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Switch from management to structural engineering

Switch from management to structural engineering

Switch from management to structural engineering

Hey, I am junior civil engineer working for the government. It's my first job in the profession and I am currently six months in. My daily tasks revolve around site inspections, tracking contracts and payments, help prepare invitation to bid documents, estimate quantities and costs. I've been slowly realizing that I do not enjoy the field of management. I had chosen management, because of the salaries and I thought I hated those structural analysis and design courses. But it turns out I'm starting to miss them. Miss the physics, the creativity, etc. So that's the problem I'm currently dealing with. Can I make the switch?

The courses I completed while in school are "design of concrete structures", "design of steel structures", "structural analysis 1-2" and "matrix analysis of structures". Regarding software I know how to use AutoCAD, Revit, MathCAD and MatLAB. I know I'm missing a structural analysis and design software.

Would I be able to apply to junior structural engineer position? If I search for "junior structural engineer", the offers usually state a bachelor's in civil engineering with a structural emphasis is required. I guess I don't fulfill that criteria, can I make it up by learning some of the courses by myself? If not is there another position I can apply for that would get me started?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated,

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

Search out professional development courses in your area. Maybe there is a Structural Engineers Association in your jurisdiction too.

Then I would spend time falling back into the rhythm of the analysis and design methods which you originally steered clear of during school. I would also try to do some self-education so when you apply to the positions you can show competency. This should be evident in your cover letter and interview.

The other option would be to get a site engineer job on a building project. You could then leverage that field experience to support your desire to get a design job.

...but I can't recall if I have ever solved that problem yet.

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

First look at the course difference in what you took in college versus what a "structural emphasis" would have been. You will see there is only a few additional semester hours of classes that were all structural in nature. The difference is usually your "technical electives". When I was in school, it was like 3 courses or less that I could "choose my poison". I chose Timber, another structural analysis course and I can't remember the 3rd one. I wanted a course that was not offered and took one that was offered but not needed that much by me for my 3rd one. It will vary with the school. So, you are not that far off from the "structural emphasis". There may have been 12 courses that qualified as structural but you would have only had an opportunity to have taken 3 or less at my school.

You will probably do good to freshen up on what you already took that relates to structures. Then look at who you are trying to get a job with. If I am a company that primarily does steel, I do not care much about your lack of Timber. Even with a Structural Emphasis, you still do not take everything you need to be a functioning structural engineer. The employer should know that college gave you the necessary tools to learn the other structural related aspects.

As an employer, I would place more emphasis in your current motivation and presentation of your reason to want to work for me, than the fact you did not take a particular course I have no need for. I would also be impressed to know your are currently working on learning something I did need.

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

Thanks for answering guys, I really appreciate it.

I was looking at professional development courses and I found a course on the National Building Code(45h): "Interpretation and application of the rules during the design and execution of the work and during the study, processing as well as acceptance stages of a building permit application file. Presentation of technical solutions that meet the requirements of regulations.".
There are many courses of AutoCAD and Revit. How skilled do I have to be in CAD and BIM? As far as I know, technicians handle that? Also, would it be worth taking a course for this, wouldn't I be able to learn it on my own from YouTube or by just practising drawing various drawings from the internet.
Lastly, I've also noticed various engineers within my city having LEED certifications. Would it be wise to write the exam for the associate certification?
As for the local structural engineering association. I found one, they host several conferences over the year. I reckon that I attend these for networking purposes? There also seem to be a chapter of IStructE in Toronto which is relatively far, but from what I understand this is a prestigious institution for structural engineers?

I hope there are other employers that share your philosophy, I barely have the opportunity to speak to my supervising engineer, when we do meet he just gives me more work and asks me to update him on x. When I ask him something, he'll answer with a quick sentence and send me back to work.
Regarding courses, its exactly like that today as well. You choose 15 credits (5 courses) as technical electives, 9 credits (3 courses) have to be within the same group to get the option title inscribed on your diploma. I had taken 3 management courses, 1 structural course (matrix analysis of structures) and 1 transportation course.
I prepared a review schedule. I'll attach it to this post. Is there anything that you recommend I go over or learn that's not included in the review?
I know I'm definitely missing a course on structural modeling and computer analysis. I've seen several mentioned in job postings; SAP2000, ETABS, SAFE, STAAD.PRO, RISA. Is there any you would recommend over the other?

Thanks again guys.

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

If you took concrete/steel and three analysis courses, that sounds like a structural emphasis to me. That was about all that was required for my BS and I was a structural emphasis.

You're only six months out, I'd apply to entry level positions. They won't care as much if you don't have the structural programs.

LEED doesn't really move needle much for me/my firm. There's really not a ton structural engineers can contribute there. It has a lot more bearing an overall programming of the building (architect), selecting locally available finishes (architect, interiors), and energy efficiency for mechanical and electrical systems. I've worked on a bunch of LEED projects. I'm not LEED certified and have never really needed to be.

Depending on the type of projects you want to do, you may also want to look into a master's degree. Don't know how it is in Canada, but in the US once you get into the more complex structures (high rises, long span stuff like hangars and stadiums, higher end analysis like nonlinear seismic or progressive collapse), a lot of those firms really prefer people with an MS over people with a BS. In US structural education, BS is usually more about breadth and then MS is where you really dig in to the structural coursework. Think I had like 5-6 structural-specific courses in my undergrad and then another 8 in grad school. So the firms that do complex stuff and have to dig deeper like to have engineers with that background. By way of example, my firm does some fairly complex building work. We have twenty structural engineers on staff, seventeen have at least a master's degree. The only person in a senior-level position without a master's degree has thirty-five years of experience.

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

Thanks for answering MrHershey.

My fear regarding the entry level positions was that they wouldn't consider me and I would have to start with a AutoCAD or BIM only position.

That's strange, it seems really common to see structural engineers with LEED certificates. But I'm happy to hear that, I wouldn't have wanted to study for the exam or pay the membership fees.

Regarding graduate school, yea... That's another problem. I don't know if I would be able to be admitted into one. My gpa was not that outstanding. From what I've heard, a Master's should be done at a good school, and I think the good schools in Canada (Toronto, Waterloo, McGill, UBC) have hard criterias. I imagine the good schools in the USA are even harder to get in, and unless the firm I work at pays for it I imagine I would spend the rest of my life pay off that debt. I have heard that you can bypass the gpa if you have experience and good references. But again I don't know if that would work in any of the good universities. Any suggestions?

If the Master's is important for the coursework couldn't I just do the classes as an independant student or is the degree important as well?

Thanks again.

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

I can't speak too much for getting in to University. If grades weren't great I suppose that could indeed be a problem. May have better luck if you can connect with a professor and do a research assistantship. Grades still may be an issue but professors have some latitude to push for candidates that they want to work with.

As for cost, in the US it's fairly common in engineering to take two years for the MS and do either a research or teaching assistantship. At least in the US, assistantships usually come with a tuition waiver and a stipend for living expenses. So you'd be giving up a couple years a full-time employment income, but typically would not be adding debt and in the US you can typically put any existing student loan payments on hold while you do grad school. Also in the US it's becoming pretty common for universities to offer a professional MS program that only takes 9-11 months. So you'd have to pay but it's only a year's worth of tuition (instead of two or more).

Your last questions is kind of a tough one. I really just care about whether you know the material. So from that standpoint I don't care if you study independently or get the degree. But having the MS and looking at the transcripts gives me a bit higher comfort level that you actually do know what you claim you know and didn't just watch a couple videos or read a few articles and now claim to know it. So if I'm being honest, I'd personally want to see the MS and wouldn't put as much stock in someone who claims they know their stuff without it unless they can really demonstrate it.

But again, depends on what you want to do. A lot (most?) of the structural engineers in the country don't have the MS and do just fine. But does help open some specific doors if they're ones you're interested in going through. You're probably right in that it matters what school you get the MS from though.

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

I would say that your undergrad was fairly comparable to a degree with a "structural" emphasis since it nearly mimics mine (minus a lab or two and timber). I would also argue that getting your MS/MEng in a top flight civil engineering university is unnecessary because as an employer, any masters degree in structural engineering (regardless of institution) is going to show some level of commitment and understanding beyond the mass of undergraduate students.
As for courses, they tend to be expensive and narrowly focused. I would instead start working on some self study that won't break the bank. I'd recommend someone acquire some worked out examples from design codes and ensure I was able to replicate and fully understand each one. For the US, AISC provides (for free) a Design Examples V15 that corresponds to their Steel Construction Manual. NDS does something similar for wood design, but at a cost. I'd also start working toward EIT status if you're not there yet. That will help establish that you're serious. Best of luck.

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

In my opinion, you aren't out of school long enough for any company to think you're not qualified for structural design. You're still green enough they could mold you into whatever they wanted. Try applying for entry level positions and go from there. Software usage comes with experience. I can't see any entry level position expecting significant proficiency with any program. Some basic familiarity would be nice, but not even necessary in my opinion.

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

I'm not really sure what I would specifically want to do within structural engineering. Buildings would be fun and bridges as well. Also, I didn't know that was the route structural engineers take in the US. Here as far as I know in Canada working professionals usually go for a M.Eng. and the ones who pursue the MS thesis-based diploma usually go onto a PhD after. I might be mistaken though.
I do understand, a Master's certifies your commitment to the subject and you've assembled a body of knowledge.

I've already got the EIT, in Canada you can get it after graduation. In the US, it seems you have to write an (FE?) exam to become one. By the way does anyone know how is the market in the US compared to Canada? But I've also heard getting a work visa is pretty tough.
As for the design examples, that's what I intend to do. I've looked a other threads on this website. And found some books that have been recommended by members, but most of them are based on the American Codes and I'm not sure how relevant they are in Canada as is that design manual you've recommended.

Perfect, I'll still try to practice with at least one of them. Again I don't know which one to target, it seems like I keep seeing SAP2000 the most in job postings.

Also guys I found this certificate in structural engineering: https://seabc.ca/certificate-program/course-list/
As I understand it can be done online, but it's expensive (relative to Canadian tuition fees); $800 per course. The courses look pretty cool. But I'm not sure how an employer would take it that an applicant has a certificate he obtained online.

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

RE: The SEABC courses

There are some good ones in the program. It's not truly an "online" program because you should watch the webinar (or attend the seminar) every week, complete assignments, and write the exam. It seems to hold a lot of weight in the Lower Mainland where structural information requires a leg up (ie. there are truly unique soil, loading, etc. considerations). Probably a good idea if you want to align your career in the structural direction, and definitely more immediate than getting your grad school application up and going.

...but I can't recall if I have ever solved that problem yet.

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

Iwant, you are six months out of college. You have a job with a lot of implied security and if you keep your ears open, and restrict the use of you mouth except for asking questions, you have the opportunity to learn a lot....... especially when in the field. If you really want another degree, go for it, but I dont see anything in your posts demonstrating a lot of enthusiasm. Stick it out for three years , get your P.Eng and then your options open up dramatically.

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

The single structural professor I relied on the most, was a firm believer that anyone who wanted to practice structures should at least get a masters degree. I agreed with him and got one myself. Masters was for people in CE that knew they wanted to do structures while in college. Many are not sure at that time what they want to do. I did the course work method rather than a thesis. It was about 33 hours of additional courses as I recall. That came down to 11 classes. But as usual, there was a required math, required statistics and maybe 2 other somewhat required courses that were not specific to structural engineering. I remember I had to take at least one course in a different department. To sum it up, I took about 7 additional courses that were SE specific.

As I recall, I took:
  • Finite Elements (had already taken Stiffness Method in undergrad as a tech elective)
  • Concrete II
  • Steel II
  • Theory Of Elasticity
  • 2 different independent studies related to computer analysis
So you are not that far behind in the more SE specific courses. At that time, PCs were just getting to be common to find. Most all structural software for PCs were in their infancy. I did not have any opportunity for a structural dynamics course and really regret that. Concrete II and Steel II I believe I could have learned on my own. Structural dynamics I have found to be difficult for me to grasp as a self-taught course. In my area, Seismic is not a brutal as say California.

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

I'm interested in taking a course offered this fall, they're offering a course in structural analysis: "Beams on elastic foundations; frame analysis by moment distribution method; analysis of braced frames; shear and flexural deformations of walls and diaphragms; modelling building cores; lateral stability of columns and beams; strength and stiffness requirements of bracing; cables and tension structures; flexible piles and footings; shear lag; eccentric loads on welds, bolt and nail groups.".

I think government jobs are known for their early retirement benefits and job safety. I'm afraid that I wouldn't be able to work in the private sector, if I were to stay here for that long. Everything here moves at a snails pace, it takes weeks if not months to get any request processed. I got access to AutoCAD last month, that's 5 months after starting. I still don't have access to MS Project. I'm using MS Office 2003.. So I'm afraid I'd become a dinosaur and adapting to the private sector would be tough.

Are there any other courses you feel would be hard to self-study other than structural dynamics?

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

I knew that I wanted to be a structural engineer from Freshman year. I’ve reviewed my elective courses and they were: Matrix Structural Analysis; Foundation Engineering; Reinforced Concrete 2; Timber Design; and Steel Design 2. We were on terms not semesters, so two electives were taken fall and winter, and one in the spring.

This was back before modern computers, so the Matrix Analysis was done with punch cards on main-frames.

A poor job market had me stay on for a year and a half of grad school. I completed 37 of the required 45 credits. Those grad school courses gave me advanced perspectives that helped me throughout my career.

So as noted above, you are not too far behind those that chose the structural electives.


RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

iwantcat: It was mostly structural dynamics. Theory of Elasticity was challenging also. In a class of people, you get some discussion and maybe someone presents a theory or premise better than others. That is the problem with having only one book on the subject and trying to self-teach. Anything difficult like that, try to get at least 2 books by different authors. Timoshenko is the most common one for Theory of Elastcity.

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

I would say that a masters degree is actually more rare than you think here in Canada. Most structural engineers I've met or work with just have our B.Sc in Civil Engineering. We don't have different exams up here for SEs versus PEs.

If you're already an EIT, that's a step in the right direction, You're much more attractive to an employer if they know you're P.Eng eligible and already working down that path.

I think you just need to go to the structural firms in your area, introduce yourself and drop off a resume in person. As to talk to their resource manager (i.e. the person that doles out the work to the designers) and have a real conversation with them. Don't just walk in the door, drop a resume and leave. Make conversation, leave a good impression. Technical skills are good and required obviously, but the soft skills particularly communication is a bigger asset to have.

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

Quote (jayrod12)

Technical skills are good and required obviously, but the soft skills particularly communication is a bigger asset to have.

I second that in the sense that an impressive interview makes up for the lack of some specific courses and experience. Many times I have stated that I can take a C-student in Steel and make them an A+ student with very little effort if they are motivated, have the available time and our focus is just steel. College is difficult when steel was during one of your busy semesters and especially if you worked while in college. Balancing work and college caused some people to be a letter grade or 2 below what they were actually capable of.

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

Wow guys, I wish I had found this forum earlier. I've gotten better advice here in two days than I got over the past decade in post-secondary studies.

Thanks for the advice jayrod12. I just printed a list of all the design firms in the region. I'll fix up my CV and start the job search. Is it better to "cold call" or go in person? It seems less intrusive to do the cold call.

I'm quite shy and anxious on first encounters, especially when its with someone with authority and that I respect(i.e. the people I will be speaking to). But after the ice is broken, I seem handle to myself alright.

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

It is less intrusive to call. But what I would suggest doing is calling and essentially just setting up a time to come in and meet someone there for 5 or 10 minutes and physically drop of your resume. Check those companies websites to see if any currently have job postings. If they do, even better and those would be the companies to start at. And if not, no big deal, try calling and setting up a quick meet and greet anyway.

Make sure you put at least a minor bit of research into each company before you go. Know what they tend to specialize in, maybe who the management is. Go through their website and gather whatever info you can. A lot of information can be gathered from a simple google search.

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

Quote (jayrod12)

Make sure you put at least a minor bit of research into each company before you go. Know what they tend to specialize in, maybe who the management is. Go through their website and gather whatever info you can. A lot of information can be gathered from a simple google search.

Please pay attention to this and do your homework. It makes a huge difference. I shouldn't have to explain to an interviewee what type of work we do when it's splayed all over our website. Or where our offices are located when it's clearly listed on our contact page (and the bottom of the business card I likely gave them). People who come in and clearly haven't done their homework are an automatic no from me, regardless of grades or credentials. While people who dig deeper and actually bother to google us so they can reference articles we've written or awards we've won get a leg up.

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

It makes me feel a little more confident to know some don't do research before their interviews.

Some of the firms don't have a website. What's all that about? I've also noticed some of the websites poorly made and just have a homepage with general information and their address/phone number.

This makes me think of another question. Where would you choose to start your career as a structural engineer if you had the opportunity to do it again? In a corporation or a small enterprise composed of a handful of people?

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

Quote (iwantcat)

Where would you choose to start your career as a structural engineer if you had the opportunity to do it again? In a corporation or a small enterprise composed of a handful of people?

Actually neither. For me I'd shoot for a firm in the 20-50 person range. Small enough that it's unlikely I get pigeon-holed into doing just one type of design like you can at the larger enterprises (say in the healthcare group, or designing one aspect of buildings (e.g. foundations) instead of everything) and small enough that I won't just get lost in the shuffle. Large enough that it's more likely you'll get some decent-sized projects out of it, it's more likely you'll have a good mentor or two who aren't too busy running the business, and large enough that there's not a huge risk of them going under due to a couple slow months or one of the senior people jumping ship.

This isn't to say there aren't merits to large companies or real small shops. Just for me personally I don't think they would have been good spots to start my career.

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

Agree w MrHershey insofar as mentorship goes. Ideally you would work at a firm where you like the people and culture, which will in turn be a foundation for everything else, especially finding a good mentor. Good mentors a busy, so they have to believe in you. Point being, perhaps through your PM work you have come across a firm you like the work of...

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

Personally I started at a firm with 5 people, by the time I left we had grown to 8. I wouldn't trade that experience for the world. The firm I'm at now is 80-90 employees but with a 40 employee feel. Much like MrHershey describes the mid sized firm (or mid sized firm feel in my case) allows no one person to do only a single type of design, and gives you access to larger projects than you would get with a small firm. Some of the projects I do at the bigger firm, my old firm would never had a chance of doing. But in that same breath, many of the projects are identical, i.e. bearing wall removals, insurance claims, Mechanical unit replacements, etc.

I wouldn't be overly surprised if the ones without a website, or a poor website, are quite small firms. That tends to be how it is in the prairies.

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

Hey guys, while reviewing my steel text (Limit States Design in Structural Steel published by the CISC) there's only 1 problem per concept. One of the books listed in the FAQs for steel "Steel Structures: Design and Behavior" by Charles G. Salmon looks much better, but it uses the American code. Is it a good idea for me to learn from this? Or would it confuse me? For the future as well, how did you guys learn codes for other countries?

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

I never had to learn a code from another country. I was lucky.

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

So it's not as common as I think to design structures in other countries? I guess only big companies do that sort of thing?

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

Only companies that work internationally do. I know several firms in my area that do not work outside the US. I know small US companies do not work outside their country unless they do some kind of specialty service.

RE: Switch from management to structural engineering

Learn from the CISC code and then build your skill set from there. It will help work towards a local job and working with LSD. The CISC code is built on similar research from AISC.

...but I can't recall if I have ever solved that problem yet.

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