As previously mentioned, March is National Engineering and Geoscience Month (NEGM) in Canada. To raise awareness of engineering, I have gathered stories from a few “everyday engineers” that I know. So, without further ado …
Jonathan Musser is a professional engineer and project manager with Associated Engineering (AE), currently on secondment to Metro Vancouver to oversee construction of a new drinking water reservoir in Surrey. He also cares about gender diversity in engineering and serves as a member of AE’s women in science & engineering retention committee.
Jonathan, what inspired you to become an engineer?
I have always been interested in how things worked. Growing up I used to take broken things apart just to see what was inside – for many years with no thought (or hope) of putting them back together. Later in life I started actually fixing some things, an activity that still brings me great satisfaction. Eventually, I decided that engineering was a way that I could make this passion into a career. One of my grandfathers worked as an engineer, but died before I was born; the other taught science but I never lived close to him or got to know him well. I wouldn’t list either as a real influence, but perhaps I had a hereditary disposition towards working in the field.
Where did you go to university and what field of engineering did you study?
I went to the University of Waterloo, starting nearly 10 years after I finished high school, and studied Civil and Environmental Engineering. I received both an undergraduate and graduate degree from there.
What adventures have you had along the way?
During undergraduate I participated in the co-op program. One of the best experiences I had in that program was when I went to California for a year to work on a research project. The project ended up being understaffed, so I was tested to the limits of my endurance some weeks, but I worked with some incredible and clever people there. I also really enjoyed some of the experiences I had doing student teaching while at university.
What work do you do now? What has been your favourite experience? What is the biggest challenge?
I’m currently on a secondment to the regional water district, acting as the owner’s representative for a large construction project. The work is a good challenge, requiring a mix of technical and interpersonal skills, and the ability to view problems through a variety of different lenses. One of the things I’ve enjoyed over my years working in consulting engineering has been the variety and wide range of activities called for as I worked on various jobs; in my current position I’m working on just one job, but overseeing all facets of the project.
More often than not, the biggest challenge is finding a good balance between work and the rest of my life.
When you look back, do you see anything from your childhood that may have influenced you to become an engineer (e.g. played with Lego)?
I’ve often said that I seem to have very few childhood memories, but I certainly recall that my father was (and still is) very handy. It seems he always has a few projects on the go. I remember wanting to be involved when he fixed things, and though I suspect I wasn’t much help, he did include me on many projects. Of course, I did play with Lego, including their Technics line, and Meccano. I also had an HO train set in the basement, and remember building at least one model airplane kit out of balsa – though I think the cost of an engine and remote controls was high enough back then to keep me from ever trying to fly one. The activity that likely consumed the most of my childhood, though, was reading. I read insatiably for many years, and in high school I think I often read close to one science fiction novel per day. I suspect all of these things combined in some way to bring me to where I am now.
What is so great about being an engineer?
The best part of being an engineer is that I regularly get to bridge the gap between science and application. What I mean by this is that I come across practical questions in my typical workflow that can be answered reasonably by considering the scientific principles at play. I work with a great number of people who explain things in scientific terms, and by speaking this common language we are able to efficiently (and often correctly) come to conclusions. Getting paid for it is nice too (though of course I would always be happy to be paid a bit more…).
Thank you, Jonathan, for sharing your story.
Stay tuned for more stories from everyday engineers this month and don’t forget to check out some of the fun NEGM events near you!