Orange County Branch Newsletter
Why Civil Engineering Matters
By Clint Isa, P.E.
I imagine that, as civil engineers, we all started with noble ambitions when we realized that this profession would be our calling. After a short 4 to 10 years with your nose in a book (and maybe a few nights with face draped over a toilet), you walk up onto a stage once, twice, maybe three times; eventually, the start of your career is waiting for you on the other side. You feel ready: you’re excited, anxious, hopeful, fearful, probably all at the same time. Not to worry though, because you know that the career you’ve chosen is one that truly matters. Plus, if nothing else, that steady paycheck means less frequent trips to the top ramen aisle.
Enthusiasm and drive beget advancement and a new world of responsibilities. Questions like, “what do those senior engineers do, anyway?” are replaced with realizations like, “so this is what senior engineers do all day.” You’re probably working even harder, and now the problems are different.
After 10 to 15 years (maybe more, maybe less), excitement and hopefulness start to wane in the face of email after email, your work day (and night) becoming a seemingly never-ending exercise in putting out one fire so you can pick which of the other ten fires to put out next. During the odd moment when you come up for air, you find yourself reflecting on whether it all matters.
Sometimes, oftentimes, it’s easy to lose sight of the impact of our work when it seems like everyone around us is so focused on deadlines and budgets. That is where perspective and the human element come in.
You can find perspective anywhere. The more outlets you engage in, the more perspective you can find. Engineering organizations (*cough* ASCE *cough*) are excellent sources of professional perspective. They offer tangibility through access to successful projects and, just as important, they offer access to the people that bring those projects to life. Simple discussions with new people can be a springboard for advancement; you might not realize it, but what you know could be important to somebody.
Sometimes, perspective will find you, instead. An Irvine resident recently emailed the ASCE Orange County Branch in search of the engineers that planned and designed the seasonal lighting variations for a pedestrian bridge that was constructed near her home. She simply wanted to let them know how much she appreciated their efforts and how it consistently brings a smile to her face. You might not know it, but your work matters to somebody.
Of course, perspective might also be right under your nose. Maybe you’re like me and have a 3-year-old daughter at home, with your wife carrying your soon-to-be-born son. The idea that my children’s futures are largely unwritten is both thrilling and terrifying. Life could take them anywhere and there are so many things that, as a parent, are out of my control. So hopefully, like me, you’ll realize that if there is something in this world that you can come close to controlling, it’s your role in improving the world around you through your work. That way, the project you’re working on will always be important because you’ll know that, someday, it just might matter to somebody that matters to you.