How did you decide which initial career to pursue?
When I was nearing high school graduation I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to pursue for a career, but I knew that applied mathematics and the physical sciences were strong suits for me and I enjoyed problem-solving, so engineering seemed like a good fit. Initially, I thought materials engineering because I was interested in the properties of different materials like metals, polymers, etc. The first year of undergraduate studies is the same for all engineering students, after that you go off into a more specific field of engineering. After my first year I discovered what was more interesting to me was how forces are resisted by structures. That’s more in the realm of structural engineering than materials engineering. So that’s when I decided I would go into the civil engineering stream and specialize in structural engineering.
Where did you receive your education and how did you find this helped you to begin your career?
I earned my undergraduate degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Alberta. I then earned my Master’s degree in Structural Engineering, also from the University of Alberta. I started a PhD program and completed the coursework; however, I struggled to obtain funding for my research and eventually made the difficult decision to abandon the project. That said, I think my academic background helped me stand out as a potential candidate for my first job as a forensic structural engineer. At times it’s necessary to do some research to learn more about the problem I’m investigating. For example, I have to familiarize myself with antiquated building systems because I’m often dealing with problems in old buildings. Graduate school helped me develop the skills to quickly search out relevant information to educate myself about a particular problem.
Please briefly outline your career path beginning from when you first started out after graduating, to where you currently are in your career.
After completing my undergraduate studies I worked for a small consulting firm as an engineering intern. I gained valuable experience doing structural design for a wide variety of projects. I also did quite a few projects investigating structural issues and failures and designing repairs. I found that investigative type of work very interesting. At this time I was working about 30 hours per week while also keeping up with a full-time course load for my Master’s degree. I did that for about a year and half before I decided it was a bit too much, so after helping find my replacement I resigned and devoted more time to my graduate studies. A couple of years later the president of a forensic engineering firm in Edmonton reached out to me through LinkedIn asking if I’d be interested in the forensic structural engineer position they had available. It sounded like my dream job; of course I was interested. This coincided with the time that I was struggling to obtain funding for the PhD research I was working on. So I went for the interview just to see what might come of it. They then called me back for a second interview, and after that they offered me the job. It was honestly unexpected and very exciting. After carefully considering my options, I decided I should abandon my PhD research and take the job. I worked there for about a year and a half. During this time my wife was dropping hints to me that she missed being close to her family. So when I received an offer from Origin and Cause Inc. to do essentially the same job I was already doing in Edmonton, but back in our hometown of Hamilton, I took it. I’ve been with Origin and Cause Inc. since 2015.
What is the best career advice you have ever received?
1. Do it right, the first time.
I graduated with a BSc (hons) and ME in structural engineering with architecture from
University College Dublin and completed a post-graduate certificate in environmental sustainability. Projects I have worked on include renewable district heating systems, the strategic environmental assessment of the National Climate Change Mitigation Plan, a variety of contaminated land remediation strategies and environmental constraint studies for road development schemes.
At what stage of your life did you start to think about becoming an engineer?
Creativity and curiosity are at the core of how I perceive the world around me so, subconsciously, I think I have always been an engineer at heart. However, it was in secondary school that I took the first formal steps towards engineering. While the subject itself was not offered at the secondary school I attended, I studied science and art believing that engineering is a combination of these two schools of thought (and I wasn’t wrong!)
What were the major influencers of this decision?
At first, it was a love for creativity, design and problem solving. Later on, the prospect of pursuing a career in engineering simply seemed like a smart idea; it offers a stable platform for many careers and has a global reputation for excellence. Moreover, the skills you learn while studying and practicing engineering are transferable, and operating within a solutions-driven sector teaches you to be a critical, innovative and analytical thinker. These are highly desirable attributes in many career paths. Ultimately, I believe that engineers are at the heart of communities and serve to improve them – I want to be a part of that and contribute to the betterment of society and the environment.
How has your career differed from what you expected, particularly initially?
The variety of work, a diverse network and degree of impact are aspects of my career which took me by (pleasant) surprise. Engineering projects have the ability to impact positively at local level, but also contribute regionally, nationally and internationally. Modern engineering methods require openness towards innovation and encourage holistic approaches. Increasingly, we procure and design in a collaborative digital environment. As well, engineering has diverse applications and the success of projects relies on multifaceted teams and collaborative input. As a professional in this field, I am not just an engineer I am a planner, a designer, a scientist, a social entrepreneur and an advocate for environmental sustainability.
What for you are the most interesting aspects of engineering?
Collaborative working at the forefront of sustainable design in a fast-paced environment is definitely what makes my career most interesting. Engineering is a continually evolving sector; technology and governance move quickly and things are never stale in this profession – I rarely do the same thing day in, day out.
What do you expect to be the most exciting aspect of engineering in the future?
I anticipate that the opportunity to influence the move towards a smarter, more sustainable and resilient future within the context of modern challenges will be the most exciting aspect of my career in the future. I see these challenges to include mitigating and adapting to climate change, ensuring energy security from indigenous resources, and the transition to a technology-driven economy.
What would you say to someone if they asked you should they study engineering?
Don’t hesitate. Whether you love to crunch numbers or are more interested in contributing from a strategic level, engineering is so diverse, offering excellent opportunities for a career where you feel like you are making a genuine difference. If you are curious about the world around you and how you can shape its future, then engineering is for you.