend. This one's kind of a fun one, but if you had all the resources or all the knowledge that you had in the world, what's something you would like to be a part of in the world of civil engineering? What would you do?
Matt: Yeah, so we talked about transportation and that kind of thing. That's a pretty cool project. That would be cool to understand how all this is integrated together, the autonomous vehicles, smart cities, that kind of thing. But I would say sustainability and construction. It's such a big part. They say the pollution from construction activities is one of the greatest producers of pollution. If we could come up with ways to make it a little more sustainable, it's not as big and exciting and sexy as the transportation one, but I think that would have a pretty big impact.
Isaac: Yeah, I agree. Every time I read about how much concrete we use and what that's doing to stuff. I agree with you. So, those are great.
I think with everything that you've shared with us today, as a beginning engineer or even someone experienced, there's going to be something here that you could learn from, a tip or tool, even a lesson learned. I think this is all very valuable for those who are listening to this. I really thank Matt for all he's put in to helping the podcast and sharing some of his life experiences with us.
So maybe as we wrap up, Matt, is there any lasting piece of guidance or the best way to contact you if you want to be contacted, to connect with you, if they have any questions about development or either just getting more information from you, what's the best way to get ahold of you?
Matt: Yeah. For your first question here, the last bit of advice, I would just say stay hungry. Never be afraid to ask questions and just enjoy the process of learning and problem-solving. That's why you're an engineer, right.
You can find me on LinkedIn like you did or Twitter. It is a big piece of networking for me. I enjoy LinkedIn. You can find me on the podcast: http://placemakingpodcast.com/
Isaac: Yeah, go subscribe to that one. Leave a good review too. Place Making Podcast. It's good stuff. Well thanks Matt for jumping on and sharing your wisdom with us!
Matt: Of course. Thanks for having me.
Isaac: All right, we'll see you later.
Matt: Alright, bye.
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