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Visualising Your Engineering Niche

Visualising Your Engineering Niche

About the Author

Sam Lytle

  • Sam Lytle is a husband, father of three and just months away from becoming a licensed civil engineer. He works for a private design company doing roadway design and project visualization including several projects on the Las Vegas Strip, where he lives. His new website and podcast- Civil FX- allows him to share his passion of combining civil engineering and special effects in project visualization.
  • Find out more: Civil FX

It all started with Lego, as it always does.

In all of my adolescence I never took the time to follow Lego instructions to create something great. I didn’t have the patience to make something that I didn’t think looked cool anyway. Static Lego evolved into moving Lego (Mindstorms, baby!) in my teen years and I found new ways to be creative when the dimension of motion was added as a variable.

When it came time to start thinking about a career my dad (who also happened to be my high school principal) suggested I pursue a degree in engineering since I had always enjoyed building things. I took whatever career-choosing computer quiz was available and it confirmed that recommendation so my path was set.

I stuck it out hoping that sooner or later I would catch on and feel the engineering love. It never came.

I was going to be an engineer.

Civil turned out to be the most realistic choice as I wanted to stay local to family and I spent the better part of a decade (hey, not all of us finish in four years) completing all of my courses and getting that coveted degree- Bachelors of Science in Civil Engineering.

An internship morphed into a full-time position and soon I was tasked with actual, real life design work.

While the math and the software always came fairly easy to me, it wasn’t long into my career that I noticed something was wrong- I didn’t like design. It came to me clearly and soundly. Whenever it came time to actually make something that could be built in real life I would experience frustration, boredom, anxiety and uneasiness.

What was wrong here?! My path had been chosen! I was that one person who chose a major, followed through and actually became what they set out to be from the beginning.

More and more I found myself not enjoying my job in the transportation industry, most often drawing lines on a computer (that’s what I call it, anyway), I did have a small family to feed and a degree to justify; so I stuck it out hoping that sooner or later I would catch on and feel the engineering love.

It never came.

It took several years of retrospect to understand what had happened. While yes, I did love creating things, I didn’t love creating things from instructions. I loved being creative. I loved building wonderful things out of my imagination.

The more I realized this, the more I traced it back through many facets of my life. When small I was given piano lessons only to dread the weekly lecture of why I shouldn’t shirk practising my scales. However, as I grew older and wasn’t forced to have the lessons anymore, I realized I absolutely loved playing by ear or creating new songs; I never looked at a piano book again. Similar story lines flowed through my history including writing, video editing and blogging. The fewer rules I had to follow, the more I loved it.

(Don’t worry, this story has a very happy ending!)

A few years into my career I discovered something that made me rethink the rethinking of my career. It happened when I was asked to create a video flythrough demonstrating proposed bridge pier conflicts with an existing high pressured pipe line. I taught myself a new software program (InfraWorks) and created something that the project managers loved. The next week I was asked to do another one but this time it was for a diverging diamond interchange. I developed new methods to bring the striping files in from Micrsotation to display correctly and this second visualization went to the local news to be shown dozens of times.

While I had actually enjoyed 3D modelling in college with Sketchup and Revit, it had never crossed my mind that I could do these incredible things and get paid for it! The first day I was able to model civil engineering data in 3D and get paid for it was a turning point in my life.

The moral of my story isn’t that I found an escape from a career that I would eventually hate. Rather, I now strongly believe that there is a niche within nearly every profession that is right for someone.

While I still draw lines on computers often, project visualization (as I have learned it to be called) has become a more important part of my career with each passing year. It is not uncommon for me to use Microstation, AutoCAD Civil 3D, InfraWorks and Sketchup all in the same day to visualize a project for a client. The fact that I have a degree in civil engineering, am classically trained in both CAD software programs and am just months away from receiving my license has proved to make me more valuable with each project visualization I have created.

After months of planning, I have also created a website and podcast dedicated to my passion of merging civil engineering and special effects called Civil FX. This is my opportunity to not only teach the world what I am learning every day but also to find solutions to the problems I can’t figure out and connect with others that are passionate about modeling and visualizing civil engineering data. If you are passionate or even vaguely interested in project visualization, please feel free to connect with me at or email me directly at

The moral of my story isn’t that I found an escape from a career that I would eventually hate. Rather, I now strongly believe that there is a niche within nearly every profession that is right for someone. Perhaps it is figuring out how to combine programming with engineering or helping people with medicine. Perhaps it is merging creativity with marketing or even joining a love of food with a career as a stewardess!

Be brave enough to not settle for the career you were given if you don’t love it. Experiment with new ways to do your job or try and get a larger variety of what your field may hold for you.

And no, this post was not sponsored by the Lego Movie (although it was AWESOME!)

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  1. Thanks for the chance to share my story Thomas! I take it visualization is one of those words that may be different depending on which side of the pond you are on 😉

    • Indeed- it took all my will-power not to correct; unfortunately I couldn’t leave “Legos” alone though- it’s an uncountable noun!


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