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Unconventional Civil Engineering Careers

By Vardhan Dongre posted 06-20-2019 02:18 PM


One stereotype often attached to civil engineers is that in private industries they often end up in blue-collar jobs involving intense manual work. Having such presumptions can result in poor career choices and can act as a deterrent for students while deciding their field of interest.

Civil engineering is much more than that and can offer several high-end rewarding careers that many young graduates aspire to. Like all other engineering streams, civil engineering is a burgeoning field of applied science that is witnessing dramatic changes due to rapid developments in other fields. Today, we see innumerable developments in the field of computer science, such as cloud computing, application development, better computational methods and artificial intelligence,  that, when merged with civil engineering, can engage one in a highly professional and successful career.

In order to dispel some misconceptions, here are some of the areas within civil engineering that demonstrate the vast opportunities this field can offer.

Remote Sensing / GIS / GPS / Photogrammatory (GEOINFORMATICS)

Remote sensing, GIS, GPS and photogrammatory are different technologies, but their strings are attached to the field of surveying. Surveying is not only based on chains and tapes; in fact, remote sensing is one of the most high tech areas that civil engineering can offer.

From monitoring agriculture, forestry or weather to surveillance for military, administrative and transport services; from conservation of natural resources and 3D mapping of mineral resources to assessment of prevalent infrastructure, enforcement of building by-laws, you name it – remote sensing technology is proving to be one of our most versatile fields, offering numerous opportunities plus room for innovation. Several new startups are emerging based on new applications of this technology. Of course, there are market giants in this field like ESRI and Google, and several others such as GE, Autodesk and Bentley Systems entering this arena. In India we have the Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (IIRS, affiliated to ISRO), which is a premier institute for research, higher education and training in the field, offering several distance learning and eLearning programs for professionals and students alike.

Application of Artificial Intelligence

AI and civil engineering may seem like an odd match. However, AI is providing great applications for computations involved in civil engineering. Artificial Neural Network (ANN) is not new to the research intelligentsia, but it is not as well-known among students of civil engineering. From geotechnical to structural engineering, ANN is making predictive computations easier with its intelligent self-learning networks. Specializing in ANN will not only provide opportunities in civil but can open other avenues of engineering as well.

Data Management / Computational Methods / Design Applications / BIM Professionals

Infrastructure projects have to deal with large amounts of data pertaining to design, resource management, contracting and cost management, which requires people who are adept at handling such software and data sets. 
Prior to software, this involved manual computations, but, again due to developing technologies, several programs like MATLAB, MathCAD and Analytica, among many others, are crucial. A career in this area can allow one to work with world-class and influential architecture, interior design, engineering and urban planning firms around the globe.

Forensic Engineering and Failure Analysis 

With rapid urbanization and an increasing number of large-scale infrastructure projects, increased design sophistication and more-and-more daring construction technology, safety is becoming even more important than ever before. Forensic engineers are expected to deliver technical competency, knowledge of legal procedures, detective skills, effective communication and high ethical standards. Professional engineering groups as well as insurance companies, government agencies, architects and lawyers have been looking for graduate programs that can provide an integrated education on the forensic aspects of structural engineering practice.

Vardhan Dongre is a graduate student of structural engineering at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He is currently the structural engineer for the Illinois Solar Decathlon and has research interests in the field of Design, Automation and Computational Science.

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03-01-2020 11:32 AM

I agree with you regarding geomatics- the technical requirements have become quite high and are rapidly changing. An engineer might enhance their career if they become proficient in both areas.

I don't understand the sentence fragment "blue collar jobs involving intense manual labor". that will deter students from making a career choice. Please give an example. If you are referring to construction (my field), I fail to see the connection.

07-18-2019 01:54 PM

Great points, thank you for writing! I also wanted to share this blog resource on possible career paths, which was a result of another thread on Career by Design.