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Do civil engineers enjoy their job?

Is it also worth majoring in civil engineering if you want to major in engineering as it pays a lot less than the other choices? I want to do architecture based building with homes and residential properties, but some people have said civil engineering is a better pathway to get to this although I have also heard that civil engineering can tend to be very boring and people end up building a lot of boring infrastructures like bridges, roads, and hangers. What do you think?

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Maya’s Answer

I am a civil engineer focused on water resources management. That means I make sure bridges are designed so they don't flood during big storm events, wastewater treatment plants can release clean water back into the environment after human use, make sure drinking water is safe, design and inspect dams that supply water to communities, and model sea level rise. I have civil engineering friends who design more sustainable concrete mixes, work on complete street designs to incorporate transit and bike paths to urban roadways, and design the structures for children's hospitals and schools.

The reason civil engineers get paid less is often because we work in the service of the community and are paid by taxpayer dollars instead of stock market investors or real estate developers. So while we may not do the shiniest new things there is still plenty of innovation and creativity within the civil engineering world to satisfy your creativity, in my opinion. And we get the added bonus of knowing our work has intrinsic value for the health, safety and welfare of our communities. I would say most of my bosses and the people who have stayed in the industry for decades are very passionate about what they do and truly love their work.

Having said that, I understand your concern with going into a career you find boring. I would preface that every job, whether Architecture of Civil engineering, has its boring side. Did you know the Architects that work on our projects (yes there are typically both Architects and Civil Engineers on most engineering projects) spend a lot of time matching code requirements from big guide books? You often don't get a ton of options for creativity besides which red color to use on bricks or what window tint to include on the windows, if the city or company you work for already has set standards. A lot of little details, that may be interesting to you, but also could get super boring. This is true of both career paths. So before discounting either, I would recommend talking to people in both, and having the mindset to be curious and creative no matter what you choose!

Maya recommends the following next steps:

Check out some of the videos and material from the American Society of Civil Engineers: https://www.asce.org/career-growth/pre-college-outreach
Search online for your local City Engineer or a local Architecture firm and ask for an informational interview to learn about their career path.
Think about if you like working at your desk or working outside with your hands more. Have you considered construction management, which takes engineer and architect plans and figures out how to build the thing?
Most schools that offer one degree offer the other, and there is some overlap in classes. You can always apply for the architecture program and transfer to civil engineering, or vic versa, so look for somewhere that teaches both.
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Claxton’s Answer

Hi there, Bryson.

Although it may not sound exciting, civil engineering is one of the oldest and most important disciplines of engineering. It has a very rich history that encompasses ancient works like the Appian Way, the Colosseum, and the Great Wall of China, and modern marvels such as Burj Khalifa, the Central Artery/Tunnel Project (also known as The Big Dig), and Wembley Stadium. Some civil engineers also work as investigators to determine why failures occur. And while it is true that many civil engineers work in the public sector, including state departments of transportation, many others work in the private sector, including architectural and construction firms.

Civil engineers work very closely with architects on a variety of projects, ranging from shopping malls to skyscrapers. They help bring the architect's vision of what a building should look like and how it functions to fruition by designing the structures that support them.

Like other professions, the salaries in civil engineering depend on several factors, including the organization you work for, your level of experience in the field including licensure and certifications, and the market in which you work. And like any other profession, civil engineers will sometimes get bored. That's normal. But it is definitely a field that's worth exploring and working in.
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Alex’s Answer

Hi Bryson,

Great question, my strong recommendation based on my friends who were straddling a creative (design adjacent) job with an engineering job is to go with the creative job. But, it depends on what is the thing that is drawing you towards architecture.

Is it the creative decision making, is it creating the aesthetic, or is it just the end result that you contributed to a house? If it's creative decision making and/or creating an aesthetic (or something similar) I'd definitely go with architecture. Yes, it isn't as high paying at the beginning of one's career (normally), but it's a worthwhile choice in the long-term. You get REALLY GOOD at what you do when you love it. If you love math or you love solving complex equations to help someone else's design/vision come to life then civil engineering could be a great path for you as well!

At the end of the day the distinction is more around do you want to be involved in the process of designing creative structures? Or do you want to be on the support side of enabling that to come to life?

The same trade-offs exist between mechanical engineering and industrial design. A lot of mechanical engineering majors think they are going to design iphones, planes, or cars, but that's not their role. They will help figure out what button needs to be in it or what gear to use, but they won't be as involved in the conceptualization.

Based on your question and it's wording, I'd definitely recommend architecture.

Hope this helps!
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Peter’s Answer

The first time I read a college catalog was when I was in fourth grade, and civil engineering seemed to me at that time to be the most interesting major in the book. Go where stuff needs doing that no one has ever done before, building things that change the world? What's not to like?

By the time that I was a college freshman, taking on the energy crisis was the challenge on people's minds, and I figured that no matter what was inside the power plant it would have to be sited, designed, and built – so I got my Civ E degree, and in the following six years I worked on projects to gasify Texas coal, produce high-pressure-capable tire liners in Louisiana, build offshore icepack-proof islands in the waters off the north coast of Alaska, and envision & plan the largest earth-orbiting structures ever conceived. Every one of those projects needed civil engineering involving one or more of (i) unprecedented scale, (ii) new construction methods, and/or (iii) ability to build and transport and install massive structures in some of the world's most challenging environments.

I have since then transitioned into more digital and less physical industries, but the real-world learnings of early years in CivE make it possible to have better understanding of customers in many disciplines – and I would welcome chances to spend more time out in the field, constructing world-improving stuff, and solving today's massive challenges of mitigating and accommodating climate change.
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Amr Mohamed Salah’s Answer

I have been working as a civil structural engineer for 16 years, my works have ups and downs but when i finish a large building and see it standing I get a great feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.
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