I thought a lot about what I wanted my first post to be about. I then realised you wouldn’t want to take advice or listen to someone you barely know. So, this is going to be an ice breaker post. However, I won’t tell you the story of my life or how many siblings I have -although it’s a very interesting story- I am going to reveal to you how and why I became a geotechnical engineer.
Many of you may not know what geotechnical engineering is. I could give you a quick Wikipedia definition and skip straight to the story of how I joined this field, but my whole story lies within the definition itself. Here’s what it is from my modest four-year experience.
Simply put, although there’s nothing simple about it, it’s the engineering of anything below ground or anything that the ground interacts with. Metros, underground stations, building foundations, excavations, anything underground, you name it, we can build it. I just realised that sentence sounded like an ad so here’s a disclaimer, my company did not pay me for this! It’s a branch of civil engineering. Ideally, you have to have a degree in civil engineering or geology then pursue a master’s degree in geotechnical engineering.
Now, here’s the exciting part! Engineering in general is about being able to employ your scientific knowledge of the subject in very practical situations. To make things a little relatable, you know that Archimedes principle you studied if you were a physics student or even at some point in high school? Well, knowing that concept is important in geotechnical engineering. Obviously, it goes much deeper than that, but you get the idea. If that was not exciting enough for you then let me tell you, one of the rewarding things, I would say, in engineering is when you walk by a structure and think to yourself, ‘I was part of the team who designed that.’
Put aside that intriguing side of it, as uncle Ben in Spiderman said: “With great power comes great responsibility”. The biggest responsibility in geotechnical engineering is understanding ground conditions. That is pretty much the basis of what we do. The ground is not as straight forward as man-made products such as steel or concrete. Before you structural engineers turn defensive on me, I’m not saying dealing with those products is easy, but at least you know, to a certain extent, their properties and you can always test them. The ground doesn’t work that way. We can’t see it and most importantly we didn’t create it! It was created by complex natural events and mechanisms and the properties of that overall product are highly variable. Not to mention, it’s not always feasible to test. The ground changes with every meter you go deeper or across. Why is it a big responsibility to get as close as possible to how it behaves? Everything is built on the ground, so if you get that wrong you will end up risking people’s lives.
That is all part of why I am now a geotechnical engineer. Did I know all of this when I decided to become one? Frankly, not all of it. I was in the library looking for a book on steel structures to study for an exam when I was in my third year in University. I somehow shifted from steel structures section to soil mechanics and landed on a book that literally changed my life! I couldn’t put the book down so I borrowed it, for a very long time that they had to put my name on the wanted list of people on the library door. Don’t judge me, we all have things we are not proud of!
Aside from the fact that it sounds cool when I tell people I am a geotechnical engineer, one of the reasons I love this field is because some of the concept we use, to this very date, are still debatable. It’s a constantly evolving field and I’m continually learning something new. In my opinion that’s how you know you have a healthy relationship with your job. I could go on and on talking about this!
I do hope this gave you a good idea about what I do. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions, who knows, the answer could be the topic of my next post.