May President's Message
Wednesday, May 1, 2019
Posted by: Tim Hart
“I have never thought of myself as an architect. By education and by choice, I am an engineer. However, I see no separation between an architect and an engineer. We have a common area of responsibility, we both strive for the same results – that is: a structure with strength, utility, and grace, constructed in sincere collaboration from concept to final realization.”
I happened upon this quote from the famous Italian architect/engineer Pier Luigi Nervi when I was a student at Cal Poly SLO. I wrote it down on a piece of scratch paper and pinned it to my bulletin board, where it remains to this day. I went to Cal Poly originally as an Architecture major. When I was a child, I had big dreams of designing baseball stadiums, movie studios, and the first station on the moon. I wanted to create things. Even though I excelled in math, science, and drafting, I didn’t want to be an engineer because I thought they were too regimented, dull, and not at all creative. I swore that I would never wear a pocket protector.
During my freshman year at Cal Poly, I discovered that it was more important for architects to excel in graphic arts than in math and science. I also discovered that I was a lousy artist. I realized after that year that I could either be a C level architect or an A level engineer, so I decided to change to an engineering major. I chose Architectural Engineering because it was the easiest engineering major to transfer to from Architecture since the curriculums were similar and they were in the same college.
I graduated with a degree in Architectural Engineering, but when I did I didn’t really want to be a structural engineer. I still wanted to be an architect, or at least something in a creative field. I did not share the same enthusiasm for structures and buildings that many of my classmates had, and unlike most of them I did not have a job lined up yet when I graduated. I really did not know if I would be able or willing to last in this profession beyond a few years or so.
While I have been able to establish a 30 year career as a structural engineer, I have wondered on occasion about my career choice. At times I struggled to find my voice and confidence, especially early in my career. I have been frustrated at times with the lack of opportunities to express my creative energy. Perhaps these struggles have contributed to my somewhat unconventional engineering career. I’ve worked for four different structural engineering firms. At each firm, I started there thinking that this would be the place I would work for the rest of my career and become a principal, and at each place that did not happen for one reason or another. Now I work at a research laboratory designing anchorages of equipment and plan checking construction documents prepared by others, things that I never thought I would ever do for a living. I also never thought I would work at a place where I can never be a principal and will never get the opportunity to design that moon base. Perhaps most surprising of all, I am fine with this. I now believe that structural engineering was the right career for me, and I have managed to find ways to be creative with structural concepts to design structures with strength, utility, and grace.
I am amazed at the many different career paths several of my colleagues and friends have taken. Apparently I am not the only one who has not followed the track to firm principal that most of us envisioned taking when we graduated from college. I know a structural engineer who designs art structures, another who designs retrofits of homes in third world countries, and another who manages a multi-million dollar real estate portfolio. One of my college classmates is an associate dean of engineering research for a large university. Another founded a technology firm. At the same time, two other classmates are principals at the firms that they started working at right out of school.
I believe there is room in our profession and in SEAONC for structural engineers who are pursing unconventional careers. Not all of us need to know how to do a non-linear time history analysis. Indeed, it is better for our profession when we have colleagues who are pursuing a wide variety of interesting careers and are able to share their ideas and dreams with all of us, especially to students who are about to graduate into our profession and may be wondering about their career choice as I was all those years ago.
I can also say to those students that I have never worn a pocket protector…