Three Pieces of Advice for Structural Engineering Grads

If you are a civil engineering student finishing your degree, you are probably starting to explore all the options and opportunities available in the workforce. While structural engineering may be a specialized discipline, there are many paths and backgrounds that can lead someone into an exciting career that is innovatively transforming modern development in cities and towns all over the world.

We recently interviewed three of our engineers to learn what got them interested in the field and how they pursued their first job and built their career as a structural engineer with Simpson Strong-Tie.

Network and Make Contacts

Structural Engineer Griff Shapack headshot

Griff Shapack

Griff Shapack is an Associate FRP Design Engineer for Simpson Strong-Tie. He has bachelors and master’s degrees in civil engineering from North Carolina State University.

“I started looking for employment opportunities six months before graduation. I was working in a structures lab during graduate school, and the lab manager shared a job description for an Associate FRP Design Engineer at Simpson Strong-Tie with a few students. I knew I wanted to work under a P.E., and had experience and interest in FRP design, so I applied.”

“One of the things I love best about my job is that I get to go out and give presentations to structural engineers with our sales reps and field engineers. It’s great to be able to interface directly with our customers.”

“My biggest recommendations for engineering students is to reach out to people you already know in the industry. Classmates and professors can have valuable contacts at firms where you want to work.” 

Persistence Pays Off – Don’t Give Up

Structural Engineer Jhalak Vasavada

Jhalak Vasavada

Jhalak Vasavada is currently a Research & Development Engineer for Simpson Strong-Tie. She has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Maharaja Sayajirao (M.S.) University of Baroda, Gujarat, India, and a master’s degree in structural engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL. After graduation, she worked for an environmental consulting firm called TriHydro Corporation and as a structural engineer with Sargent & Lundy, LLC, based in Chicago, IL. She worked on the design of power plant structures such as chimney foundations, boiler building and turbine building steel design and design of flue gas ductwork. She is a registered Professional Engineer in the State of Michigan.

“When I was in school for my master’s degree in Chicago, my professor recommended that I apply for a job at a firm called Sargent & Lundy. Unfortunately, at the time I applied, there were no openings at the firm, so I took another job until there was an opening. I interviewed there and got the job. It was a wonderful experience because it was in this role that I had the chance to meet my mentor. Having a female mentor was great in terms of real-life experience and advice. In fact, we still keep in touch.”

“When I moved to California, I wanted to find a job that allowed me to do something different. I applied for a job with Simpson Strong-Tie, and it was the best decision ever because I always get to work on new and exciting projects. My recommendation for students is to be persistent in trying to get a job at the place where you want to work.”

Appreciate and Learn from Every Experience That Comes Your Way

Structural Engineer Neelima Tapata

Neelima Tapata

Neelima Tapata is an R&D engineer for the Fastening Systems product division at Simpson Strong-Tie. She works on the development, testing and code approval of fasteners. She joined Simpson Strong-Tie in 2011, bringing 10 years of design experience in multi- and single-family residential structures in cold-formed steel and wood, curtain-wall framing design, steel structures and concrete design. Neelima earned her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from J.N.T.U in India and her M.S. in civil engineering with a focus on structural engineering from Lamar University. She is a registered Professional Engineer in the State of California.

“I started searching for a job while I was finishing my master’s program. I started the search about a month before I graduated. My first job was in a consulting firm, and it was a fast-paced environment where you learned a lot on your own. My experience working for different consulting firms gave me a chance to concentrate on designing for a niche market, but my current role helps me see the big picture when it comes to design.”

“One of the things that I love most about my current role is that it allows me to take on multiple projects, so I’m always learning something new. It’s very important to stay curious. I also enjoy interacting with different departments in Simpson Strong-Tie. It gives me an opportunity to take on tasks that structural engineers may not normally get, like writing posts for an interesting publication like our Structural Engineering blog!”

“My advice for young structural engineers is to appreciate every experience that life sends your way. You may not realize it at the time, but it all ends up helping you get where you are now.”

If you are going to receive your degree this year or you know someone who is just starting out or looking to take a different path, Simpson Strong-Tie is hiring! We have several job opportunities in our engineering department. Check out our full list of job openings – then bookmark it! https://www.strongtie.com/about/careers/job-posting/engineerjobs

Being an Engineering Intern at Simpson Strong-Tie

Editor’s Note: This week’s blog post is written by one our college interns in the Engineering Department. Ian Kennedy spent the summer of 2016 as an intern for the McKinney office of Simpson Strong-Tie. He will be starting his second year at Calpoly San Luis Obispo in Fall 2016 studying Mechanical Engineering. As an intern, he spent his time helping the branch engineering department with numerous projects, as well as exploring projects of his own. He enjoys metalworking, fitness, and the outdoors. Thank you to Ian Kennedy for this week’s post.

As I write this, I can’t help but laugh that of all the interns studying structural, civil or architectural engineering in school, the intern writing the post for our Structural Engineering Blog is studying mechanical engineering. I haven’t met too many mechanical engineers during my time here at Simpson Strong-Tie. I know there are a few, but while a lot of mechanical engineers are focused on making things move, most of the people here concentrate primarily on making things stay still. I’ve found what Simpson does to be more important than a lot of my peers at school may realize – it seems ME students are more preoccupied with cars and equipment than with what’s keeping the roof from coming down on top of them. Still, my exigence alone wasn’t enough to cancel the uneasiness of a first-time intern doing things he never knew he would be doing.

Simpson Strong-Tie intern Ian Kennedy.

A headshot of Simpson Strong-Tie intern Ian Kennedy.

If I had to go back and give myself a one-sentence explanation of what would be expected of me here, it would be this: “You’re going to find out what it takes to make a structure or system not work, then make sure no one else ever has that happen.” Although I doubt I would have appreciated what that meant at the time, I now think that it’s the most succinct explanation both of what Simpson Strong-Tie does, and of how I would need to approach my new position.

Engineering intern Paul Casabag working on a DIY porch swing project.

Engineering intern Paul Casabag working on a DIY porch swing project.

It started to click with me when I worked on load-rating calculations for some of the Simpson Strong-Tie products. A rating isn’t determined by what a product’s strengths are, but rather its weaknesses: “Here, here, and here are the ways things can go wrong, these are the ways it’s going to break, and finally, this is a list of the ways it’s going to be misused in reality. Now make sure none of that can feasibly happen, or people can get hurt.”

diy-porch-swing-progress2

Engineering interns building a DIY porch swing that is sturdy and durable.

That’s a heavy burden, even if you’re just an intern. It’s given me a solemn respect for the engineers that sign off on calculations, testing and construction plans. It’s a respect I wasn’t anticipating: Respect for their intellect, sure; for their work ethic, absolutely; but I can’t say that I expected myself to develop a respect for the people I work with because of the weight of human life they carry. Maybe that’s because it’s my first experience with real engineering. Maybe it’s something every engineer develops through classes or experience – I hope it is, because the effect I believe it can have on the decisions engineers make is incredible.

I continued to realize the truth behind my view when I spent time in the onsite test lab. Things break. Sometimes it happens slowly, and sometimes it happens faster than you can blink. A lot of the time it doesn’t even happen how I expected, but, without fail, an engineer had made sure to check that failure mode in the calcs. And the message in my head reminded me – figure out how it can break, so that no one else has to.

DIY porch swing DIY porch swing

The DIY porch swing complete and ready to enjoy.

In adjusting to my role as an intern, I found my view to be crucial to my growth. I made mistakes, as everyone does. There were countless things I didn’t consider, or hadn’t learned before, and in a way these were failures. But they were small failures, ones that could be addressed and learned from with the support and experience of the people I work with. I wouldn’t have grown without these failures, and I wouldn’t have been able to anticipate them in the future. Just like the products Simpson makes, I was strengthened by being tested and corrected. I used what I learned from my mistakes, and I’ll make sure that those aren’t ways in which I’ll fail in the future.

I can’t say for sure yet how being an intern here has strengthened my future specifically in mechanical engineering, but I can clearly identify the skills it’s given me that translate across anything I hope to do: continuous improvement, preparation for anything to go wrong, and respect for the one load not covered by ASD or LRFD – the weight of human life. These are the lessons I’ve learned above everything else at Simpson Strong-Tie. These are things I’ve found not only the company to stand for, but everyone working for it as well. Internships are supposed to simply provide an opportunity to gain skill and experience in the industry; however, more than that, my internship with Simpson Strong-Tie has taught me invaluable lessons that I hope my peers can someday have a chance to learn as well.

Symposium Offers Sneak Peek at Lab

This week’s recap of the Light-Frame Engineering Symposium was written by Keith Cullum, one of our engineers at the Simpson Strong-Tie Riverside, Calif., branch. Keith graduated with a degree in Architectural Engineering from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and worked for an engineering consulting firm in Orange County designing commercial structures in steel, concrete and masonry, and multi- and single-family residential structures in cold-formed steel and wood. Prior to joining Simpson Strong-Tie in 2012, he worked for a steel deck manufacturer performing R&D and providing product technical support and promotion. He is a LEED Accredited Professional (AP) and a registered Professional Engineer in the State of California. Here is Keith’s post:

I bet you’d be shocked if someone told you the epicenter for structural engineering was located in Stockton, California. Well, for two days in late October this year, it was. That’s where Simpson Strong-Tie held its 2013 Light-Frame Engineering Symposium.

More than 150 industry professionals attended, including principals and project managers from the top engineering and architectural firms throughout the United States as well as local policy makers, researchers and a number of Simpson Strong-Tie engineers.

The event included several informative presentations by leading experts on topics such as design and analysis of diaphragms and multi-story shear walls, designing high-rise structures with wood, podium deck anchorage, soft-story retrofit testing, code reports and the future direction of building codes.

Steve Pryor gives an overview of the lab's testing capabilities.

Steve Pryor gives an overview of the lab’s testing capabilities.

In addition, the group was given a sneak peek into the testing done at Simpson Strong-Tie’s Tyrell Gilb Research Laboratory.

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