President Herbert Hoover, a mining engineer, said it best: "It is a great profession. There is a fascination watching a figment of the imagination emerge through the aid of science to a plan on paper [that] brings jobs and homes."
Alan Zamboanga, an engineer with ATM Engineering in Rancho Cordova, agrees. "I think it's the basic fulfillment of the job. Being an engineer you get the satisfaction of building and designing from the two-dimensional paper concept to something tangible."
Founded in 1998, ATM handles commercial, industrial, institutional and residential structural designs and seismic upgrades.
Degrees of Expertise
Zamboanga has a degree in civil engineering, but says an architectural engineering program would be more suited to the type of work his firm does.
Some applicants in the field, however, may not even need a formal education to get a foot in the door. "We have people in the company without college degrees," confirms Mike Hansen, a civil engineer with Benchmark Engineering Inc. in Modesto. "In fact, we have kids who started with us who have only high school diplomas. All it really takes is a good attitude and a desire to learn, although computerized drafting experience would be a plus."
He recommends that enterprising jobseekers interested in engineering read newspaper ads or go to the yellow pages and start calling companies to ask if they have openings. "We've hired two kids who sent resumes and followed up with a call," he recalls. "We're still looking for people."
Another route to a job in engineering is to earn an associate's degree in design and drafting with training from a junior college or trade school. The best thing about this route is that you couple formal training with hands-on experience.
For those seeking a fast track, City College of San Francisco (www.ccsf.org) might be the ticket with its two-year programs in electronic and mechanical engineering technology. The Engineering and Technology Department offers courses in digital/microprocessor and communication electronics. Students who complete the curriculum are qualified for positions as technicians engaged in research and development; and in manufacturing, testing, installing, and maintaining electronic equipment.
The mechanical engineering technology program offers students specialized training for employment as engineering technicians engaged in research, design, operation, maintenance, testing, or sales. Students who complete the curriculum satisfactorily are qualified for positions as estimator-designer, field engineer, assistant operating engineer, mechanical or research technician, junior test engineer or engineering sales representative.
The last option is to purse a four-year degree. That, along with passing two state licensing exams will earn you a degree as a licensed engineer.
"In California, two years of actual work experience after graduation is enough to take the Professional Engineering Exam," Zamboanga reports. "In other states four years is required."
To become a structural engineer in California requires another three years, because the state has the most stringent seismic codes in the nation. Therefore, a license here is more prestigious and is recognized in all 50 states.
Capitalizing on Sacramento
"Our primary clients are in commercial construction, but we also build homes," Zamboanga reports. "Construction is doing real well in the Sacramento area, so it's hard to find qualified people. Although we're always looking at resumes, we're not hiring right now."
He says the business is a lot like balancing an equation - the company wants to grow and expand but not so much expansion that it collapses.
"The success of our business usually depends on the economy rather than growing population," explains Benchmark's Hansen. "So in spite of the slow economy in the Bay Area, we're swamped now. The reason is that people are buying houses here (in Modesto) rather than in the Bay Area."
Benchmark has a mix of civil engineers and land surveyors who help developers subdivide and develop raw land. The company also helps with the planning and provides the blueprints for infrastructure such as sewer lines, storm drains and roads.
"We have been working at this accelerated pace for 12 years since the real estate market in the Bay Area exploded," he reports. "We can't find enough people now to handle the workload."
Hansen is a realist who understands the Central Valley's healthy economy will catch up (or down) to the Bay Area. "That's the rub," he concedes. "I don't have a crystal ball so I just enjoy the good times and plan for the worst."
Bill Calmes, with Cartwright Aerial Surveys in Sacramento, offers a bird's-eye view of the engineering-related field of photogrammetry. "It's a fascinating industry. We provide aerial photographs for mapping as a service for civil engineers and land surveyors," he explains. "We look down on the projects slated for land-based construction."
Calmes has a degree in computer information systems, knowledge that helps him use specialized software to do the mapping. He advises those interested in this field to earn a degree in geography that includes at least one course in photogrammetry.
The field of geotechnical engineering also affords numerous job opportunities. "Our area is one of the five disciplines falling under the umbrella of civil engineering," explains Robert Hobert of Anderson & Associates in Sacramento. "The other four are structural, environmental, transportation and water resources."
His firm studies ground areas that are earmarked for residential or public works development projects. Engineers also look at retaining walls, slope stability and ground water issues from a structural standpoint.
Applicants should have a bachelor's degree in civil engineering and a master's in geotechnical engineering. Anderson also hires engineering student interns who gain work experience while still in college.
Hobert reiterates the relative vitality of business and building in the Sacramento area. "Civil engineering flows with the economy." And right now, the economy is flowing best in the capital city.
For more information on engineering careers, visit these websites:
- EarthWorks-Jobs.com - links to jobs in energy, oil, mining, geoscience, environmental, agriculture, forestry, ecology, meteorology, oceanography, hydrology, soil, and related subjects.
- EngCen.com - Engineering Central, includes job listings and resources for engineers. Jobseekers can upload and edit their resumes in the site's database.
- EngineeringJobs.com - job listings, resume posting, and resources for engineers.
- IEEE.org - The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers is a nonprofit, technical professional association. Their website features news and information, links, and a career center. Annual dues are $132.
- Interec.net - A good starting point for an engineering job search on the Internet.
- NSPE.org - The National Society of Professional Engineers is a membership organization of engineering professionals and licensed engineers. Introductory dues are $16 for students, $102 for engineering graduates, and $202 for other members (dues may vary by state).
Organizations mentioned in this article:
- ATM Engineering - Rancho Cordova, (916) 859-7300.
- Benchmark Engineering - Modesto, (209) 576-2721.
- Cartwright Aerial Surveys - Sacramento, (916) 421-3465.