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Change from Construction Management to Structural Engineering

Change from Construction Management to Structural Engineering

Change from Construction Management to Structural Engineering

(OP)
Hello guys,

From the moment I decided to study civil engineering I knew it was because of structures. My bachelors had an emphasis in structural.
Before graduating I held a part time job for a semester doing "structural design" which sort of pushed me away a bit because I was just mainly capturing data from an already designed house into a macro to - I cant fully remember - check the element? I never got to do a single calculation, which in hindsight, makes a lot of sense.
Since that bored me pretty badly, I started a job in construction management right out of school, with a developer, and then I performed as a contractor myself, and then since I wasn't liking it, I decided to go for the masters in SE with a non refundable scholarship that covered all the tuition but not my living costs. Having a foolish level of energy and of self confidence (that obviously proved to be detrimental) i kept doing contractor jobs while studying the masters. So, naturally I burnt out and at the end of the third of four semesters, I got offered a very well paid job that I took, again in management, for the GC I'm with to this day. I didn't graduate from the MSc but I did study the most important course (only lacking a wind elective and one course for the thesis). But the structures bug never went away.
Now I'm in my mid 30s, and I'm pretty burnt out because of the growth we've experienced as a company, which is not at all the same company I joined; I have a "safety net" that would allow me to change tracks without much problem for at least a year; so, I'm thinking of my first love, without ever having had a true work experience in it. My plan so far is to use my safety net to start at an entry level position with a firm, to be able to earn a bit that would allow me to extend my roadway for a few more months, while learning what I didn't back then, and start developing a business as a solo structural engineer, focused on residential which is where I had my most direct experience as a field construction manager. From my years in management Ive gathered a lot of experience in business development, and I think I could, after actually working in the field of structural design, get a better idea of the workings of that part of the industry/market, as to be able to create a successful business plan for a practice on my own.

I'd love to read your thoughts. Please be kind if you think Im being foolish. Thanks in advance.

RE: Change from Construction Management to Structural Engineering

I did all my undergraduate work in hydraulics and hydraulic structures... and worked my way into structures about 50 years back...

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?
-Dik

RE: Change from Construction Management to Structural Engineering

(OP)
Hi Dik.

I'm worried about the things I may not be seeing, due to the combination of burnout and the idealizations I may be creating because of enthusiasm towards the possibility of finding an enjoyable career that I may be able to work in for the rest of my life.

Also, in your experience, under what conditions, do you think this is doable? If you think is doable.

RE: Change from Construction Management to Structural Engineering

In my opinion, if you have the luxury to reverting to an entry level position, it's doable. That might be a tall order for some people, though. And prospective employers might find it funny to be interviewing a mid-30s applicant amongst early 20s applicants. How much have you retained from school?

RE: Change from Construction Management to Structural Engineering

Several years back, we had an engineer come in for an interview. She had a dozen years experience in Project Management, but wanted to get back into structural engineering, for which she had education, but minimal experience. I told her, we'd consider her, but I couldn't pay her anymore than someone with a couple years experience. It was blunt, but it wouldn't be fair to my other engineers (or clients) to have to train someone who makes more than they do.
I thought it was reasonable, but we never saw her again.
So if you can transition without financial hardship, sure, go for it. Your construction management experience will be an asset, but the design game is a lot different. There's endless "six of one, a half dozen of the other" decisions that are based on experience, every day.

RE: Change from Construction Management to Structural Engineering

Quote (Also, in your experience, under what conditions, do you think this is doable? If you think is doable.)


I think it's doable... depends on what you want to do. I've avoided management because I'm not financially motivated. Way back when I used to open a bank account, I'd keep track of the balance for maybe a week... then it was lost... I've never kept track of my bank balance... real numbers, I have no problem with... just not the financial interest. I'm a bit of a mess in that regard.

If I was interested in management, I would likely have done it well (I manage my projects very well). No interest and have avoided succumbing to the Peter Principle. Financially, I would have been much better off in management, but I'm happy in my little niche. I think I'm pretty good at it and am very comfortable... even with tough projects, and I've had a few, I don't seem to stress out. I cannot ever remember being stressed about a project or circumstances. The only exception is when I've testified... I feel a little uncomfortable for about the first 30 seconds... then all is well. I'm happy writing little programs and designing and am a bit of an infojunkie and have a very low boredom threashold.

Hopefully you can select a line of work that you are good at and you enjoy, and keep from starving to death... engineering is an integral part of my life, and I'm comfortable with that. I don't think of it as a job, and am generally not happy with professional associations.

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?
-Dik

RE: Change from Construction Management to Structural Engineering

(OP)
Hi atrizzy, JedClampett, Dik, thanks for your answers.

Well, I don't know right now what I remember... anything you suggest I should brush up if I were to start interviewing? About the "finding me funny" thing... what do you think would hinder me as a prospect against other applicants. Also, what would you say could be a "litmus test" to know whether I'd actually be a good fit as a structural engineer or not, or whether I would actually enjoy it or not? (Remember my first experience was, I think, rather not representative of my expectations).

Assuming I joined a small firm specializing in residential projects, how much time would you think is average to gain a level of proficiency that could allow me to go solo in the same niche (residential).

Quote (Dik)

engineering is an integral part of my life

Well this sounds like exactly the case. After the initial period of learning and challenge in management wore off, the only thing I could remember as an exciting challenge were my structural clases of both the bachelors and the masters.

RE: Change from Construction Management to Structural Engineering

I'm having too much fun in the trenches... you might just explain to them of your carreer choice... and probably work for a lesser salary for a bit... Good luck. When I started with SNC as a senior engineer about 15 years back, I nearly didn't get the job simply because I waffled about how much money I wanted... I really had no idea.
Ed, the manager, simply pegged the number... so just a caution have a good idea of what you want.

They had a month 'orientation', which I worked my way out of in 2 days... I had been hired to look after the concrete work on a large floodway expansion out of town and with the mileage I figured I'd be able to pick up a BMW M3 sportscar... after 2 days, they found that my work in the office was more important... and I lost the position as conc guy... worked in the office and on site for the next 10 years... The Winnipeg office was the best group of senior engineers I'd ever worked with in an office... other than a couple of persons (for personality) they were super.

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?
-Dik

RE: Change from Construction Management to Structural Engineering

Quote (surval)

Assuming I joined a small firm specializing in residential projects, how much time would you think is average to gain a level of proficiency that could allow me to go solo in the same niche (residential).

So, you have a few hurdles to overcome with your plan. Gaining the technical expertise to perform structural design work in the residential field, acquiring the required credentials (if applicable), gaining enough contacts and reputation that striking off on your own in the new role is possible, and saving up enough seed money to start off on your own. This may be more of a ~5 year plan at the minimum.

Depending on where you expect to do design work, you may need to acquire your engineering license which usually comes with a set amount of time working under the supervision of a licensed PE, often about 4 years. Look up your local national/state requirements.

You're better off than the fresh out of college engineer due to your CM experience so that will help with some of the constructability side of things, and you will have more contacts in the field/industry, but I'd think it will still take time to establish yourself in this new role before you can expect to attract clients in that role.

RE: Change from Construction Management to Structural Engineering

I finished my undergrad in structural engineering and jumped straight into construction management. I worked as a heavy civil contractor for about 6 years. Around year 4 I started my master's in structural engineering. Between moving across the country, dealing with long hours, and the general attitude in the industry, I needed to find a way out. Like you, the structural bug never left me, and I was beginning to get burned out with construction.

Upon finishing the master's, I immediately found a job as a structural engineer. Take it with a grain of salt, but I still cannot decide if it was a good decision. The paycut hurt a bit, but what bothers me the most is the lack of comradery where I work. Granted, this is likely the company and not the profession. I personally love performing calculations, programming, and developing new details, but layouts of drawings/CAD work and writing specifications is something I do not enjoy. Engineering is something I love so dearly, but there are often times where I feel I play mini-lawyer instead. CYA really takes on a whole new meaning in the design world. Your academic training in engineering and "real life" engineering are different beasts. I started to realize that I preferred academia to the real world.

My advice is to do your homework on various companies. What do you want to design? Structural engineering is vast, and there are a lot of different routes you can take. Age and lack of experience won't hinder you as much as you think. You learn a lot on the job, and you'll have plenty of opportunities to catch up. Heck, before I accepted the structural engineering gig, I studied and took the civil-structural PE to get back in the swing of things. If you have a desire to be happy with what you do, then you need to pursue it.

RE: Change from Construction Management to Structural Engineering

(OP)
Thanks, @strucbells:

I'm referring specifically to getting to a working level of expertise for residential. In my country there's no need for additional certification than the registry as a Civil Engineer, which I already have. The seed money may be a problem... by the way, what is a realistically possible salary that I could expect if I were to work in the US as an entry level engineer (just as reference... I know it's not that simple to get even an entry level position as a foreigner)?

Thanks, @lemmiwinksownz

Quote (lemmiwinksownz)

The paycut hurt a bit

If you could also chime in into how much could an entry level engineer expect to earn, it would be a helpful reference.

Quote (lemmiwinksownz)

CYA really takes on a whole new meaning in the design world.

Well this sounds stressful and not something I could become fond of... is it really that bad for residential too?

Quote (lemmiwinksownz)

Age and lack of experience won't hinder you as much as you think. You learn a lot on the job, and you'll have plenty of opportunities to catch up. Heck, before I accepted the structural engineering gig, I studied and took the civil-structural PE to get back in the swing of things. If you have a desire to be happy with what you do, then you need to pursue it.

This is encouraging, thanks.

RE: Change from Construction Management to Structural Engineering

Quote (surval)

I'm referring specifically to getting to a working level of expertise for residential. In my country there's no need for additional certification than the registry as a Civil Engineer, which I already have. The seed money may be a problem... by the way, what is a realistically possible salary that I could expect if I were to work in the US as an entry level engineer (just as reference... I know it's not that simple to get even an entry level position as a foreigner)?

That helps that you already are licensed as a Civil PE. Still, I'd think at least 2-3 years of constant design work to gain some competency in the structural design process at a bare minimum would be needed. Might need more for gaining face time with clients. It also is always tricky striking out on your own and not stealing clients from your previous employer. Search the boards for discussions on this topic on here.

For seed money think..software licenses, E&O insurance, office space/equipment if req'd (maybe just work from a home office), etc. There are plenty of threads on here discussing this topic as well.

Entry level structural engineering salary in the residential field is going to vary based on your market. And who knows with COVID right now in terms of opportunities. Try glassdoor and some of the other salary websites. As one data point as an entry level structural engineer with a masters degree(doing industrial not residential work) ~7 years ago I started at $58k in a medium-sized city in the US.

RE: Change from Construction Management to Structural Engineering

Quote (7 years ago I started at $58k in a medium-sized city in the US.)


I started at $680 per month...

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?
-Dik

RE: Change from Construction Management to Structural Engineering

How many decades ago was that dik :)? Bet your purchasing power with that salary was at least equal if not better than mine now.

RE: Change from Construction Management to Structural Engineering

more than 5...

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Feel any better?
-Dik

RE: Change from Construction Management to Structural Engineering

(OP)
Thanks guys, this gives me a better idea of what to expect.

As to the question of what is it that I remember from school... what would you guys expect me to be proficient at? What would you recommend me to brush up, to be prepared and get more prepared for applications. I wouldn't like to apply and give the impression that I'm just expecting to learn without being able to actually contribute something as an entry level engineer. What would you expect an entry level engineer to be able to do, help you with, etc?

I'm proficient at AutoCad, and Excel and programming in visual basic for excel (which I've seen extends pretty well to other languages I've dabbled in like Python and JavaScript).
I'm not proficient at the actual workflow of engineering/design, nor in using the standard software.
My theoretical background is rusty, but I think I could brush it up rather quickly (Advanced Structural Analysis, Finite Element Method, Continuum Mechanics, Structural Dynamics).

Thanks.

RE: Change from Construction Management to Structural Engineering

If you're doing residential you'd certainly want to brush up on wood frame design and basic concrete design (basement walls and footings).
Some basic steel design is usually required as well for very long span beams. Most of your seismic/wind design will be done using wood shear walls, straps, hold downs and anchors.

My 2 seconds of advice for the actual design workflow:

Start designing the gravity system at the top of the building and work your way down. Track reactions from all structural elements on the way down as you'll likely need to recall them at some point. All loads must reach the ground.

Start designing the lateral load system concept early. Leaving it until later may cause issues for your gravity system. Try to have your shearwalls stack on top of each other to avoid having to transfer lateral load through your diaphragms. Again, all loads must reach the ground.

Good luck!

RE: Change from Construction Management to Structural Engineering

For residential - I highly recommend that you strengthen you wood design skills both gravity and lateral. Also, spend some time reading though the IRC.

Great Advice from Atrizzy above. I also recommend working for a small firm that specializes in high end custom residential and you should be able to learn a lot very quickly. Good luck!

RE: Change from Construction Management to Structural Engineering

During a job interview you may not be asked to demonstrate software skills or mathematical competence. Instead, be certain that you are familiar with and comfortable talking using the words and terms applicable to residential engineering work.

www.SlideRuleEra.net idea

RE: Change from Construction Management to Structural Engineering

(OP)
Hello guys, thanks for the orientation. I have experience in business development that I'm guessing would be valuable too. Do you think this is so? Is it something worth mentioning or do you think it would show as a lack of objective focus?

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