Job title and employer:
Civil Engineering Technologist, Kerr Wood Leidal Associates Ltd.
What does your job title mean?
Civil engineering is the kind of work that makes cities work. It can cover the design and construction of water mains, sewer mains, storm water management, roads, water treatment, and wastewater treatment (among a lot else). A technologist is somebody who has a diploma in engineering, instead of a degree, like an engineer.
Where were you born? Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Rossland, BC, Canada, in the west Kootenays.
Where do you live now?
Nelson, BC, Canada, only an hour away from Rossland.
Where did you complete your training or education?
What you do at work?
What my day looks like will be different depending on what projects I’m working on. Sometimes I need to learn something new so I do research. For example, when I was involved in a wastewater treatment project in Dawson City, Yukon, I researched a lot about northern climates. I also did research on how you have to build things differently in the extreme north to prevent freezing. On a day where I’m designing something like a water main, I’ll do calculations, usually using Excel. These calculations help me make sure the pipe is the right size to make sure enough water can get through to all the houses and fire hydrants. Then I use a computer program to draw the water main in 3D so a contractor can build it. Some days I go to the site to make sure the contractor is building according to my design. I work as part of a team. My team includes my supervisor who checks my work. It also includes my colleagues who I’m working directly with on the project.
I’m always engaged in problem solving. Sometimes the problems are simple. Simple problems are those that have a solution I learned about in school or for which there are guidelines on how to solve. There are always problems that even experts don’t have set answers for. When this happens, I work with the other people on the project to try to come up with a new solution.
In terms of school subjects, I definitely use a lot of physics, math and general science. There is also a lot of creativity involved in what I do. When I’m creating drawings for a contractor to use, it’s a creative process. We always want to make sure that what we build is useful but also looks nice. It takes an eye for detail and creativity to do this really well. Problem solving is also a creative act because you have to look at things from different viewpoints to figure out the best answer. Often, the answer is not obvious.
How does what you do affect people’s lives?
My work matters because I help make sure people and the environment are both healthy. My work helps make sure that people have safe drinking water at their taps. I also make sure that the wastewater that goes down household drains is treated and safe for the environment before it gets discharged. Storm water management helps make sure cities don’t flood from rainfall. It also protects the environment too by making sure oils and other pollutants on roads and sidewalks don’t flow into our lakes and rivers.
What motivates you in your career?
The favourite part of my job is when I get to do contract administration and project management. These are tasks where you work to make sure a project is done properly. This means that the project is built according to the drawings and on time. It also means that no more money is spent than was agreed upon.
I also like this work because it takes a lot of teamwork. For the best results, you have to have input from the contractor building the project, the client who is paying for it to be built, and the engineer who designed the project. I’m a good communicator, so summarizing issues, tasks, and updates to all these people is fairly easy for me and enjoyable. These tasks also require a good head for fairness. For example, I make sure that the contractor is being fair to the owner, and that the owner fair to the contractor. Sometimes there are disagreements, and I have to make sure everyone is treated fairly. To do this I get everybody’s opinion and look at the contract (the book of rules for the construction project). Using this I figure out what is fair for everybody. This also takes a great deal of problem solving too. I like the idea of helping build fairness in the world. It is rewarding to me to be seen as trustworthy by both the client and contractor and help everybody work together to build something that betters society.
How did you get to where you are today?
When I was I school, I really liked literature and English language arts. I did a lot better in these subjects than in math or science. I originally thought I was going to get a degree in English Literature. However, in grade 11 I did a pasta bridge contest in physics class. I thought it was fun, so I went home and googled “who builds bridges?” I didn’t even know what engineering was! I learned that civil engineering is where bridges were designed and built. Civil engineering is what makes towns and cities work. It can cover the design and construction of bridges, water mains, sewer mains, and roads. It is also involved in storm water management, water and wastewater treatment (and a lot more!).
I applied to do the Civil Engineering diploma at BCIT because it is only 2 years. I figured if I didn’t like engineering, I could quit after 2 years and would still have a diploma and could get a job. A civil engineering degree program would take 4 years. School was really hard and I failed a few courses. I had to do them again and they made a lot more sense the second time around, and this didn’t affect my career. I don’t remember if I thought about gender a lot when deciding to pursue engineering. I did get a hard time from some people who doubted whether an English nerd like me would succeed, especially because I was not very good at math. I had to work hard to improve my grades, but I showed them I could do it! Later I went back to BCIT to complete a Bachelor Degree in Construction Management. This gave me the knowledge and credentials to lead engineering projects.
What activities do you enjoy outside of work?
My favourite activity is volunteering with Girl Guides. I lead a unit of about 20 Guides where I teach leadership and life skills, as well as other things that interest them. I have a small sailboat on Kootenay Lake that keeps me busy in the summer (along with hiking). In the winter I cross-country ski. Year ‘round I’m also an avid reader, which fills all the rest of my time.
What advice would you give to a young person interested in a similar career?
The best thing I did is accept that it is okay not to know something and learn to say “I don’t know” without feeling shame. It was great for my mental health to accept it and get help rather than worry that somebody will “find out”.
As a female professional, how can you influence the advancement of women in engineering and technology?
One way I do this is through my Girl Guide group. I lead activities for the unit to help learn about engineering, and often help at other units too. I also try to build networks with other women in engineering. This gives us a network so we can each help each other.
When I was in high school, I enjoyed…
Literature and English language arts
When I was in high school, I was someone who…
Enjoyed doing things on my own
Liked helping people
Played video games
Felt great satisfaction in getting good grades (in English and French)
Didn’t really care about grades (in most of the other classes)
Thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do
Was in Girl Guides
Was in a high school band
Got average grades for the most part
ASTTBC thanks Let’s Talk Science for their partnership in developing this career profile. Let’s Talk Science – a leading partner in Canadian education – is a national charitable organization committed to inspiring and empowering Canadian youth to develop the skills they need to participate and thrive in an ever-changing world. To accomplish this, Let’s Talk Science offers a comprehensive suite of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) based programs to support youth, educators, and volunteers across Canada. For more information about Let’s Talk Science, visit letstalkscience.ca.