Read James B. Hall's thoughts about civil engineering jobs and engineering schools.

Profile of a Civil Engineer

James B. Hall, P.E.
Structures Section Manager 
Jacobs Engineering
Austin, TX

james hall civil engineer

Interview by Sarah Stevenson 

Jacobs Engineering is a large international firm with about 55,000 employees, many of whom work in the field of civil engineering. James B. Hall, P.E., works in the Austin, Texas office as a Structures Section Manager. 

While Jacobs handles a range of civil engineering jobs, including transportation, retail, land development, water infrastructure, and project and construction management, Hall's job focuses on structural engineering for the transportation industry. In addition to pursuing transportation projects and providing structural design support, he also plays a critical role in developing client relationships.

What is a typical workday like for you?

The group I work with specializes in bridge design. Depending upon the project they could be designing structures such as prestressed girder units, cast-in-place bent caps or drilled shafts; checking another engineer's design (QC/QA is a very important part of our process); checking plan details or developing quantities. We also design and detail retaining walls, detention pond walls, culverts, overhead sign structures and other miscellaneous structures.

When did you first become interested in civil engineering?

I had a good friend in high school whose dad owned a construction company, and I thought it would be a good field to pursue. Once I started my engineering courses in college, the structures courses were the ones that interested me the most. The rest is history.

Did your education prepare you for your job?

I attended Louisiana Tech University, where I earned my BS in Civil Engineering and my MS in Engineering. My education helped me to understand the value of looking at a problem from more than one angle, developing alternative solutions and then trying to provide the best solution. Also, I learned the importance of asking for help, and realized that teamwork is integral in successful project completion.

What are some current trends in civil engineering jobs?

I would say sustainability and green initiatives that are good for the environment. For me as a bridge engineer, this would mean trying to provide the smallest footprint possible that has the least effect on the environment, and using recycled material as much as possible. Overall, the "green building movement" is providing an opportunity for engineers to think outside the box about the short-term and long-term effects of their designs, and provide solutions that minimize the impact on the environment.

What do you enjoy most about the job? What are its challenges?

I really enjoy the group of engineers and CADD technicians that I work with every day, and how we work together as a team to complete a project. Their enthusiasm for their work and the way each individual approaches a project makes each endeavor unique and interesting. Although some designs are tougher than others, the greatest challenge is making sure you have enough personnel available to complete a project.  It is a constant balancing act. Project management is one of those areas you don't really study enough while in college, but you get a lot of on-the-job training after college.

What advice would you offer students?

Study hard in high school, and take all the math and science courses available. Choose a university that you are comfortable attending. Just because a university has a highly rated engineering school, if the physical environment or size is not a fit, then you may not get the most from the education you are pursuing. Also, as engineers we tend to get engrossed in theory and how to get a design to work. Don't forget about the human element; how we work with others, and how we treat them, tends to go a long way in how successful we can be as engineers. This starts in school.

Is there a lot of growth potential in the field?

The growth potential is extraordinary. Depending upon the firm, you can stay in the technical area, or move into the management area. Either area offers the opportunity to be an expert in your field. Also, you can always start your own company. I believe that engineering is one of the best fields to enter if you want to engage in an interesting and satisfying profession, and be highly successful.

Sources: Jacobs Engineering, http://www.jacobs.com/about.aspx?id=46