But Why Tom, Why?
A question that I get asked, with depressing frequency, is why I became a Civil Engineer. In a strange way, it’s a bit of a veiled insult; normally the question is ‘how’, not ‘why’. It suggests that the reasons for wanting to become a Civil Engineer are not immediately obvious, and any delusions of prestige not commonly shared. Of course, a lack of interest in the profession is nothing new- but this is a much more subtle manifestation of the issue.
It’s difficult to think of a job where people can make the sort of contributions that you can touch.
So Why Did I Become A Civil Engineer?
This isn’t my personal statement, so there’s no point in pretending that the profession was my passion at the age of 17 (yes, I genuinely wrote that). In fact, I’d be pretty suspicious of anyone who makes such a claim; in my experience it took most of the first year of university before people really began to firm-up their definition of what a Civil Engineer really was.
I did play with Lego, and the odd bit of K’Nex, as a child- but that’s hardly grounding for a career in construction. My Dad is a Civil Engineer, although it’s something we never discussed, and until I actually started learning about it, I just had a vague suspicion that he designed playgrounds- founded from a set of drawings I once saw.
My first exposure to Civil Engineering was actually in the spring after submitting my UCAS form, having already attended, and passed, the interview process for Music Technology at Surrey. A little bit of work experience in the media industry had already begun to weigh on my mind, and I had an instinctive feeling that I might do better being something else. Flicking through the prospectus I spotted engineering and started hunting through the disciplines. The traditional ‘girl in hi-vis doing surveying’ (it’s always a woman in Civil Engineering marketing shots,) caught my eye.
I can’t remember exactly what it said (and it would be worrying if I could) but I came away with a realisation dawning:
Civil Engineers make a tangible difference to the world.
At the time my best articulation of this ethos, which became my standard retort to questions about why I had made the sudden change, was “I’m going to build a bridge.” Unlike any previous assertions of becoming the worlds greatest composer- this was a statement of fact.
This remains one of the best arguments I put forward when defending a profession that so few people have heard of. It’s difficult to think of a job where people can make the sort of contributions that you can touch. It was then that I started hunting through the internet, and began to learn more about Civil Engineering, however; the honest, and ‘non-interview’ response to why I became a Civil Engineer is simply- because I realised I could build a bridge.
It would take me just under three years to work on my first bridge project. At the time I was an undergraduate engineer. The bridge still stands, and can be found in the Dalston area of East London.