What is a Civil Engineer?

A Civil Engineer is a specialized type of Engineer. Also known as: City Engineer, Transportation Engineer, Structural Engineer.

A civil engineer is someone who designs and supervises large construction projects, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment.

A subset of civil engineering is geotechnical engineering, and it is one of the specializations within civil engineering that involves investigating and understanding what lies beneath the ground’s surface.

What does a Civil Engineer do?

Civil engineers work at the highest level of design and plan large infrastructure projects, such as airports and roadways, which requires solving complex problems. Civil engineers must determine the feasibility of plans, especially regarding financial costs and safety concerns. Urban and regional planners often look to civil engineers for advice on these issues. Civil engineers are ultimately responsible for the infrastructure project’s design and implementation. Therefore, they must be able to lead surveyors, construction managers, civil engineering technicians, and others to implement the plan.

Civil engineers use the principles of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in mathematics for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work. Only licensed civil engineers can sign the plans for infrastructure projects. This makes it imperative that civil engineers be able to monitor and evaluate the work at the job site as a project progresses. Civil engineers must be able to communicate with other professionals, such as architects, landscape architects, and urban planners. This means that civil engineers must be able to write clear reports that people without an engineering background can follow.

Many civil engineers hold supervisory or administrative positions ranging from supervisor of a construction site to city engineer. Others work in design, construction, research, and teaching. They work with others on projects and may be assisted by civil engineering technicians and technologists. Various levels of government employ civil engineers to do many of the same things done in private industry, except that the government-employed civil engineers may also inspect projects to be sure that they comply with regulations.

A civil engineer's tasks typically involve the following:

  • Analyze survey reports, maps, and other data to plan projects
  • Consider construction costs, government regulations, potential environmental hazards, and other factors in planning stages
  • Test soils to determine the adequacy and strength of foundations
  • Test building materials, such as concrete, asphalt, or steel, for use in particular projects
  • Provide cost estimates for materials, equipment, or labour to determine a project’s economic feasibility
  • Use design software to plan and design transportation systems, hydraulic systems, and structures in line with industry and government standards
  • Oversee, or participate in, surveying to establish reference points, grades, and elevations to guide construction
  • Present their findings to the public on topics such as bid proposals, environmental impact statements, or property descriptions

Civil engineers work on complex projects, and they sometimes specialize in one of several areas:

Geotechnical Engineers - work to make sure that foundations are solid. They focus on how structures built by civil engineers, such as buildings and tunnels, interact with the earth (including soil and rock). Additionally, they design and plan for slopes, retaining walls, and tunnels.

Structural Engineers - design and assess major projects, such as bridges or dams, to ensure their strength and durability.

Transportation Engineers - plan and design everyday systems, such as streets and highways, but they also plan larger projects, such as airports, ports, and harbours.

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What is the workplace of a Civil Engineer like?

Civil engineers generally work indoors in offices. However, they sometimes spend time outdoors at construction sites so they can monitor operations or solve problems at the site. Occasionally, civil engineers travel abroad to work on large engineering projects in other countries.

What is the difference between a civil engineer and an architect?

Both civil engineers and architects are involved in planning and designing structures. However, a civil engineer will concentrate on making sure the structure will be safe and be able to endure everyday and extreme conditions, while the architect will focus on the aesthetics of the structural work, as well as concentrate on the look, feel, and functionality.

The civil engineer will analyze and evaluate the structural integrity of the design that the architect has created, and find ways to make the construction design possible by suggesting alterations/modifications in order to turn the architect's vision into reality.

Civil engineers and architects often work with each other, as their work sometimes overlaps. A good working relationship between the two professions will make a construction job more effective and successful.

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What is some good advice for civil engineering students?

Meet up with a professional civil engineer and ask a few well thought-out questions as to what working as a civil engineer is really like. It's surprising how people will gladly give a little of their time to help out an aspiring fellow professional. It would also be wise to get an internship and spend as much time with professional civil engineers as possible. It's only by exposure to the industry that you'll be able to get an idea of what it's like to work in it.

It would be good to figure out ahead of time what type of civil engineering path you'd be interested in, and consider the future of that industry. If you choose a mature field of civil engineering, you will most likely have a slower but stable growth in your career. If you choose a niche field, you'll probably make more money, but sacrifice the experience in becoming a well-rounded civil engineer.

What is it like being a civil engineer?

Civil engineering is a very demanding yet fulfilling career, as the engineer is able to work on a project from its inception right to its completion. When you drive over a bridge, see a building, fly out of an airport, or visit a museum, a civil engineer has had a major part in that project.

Civil engineers have many duties; they interact with clients, customers, inspectors, suppliers, vendors, architects and design teams. They submit and revise drawings many times over until they are approved. They also spend time tendering, looking at reports, doing cost estimates, analyzing designs and infrastructures, testing, commissioning, and spend time on construction sites to see what progress is being made on projects. Construction sites need to be visited and monitored frequently, in all kinds of weather conditions, to make sure work is going smoothly and disputes are resolved in a timely manner in order to meet specific deadlines.

Do architects and civil engineers work together?

The two main designers of a structure are the architect and the civil engineer; both professions being integral to the structure's execution and construction.

Their responsibilities often overlap. The architect will design a space to meet the client's needs, and will come up with blueprints for both the inside and outside of a building. Because the architect is ultimately responsible that the building is safe for its occupants, he or she will work closely with a civil engineer to ensure the structure meets all the appropriate building codes. The civil engineer can also advise and/or select the appropriate structural materials, and help with specifying the plumbing, electrical, heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems that will be needed.

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Further Reading

  • Civil Engineer Career Interview myfootpath.com

    Sarah first found her passion for engineering at a young age. “I was a small town girl with a curiosity for building and creating things,” she explains. “My father was a carpenter and took me to work with him as I was growing up.”

  • A Day In The Life Of A Civil Engineer – With Hourly Updates www.jobunlocker.com

    I’ve received a few emails asking about what the career of a civil engineer is like. So I sat down with a friend of mine who is a civil engineer to see what a day in the life of a civil engineer consists of. Here is what he said goes on in typical day...

  • Civil Engineering Building The Future www.transworldeducation.com

    Civil engineers have one of the world's most important jobs: they build our quality of life. With creativity and technical skill, civil engineers plan, design, construct and operate the facilities essential to modern life, ranging from bridges and highway systems to water treatment plants and energy­ efficient buildings. Civil engineers are problem solvers, meeting the challenges of pollution, traffic congestion, drinking water and energy needs, urban redevelopment and community planning.

  • What Is Civil Engineering? civil.columbia.edu

    Civil engineering is arguably the oldest engineering discipline. It deals with the built environment and can be dated to the first time someone placed a roof over his or her head or laid a tree trunk across a river to make it easier to get across.

  • Responsibilities And Duties Of A Civil Engineer www.exforsys.com

    A civil engineer is responsible for using their civil engineering background to plan and oversee various construction efforts in many different areas of this field. They will apply civil engineering principles to ensure that structures are constructed in the safest, sturdiest manner.

  • What Are The Most Important Skills For A Civil Engineer? work.chron.com

    Many civil engineers have jobs that require a very hands-on role in construction, while others may have positions more heavily weighted toward supervisory and administrative skills.

  • The Future Engineer www.raisethebarforengineering.org

    The successful future engineer will need strong analytical skills, practical ingenuity, creativity, good communication skills, business and management knowledge, leadership, high ethical standards, professionalism, dynamism, agility, resilience, flexibility, and the pursuit of lifelong learning.

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