So. . .What Do You Love About Structural Engineering?

A few years ago, we hosted a Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work® Day at our home office in Pleasanton, CA. During introductions, several parents told the children what they did and how they chose their particular profession (you can see what my son thinks I do in my bio). At our home office, we have accounting, finance, product management, IT, administration, marketing, and a few others I’m probably missing, so it is a diverse group the kids heard from that day.

And the careers were often not what people had originally planned for. Many shared wonderful stories about the twists and turns their careers took until they finally discovered their passion and job satisfaction. Often, this was a career that they didn’t even know existed when they chose a major in college or first entered the workforce.

So, what was my story?

San Francisco Marina District. Credit: J.K. Nakata, U.S. Geological Survey

It wasn’t twisting and turning – I went to college to become a structural engineer. Hearing others tell their career stories that day did get me thinking about why I’d chosen a major before I even started college. Sure, I knew in sixth or seventh grade that I would probably be some kind of engineer since I enjoyed math and science and did well in it, but what made me zero in on structural engineering? And I figured out the exact date – October 17, 1989. I was in high school and had just gotten home from basketball practice, ready to watch the San Francisco Giants play the Oakland A’s in the World Series, when the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck the Bay Area.

San Francisco Marina District. Credit: J.K. Nakata, U.S. Geological Survey

Seeing the damage to freeways, businesses and homes throughout the Bay Area had a tremendous impact on me that I probably didn’t realize at the time. In the months following the quake, I watched dozens of news reports and read everything I could about why different structures were damaged and how they were being rebuilt. I learned that there were these people out there called structural engineers that designed and detailed structures to resist the forces they would be subjected to, including natural disasters like earthquakes, tornados, and hurricanes. And that’s what I wanted to do.

Some people might say they “fell into” a certain profession, but as an engineer, I believe that most of us chose this field for a reason. For me, I chose my career after a natural disaster showed me how important it is that we have safe structures. With deadlines, budgets, construction challenges and new building codes to keep learning, the day-to-day work can be difficult. But at the end of a work day, I still get a lot of satisfaction in knowing that what we do as structural engineers matters.

So, what excites YOU about structural engineering? Let us know by posting a comment.

– Paul

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Paul McEntee

Author: Paul McEntee

A couple of years back we hosted a “Take your daughter or son to work day,” which was a great opportunity for our children to find out what their parents did. We had different activities for the kids to learn about careers and the importance of education in opening up career opportunities. People often ask me what I do for Simpson Strong-Tie and I sometimes laugh about how my son Ryan responded to a questionnaire he filled out that day:

Q.   What is your mom/dad's job?
A.   Goes and gets coffee and sits at his desk

Q.   What does your mom/dad actually do at work?
A.   Walks in the test lab and checks things

When I am not checking things in the lab or sitting at my desk drinking coffee, I manage Engineering Research and Development for Simpson Strong-Tie, focusing on new product development for connectors and lateral systems.

I graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and I am a licensed Civil and Structural Engineer in California. Prior to joining Simpson Strong-Tie, I worked for 10 years as a consulting structural engineer designing commercial, industrial, multi-family, mixed-use and retail projects. I was fortunate in those years to work at a great engineering firm that did a lot of everything. This allowed me to gain experience designing with wood, structural steel, concrete, concrete block and cold-formed steel as well as working on many seismic retrofits of historic unreinforced masonry buildings.

8 thoughts on “So. . .What Do You Love About Structural Engineering?”

  1. I would imagine many structural engineering designers could relate to the passion Paul infused in his post on what he loves about structural engineering. I know, in my case, I love being able to solve a client’s problem, or provide a sturdy frame for their new home or addition. My path to structural engineering was somewhat trial and error–from being sent to study engineering after I expressed my desire to design automobile bodies. After in engineering for a couple of years, thinking was a desirable career–only to be discouraged by professors who pointed out that the university did not offer that curriculum; and I would be better off completing the BSCE degree and if I still desired to be an architect seek a secondary degree. In the end, many of my projects involve making architect’s visions work. That is what I love about structural engineering.

    1. Glad you stayed on the path. I like you thoughts about making the architect’s vision work. The working relationship between architects and engineers can be seen as confrontational, especially when the artistic vision does not play nicely with the structural needs. It is an awesome feeling when you can work together toward a solution that works for everyone.

  2. It’s a combination of seeing my client’s satisfaction with my work and my satisfaction in seeing the completed project. I’ve been engineering for enough years that in some cities, I can stroll through downtown and remember working on most of the buildings at some time.

    1. Thanks for your comments. I also got a lot of satisfaction from seeing completed projects. Especially the historic buildings downtown that have really good restaraunts in them now – no better excuse for a nice dinner than inspecting your work.

  3.  I became a structural engineer because of the money and all the fame that would come with it.  I used to watch other structural engineers on Sunday mornings and want to be just like them…wait, that was professional football. Why did I become a structural engineer?  I have no idea, but I love it.

  4. Structural Engineering is so rewarding in that you are fortunate enough to design and construct large and permanent projects that will be around for generations to come.  The accomplishments of so many other engineering fields seem fleeting and miniscule in comparison.  I’m proud to be a part of these multi-million and multi-billion dollar construction endeavours that my children, grandchildren, and countless others will be able to appreciate and enjoy.

  5. You are right- so many people go through a lot of twists and turns when it comes to finding their passion in the workplace. I also enjoyed hearing that you have a strong passion for structural engineering. Although it is not my major, I know a lot of people who are in the field of study and only are enticed by the prospect of money. I am a premed student that has strengths in other fields of study. Your story has reminded me that I may be better suited for something else. Thank you for the nice read!
    http://spadengineer.com.au/

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