Civil Engineer

What do you do for a living?

I am a civil engineer. I manage the development and financing of large public sector construction projects. I work for a company owned by the Scottish Government.

Most of my time is spent in the recycling sector dealing with waste treatment projects but I also work In the development and financing of other public buildings such as schools, hospitals, and colleges.

How did you get interested in what you do?

I had very little advice when I left school.  All I knew at the age of 17 was that I wanted to leave school as soon as possible and go to university.  I didn't really care where I went or what I did which, in hindsight, was a bit silly.
I ended up at Dundee Uni doing civil engineering. I trained and qualified as a civil engineering when I left university. Later on I got more interested in the management and financing of construction projects so I did a MBA at Edinburgh Uni which I thoroughly enjoyed.

What was your journey to reach the role you are in today?

I scraped into university with four highers.  I managed to get into Dundee University via the UCAS clearing system. I studied at Dundee for four years and got a 2(i) honours degree.  After university I was lucky enough to get a job with an engineering design consultancy and it took me 6 years and two sets of professional exams and attending many training courses to become a qualified engineering.

In my late 20s I realised that being a good engineer was not enough if I wanted my career to progress; I needed to be competent in the managerial and financial aspects of my job as well so I did an MBA part time at Edinburgh Uni.

Talk us through a day in your life 

A key part of my job is finding new ways to construct new buildings for less money and to deliver them in a shorter period of time.  I spend a lot of time meeting people try to convince them of new ways of working. A lot of the time many people I work with are resistant to change so a key skill is the power of persuasion.

In addition to meeting people to help develop new projects I spend a lot of time with other engineers, lawyers and accountants to prepare all of the documentation that is necessary to develop and construct new buildings so I need to be able to understand the key issues that they are concerned with.

I also spend a lot of time with the Scottish Government and local authorities.  It is the MSP that set  government policy which influences what construction projects are required ( e.g. motorways and hospitals). It is local authorities that determine where local schools are built and where our waste is treated so I spend a lot of time trying to understand how best to develop new projects that fit with national and local politics.

Was this your planned career when you were 18?

No!  I had no plan at 18 other than to buy a Porsche one day. (I'm still hoping!) In hind sight I wished I had stayed on until 6th year, got better highers and had taken more time thinking about what I wanted to study.

What did your parents want you to do?

Go to university as they never got the opportunity.

What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?

If you are thinking about engineering, make sure it is something that you want to do.  I know many people who love their job and are very passionate about engineering but unless you have miracle invention up your sleeve your not going to become a millionare as an engineer!  If money is what motivates you and you like numbers - try actuarial science or accountancy. However, if you get a buzz from making things happen, engineering could be for you. With engineering expect to travel. You have to go where the projects are. Before you decide on any courses, take time to speak to as many people as you can.  Maybe try getting some work experience to see if you really like it.
If you are not a 100% sure but still like the sound of engineering look at universities and colleges that do joint honours courses.  Doing engineering with, law, finance or management will give you more flexibility if you want to try something else later on.

Lastly employers don't just look at qualifications.  Evidence of a can do attitude is key, whether through paid or voluntary work experience.

What other career directions could you go in?

 I am a company director so that gives me the potential to look at other non-executive directorships.  Sitting on the board of companies or charities is a good way to share my experience.

Anything you have not covered about your area of expertise? 
  • The internet and technology is a wonderful thing but there is more to life than the play station and Facebook.
  • If you can show that you have applied yourself either through study, voluntary work or a part time job that will go a long way.
  • Finally, it is not uncommon for employers to look at Facebook profiles so make sure you always present a positive and true image of yourself.