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What is Civil Engineering?

March 9, 2023
What is civil engineering and what do civil engineers do

Civil engineering is a dynamic and challenging profession that plays a vital role in shaping the world around us. From designing and constructing infrastructure to developing sustainable solutions for our communities, civil engineers are responsible for a wide range of projects that impact our daily lives. 

In this article, we'll take a closer look at a day in the life of civil engineers, exploring the tasks they undertake, the challenges they face, and the skills required to succeed in this exciting field.


Civil Engineering History

To give you a better idea of what all of these civil engineers actually do, let’s take a look at a few famous civil engineers from history. Benjamin Wright was declared the Father of American Civil Engineering by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Wright was the chief engineer during the construction of the Erie Canal. Squire Whipple is another important civil engineer in history, credited with designing and building a weight lock scale that possessed a 300-ton capacity and was used to weigh boats on the Erie Canal.

Civil engineers have also played major roles in improving our world, including assisting Haiti in its recovery after the 2010 disaster, constructing the Panama Canal, and designing the Burj Khalifa, the world’s second-tallest building.

Civil Engineering Job Duties

Civil engineers help shape our cities by designing transportation systems, creating school buildings, and figuring out how to turn natural resources into power for our homes. Their typical roles include managing teams, creating CAD models, and designing structures that meet particular clients’ needs. Other civil engineering tasks include:

  • Analyzing survey reports, maps, drawings, blueprints, and aerial photography in order to plan projects efficiently
  • Computing load and grade requirements, water flow rates, and materials’ stress factors for design specifications.
  • Inspecting project sites and monitoring progress
  • Estimating quantities and material costs (to determine project feasibility)
  • Compiling public reports (bid proposals, environmental impact statements, and property descriptions)
  • Testing soils and materials to determine their strength in different conditions for use in large projects

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A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer

What is a typical day in the life of a civil engineer? In what is arguably the oldest engineering profession, there is truly no "typical" day. A day in the life of a civil engineer involves making use of one’s design and construction skills and applying them to a physically built or natural environment.

1. Planning

Any day in the life of a civil engineer (CE) begins with a plan or strategy on how to accomplish the myriad of tasks at hand. For a civil engineer, this is particularly important. The plan lays the foundation for the day, and every day is a step toward completing a substantial project. Missing a deadline because of poor planning can cost the CE's company thousands of dollars. Planning often begins with a feasibility study, which answers the question of whether the proposed project idea should be pursued.

2. Contract writing

This is the paperwork part of the project that lists specifically what is included. Deadlines and due dates are often included, as well as cost projections. Some civil engineers oversee specific mandates and ensure that all parties involved fulfill obligations to which they agreed.

3. Understanding government regulations

Civil engineers have access to databases that provide many pages of guidelines and restrictions relating to building and infrastructure projects. A CE must make sense of the legalese in order to properly plan and fulfill state and local projects. In addition, a CE may have to attend and prepare for public hearings. Being familiar with the applicable local laws is necessary to represent the project accurately. If necessary, the CE develops procedures to clean up contaminated sites.

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4. Project management

Project management involves leading a team of designers and engineers tasked with working on and designing a particular undertaking. During project management, the civil engineer directs the creation of a set of plans that will ultimately show how a project should be built. In this function, a CE’s engineering education plays a large role in ensuring that all facets of the design will function as required.

5. Construction management

While similar to project management, construction management focuses on the actual work of building and creation. Managing construction requires strict adherence to the budget to avoid cost overruns. In addition, every deadline along the way must be met, leading up to the final high-quality deliverable.

6. Creating proposals

A strong proposal is persuasive, outlining exactly what the engineering firm is planning. It presents a well-organized plan of attack. A strong proposal has technical details because technical depth is needed to "sell" a project. It also includes a budget for the client's project.

7. Meeting with clients

In-person, on-site client calls are critical to any project. Not only does this ensure that the CE understands the client's needs, but it also solidifies their relationship. Of course, regular phone calls are also part of the job to keep clients up-to-date. However, nothing beats the results that meaningful face-to-face interaction can provide. Together, the parties involved can hammer out the details for a quality, cost-effective project that meets the client's needs.

Civil Engineer Career Summary

Civil engineers design, build and maintain the infrastructure we rely on every day, from roads and bridges to airports and water treatment plants. They work on large-scale projects, often collaborating with architects, contractors, and government agencies to ensure safety, sustainability, and compliance with regulations. 

Civil Engineering positions require a strong background in math, science, and technical skills, as well as excellent communication and problem-solving abilities.

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