Need a bachelor's in Civil Engineering
In college, I majored in civil engineering. One of my classes was on transportation engineering, and we did highway design projects. I did surprisingly well, while others struggled. It just seemed to come easily to me, so I signed up for other transportation-focused elective classes. In the summer between my junior and senior years, I got into an internship program with the Department of Transportation in Montana. They trained me in drafting and gave me the experience of what day-to-day operations were. I learned how to use Microstation and AutoCAD software and did some small projects internally. I continued in that internship through my senior year, and when I graduated, I was highly sought after by Montana consulting companies. They knew that internship had given me an understanding of what the Department of Transportation wanted to see in construction plans. I'd already received training on the software used, so I was a cheap entry-level employee with a decent amount of knowledge and required little training. I ended up getting hired as a highway design and construction technician in Helena, Montana. I spent three years doing pavement inspections, round-a-bout design, and a lot of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) design work. I designed sidewalks and curb ramps.
I was ready for a change and saw an opening for a Traffic/ITS engineer on the east coast. I moved and began working as a traffic and ITS engineer, which involves everything that plugs in on the side of the road - this includes traffic cameras, changing message signs, traffic signals, and design work preparing for autonomous vehicles. So, now I'm involved more on the tech side of transportation.
On an average day, I'm working between eight and twelve hours. My work time fluctuates depending upon what projects are going on. At least once a week, I'm out in the field, driving to different construction sights that are in progress or reviewing work completed. I'll take photos to compare the work with the plans drawn up and make sure they're on track. If I run into the contractor, I'll make sure they're following the design plans. During the summer months, we have more projects going on, so there's more site management.
Most of my day consists of working on designs and drafting on Microstation or AutoCAD software for the Federal Highways Administration or different state entities.
It's fun working behind the scene and getting to be part of the inner workings that make traffic run smoothly. My job is hidden from view but has the potential to improve so many people's day. For example, if you pull up to a stoplight, and you're running late, you're annoyed and wondering why the light is taking too long. I know why it's messed up and make that a project of mine to fix. I feel like I'm making road rage go down.
The more critical part of my job is being a Road Safety Professional. I'm the only one in New Hampshire and Maine, so I'm always pushing for making the roads safe. Unfortunately, people die every year in car crashes, and I work to decrease these numbers. I'm working on changes that can prevent someone from losing their life. I feel like I'm making a difference; that's a gratifying part of my job.
You have to get used to the fact that you're going to be on the computer a lot. Much of my time, I'm doing drafting work. If you're a person who needs your time outdoors, there will be some, but it's not going to be a daily thing.
With highway engineering, you might be working on only one project that can go on for years, which may get monotonous. That's why I switched over to traffic engineering work - it's fun. There are more 'quick hit' projects. I'll be working on as many as six projects at once.
Another thing with working in civil engineering is while you don't punch a clock in and out you do charge your time. So every hour you work is more or less accounted for via charge to a client. You do have to track your hours and being accountab for them.
You will make a comfortable living. If you own your own engineering firm you can do very well. Great thing about civil engineering is that infrastructure spending is always there.
I got lucky and stumbled into my internship. I would say this is a great way to get your feet wet and figure out what you want to do. Civil Engineering is so broad; an internship will often expose you to several divisions, and let you work on a range of projects.
Traffic engineers are in high demand in New England and across the country from my understanding.
Take every opportunity thats handed to you and run with it. I learned early on that becoming an expert in software is a great way to set yourself apart. If you can become proficient and excel at CAD work you become hard to replace as you can not only help with design but also draft it. If an opportunity to learn a specific software comes up take it and run with it.
Right now with the changing technology ITS engineering is becoming more and more common. Connected and automated vehicles are on the horizon and how the infrastructure can help implement those will be a large opportunity for this field to grow.