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Is Civil Engineering Boring?

Is Civil Engineering Boring?
What sounds mundane at first flowers into a world of fascinating intricate complexities when you look harder.

Ever since writing this article, a surprisingly large number of people are coming to this site searching for the phrase “is civil engineering boring?”. This is a touch ironic, given that I started Being Brunel in a desperate attempt to improve the presence of Civil Engineers online. However, Google isn’t to be denied, and I take heart that the the phrase is at least a question. As I’m guessing a simple no isn’t going to convince anyone, here’s a more honest answer; although, I’d rather you were all getting here though “is civil engineering awesome!”

It’s massively cliché, but so is an article about whether civil engineering is interesting, however; the Oxford English Dictionary defines boring (and its roots) as:

  • boring adjective. Not interesting; tedious.
  • bored adjective. Feeling weary and impatient because one is unoccupied or lacks interest in one’s current activity.
  • bore verb. Cause (someone) to feel weary and uninterested by dull talk or behaviour.
  • tedious adjective. Too long, slow, or dull; tiresome or monotonous

I’m not going to lie, Civil Engineering can be boring, I know the feeling of being bored at my desk, I’ve met engineers who are a bit of a bore, and I’ve done work that has been tedious. But if you think that’s any different from any other industry, you’re tragically mistaken: even Park Rangers have to do boring paperwork, get bored wondering the same woods, deal with managers who are bores and find having to answer the same questions from the public tedious [ed. If you did not grow up thinking that being a park ranger would be the most exciting job in the world; substitute accordingly].

So the question is, just because Civil Engineering can be boring, does that mean that it is; are you searchers justified in your assertion? To me, the answer comes from looking at how easy it is to stop your job as a Civil Engineer being boring- as and when you find yourself spending more time looking out the window than looking at your work. So if you do meet a civil engineer who thinks the profession is boring, my view is that it is only because they are content to be bored, and here’s why…

Civil Engineering is not just design for the developed world, it’s bespoke tailoring for infrastructure.

Our OED definition roots boring as something that is uninteresting. Being a Civil Engineer gives you two routes to ensure your are never uninterested. Firstly the discipline is huge, in fact- the enormous scope of work is probably why defining civil engineering is so difficult. From roller-coasters to drains, it’s all civil engineering; which takes us to my second point- being trained as an engineer changes your perspective of the world. This might sound a bit trite, but my experience on the railways means that the view I enjoy from the train window isn’t the scenery, but the hundreds of little engineering titbits that run alongside the track. A bit like Civil Engineering; what sounds mundane at first flowers into a world of fascinating intricate complexities when you look harder.

Now you’ve got yourself interested; a state of boredom can also come from a lack of occupation or things being slow or monotonous. That Civil Engineers are forever overworked means that getting away without being occupied is an achievement in itself, and you’ll find no end of people who will happily give you something (interesting) to do if you are a glutten for punishment enough to ask! Similarly engineering projects come in all sizes, and even the apparently slow, decade-long infrastructure achievements break down into thousands of tasks, all of which are need to be finished yesterday.

Finally, in my experience so far, what I yearn for most is a bit of monotony; a chance to get the hang of something before I’m thrust into a new challenge! Civil Engineering is not just design for the developed world, it’s bespoke tailoring for infrastructure. There’s rarely an repetition; I’ve seen drawings for bridges where every abutment and foundation were different (presumably because the designer hated the contractor). If you think that every road is the same, then you need to talk to a highways engineer (although not for long, as they’re probably too busy; see above).

So no, Civil Engineering isn’t boring; forever telling people it’s not is.

(n.b. the man in the header picture is sleeping, not dead…)

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Comments

  1. Civil engineers have built civilization; thank you. I’m glad I don’t live in a cave.
    It’s what each of us brings to a job that makes it interesting; if you are a person with imagination & creativity then your job (any job) will prove rewarding. So, don’t blame the job, look in the mirror & promise yourself to be more imaginative.

  2. Great post!!! I left the industry to do a startup to change this 🙂 I think more and more think the industry is boring, dull, drab, mundane and damn right out of date… On top of that all hope of any change has been beaten out of people over the years. Like the other comment, Construction is the foundation of any developed society and us individuals within the industry lose perspective of the wider impact we have. I think it’s exactly this perspective we need to get back 🙂 Keep the posts coming…

    p.s. the startup I am heading up is http://geniebelt.com/

    • It’s not that the industry is dull; but that it’s a risk-adverse industry where too much experience is required for younger generations to take the reigns before they’ve been beaten into submission- it makes change incredibly difficult to effect.

      I must admit though, BIM has got me excited- not because of what it is (which I think is more than a tad optimistic, really)- but because it seems to be the first time that engineers of all grades are really starting to take ownership of something and using it to influence what the industry will become.

  3. ibrahim

    I do not agree with people who think civil engineering is boring; I want them to imagine their how their life will it be without civil engineering!

  4. neuralette

    Oh wow, I wish I could say I’m not bored to tears and seriously burnt out! I’ve been working in civil engineering for ~15 years – worked in both private and public capacities; for general contractors, cities and private engineering consulting firms; in design, construction management, and project management; projects included water treatment plants, parking lots, railroads, bridges, freeways, environmental remediation, air quality, permitting, design/build, heavy civil, facilities, gawd, you name it…

    Right now, I work in heavy civil, mainly for the railroads and have been for the last 5 years or so. While the work WAS fascinating initially and COMPLETELY encapsulates damn near every bit of materials, structural, geotechnical and fluids theory you will ever learn in school, and of course, the railroad itself captures the “romance and history” of the US – I am burnt the hell out on the LONG work days, the endless, unpredictable work schedule – oh crap, a bridge washed out in the desert, or another derailment, looks like another 36-hr non-stop shift, night work, day work, work in snow, rain, sleet, HEAT, trying to review invoices or update redlines in the back of your truck because there is NO construction trailer for YOU…the layers of internal bureaucracy (white collar vs blue collar, consultants vs owner, etc), the external politics with city, state and federal government…gahhhh….

    And now, now that I’ve been doing this for this long, the only way out is to become management and manage people…probably my LEAST favorite thing to do. Trust me, I did hair for over a decade before I even did this, and the last thing I want to do is deal with people more than I already do.

    Work and projects are entirely dictated by what the firm wins…and trust me when I tell you, private consulting or general contracting is about as exciting as it gets. Go work in the public sector and you will really be bored to death.

    I’m trying to sort out a career update that won’t require another 4 years of school and allow me to be outside at least half time…haha, jokes on me more than likely!

    Don’t get me wrong, civil engineering is AWESOME, and then you top out and what’s next???

    blehhh…

    • Wow; that’s definitely a bit of an insight- and one I think is pretty valuable; I’m still _relatively_ new in the industry, but it’s not uncommon for people to leave when they become chartered; perhaps you’re on to something, and it’s your half of the skill chain people need to be looking after just as much as those entering!

    • Catherine

      Oooh wow! That is some vast experience you got there! I am very intrigued! I am currently a graduate engineer trying to find my niche. I know I want to be involved with structures but in a variety of sectors or projects involving Rail, Roads, bridges etc. However, it is not easy getting involved in a variety. So my question is how did you do it and any tips and hacks please.

  5. James Jones

    I have been working in the industry for 3 years now, so still a young engineer and I honestly can’t see any long term benefits of staying in this industry. I work within an international bridges team working on ‘exciting’ stuff, well so I’m told. Yes, initially everything is exciting etc. but it soon becomes tiresome. I personally crave innovation and progression within a process, Civil Engineering is stuck in the early 1900, yes progression has been made with regards to material knowledge etc. but we still use concrete and steel every day, day in day out. All the senior engineers are uninspiring and dull, don’t like change and risk adverse.

    Oh did I mention the pay? For the level of education and knowledge required the pay is terrible!!! Honestly just google for it.

    The industry requires you to learn a lot, great, exciting, lifelong learning?. No. The information you learn has been done 1000’s of times before and passed down to younger engineers who merely ‘tweak’ the information over time. No innovation and no creativity just set procedures you must follow like the codes…

    Senior engineers will tell the new grads everything is exciting and you get to develop your own ‘spreadsheet’, WOW I can’t contain my excitement.

    I am sorry for the negativity but if you yearn creativity and cutting edge engineering, oh and money, don’t do it. The industry is for you if you like following rules and fine detailed spreadsheets and want to ‘make the world a better place’. If looking at a bridge gives you all the justification in the world to ‘make a difference’ then go for it.

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