Tag Archives: economy

Episode 104 — Downturn

downturnCivil engineer Mike O’Connor shares stories of continuously revamping his professional skills to stay afloat during turbulent economic times.

  • Adam sees economic cycles, both short- and long-term, influencing his engineering activities.
  • Petroleum engineers have recently seen an economic downturn in their industry, similar to a downward slide suffered 30 years ago by the oil business.
  • Our guest for this episode is Mike O’Connor, a retired civil engineer who spent over four decades in the fields of construction and project management, working in both the private and public sectors.
  • Mike’s father worked at Philco, which for many years was the leading producer of radios in the United States.
  • Inventor Philo Farnsworth worked briefly for Philco in the early 1930s, before setting up his own firm, the Farnsworth Television and Radio Corporation, in 1938 to manufacture television system equipment.
  • A bet between a foreman and his crew led to Mike’s introduction to the construction business.
  • Of all things, learning about concrete specifications ignited a desire within Mike to become an engineer.
  • Mike completed his master’s degree in Civil Engineering over a two year period, completing the normal undergrad requirements by taking equivalent graduate-level courses.
  • As Mike was graduating with his engineering degree in 1975, computer automation was emerging with the Georgia Tech Structural Design Language (STRUDL).
  • Brian suggests that weakness in the United States’ economy during the mid-1970s was due to stagflation.
  • A theodolite is an instrument for measuring angles, usually while surveying.
  • In working for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Mike was introduced to the moving technical target known as best available technology (BAT).
  • Not being able to find work in the late 1970’s (despite having a PE license), our guest went to law school for a year. However, he dropped out due to financial and familial obligations.
  • Mike notes that each engineer has a “shelf life,” and one has to be aware of the decreasing interest companies will have in older individuals.
  • Everyone makes career missteps; our guest estimates it takes 3 to 5 years to recover from each such course correction.
  • During the 1980s, many civil engineering firms had to shift from “cost-plus” to “lump sum” contracts.
  • In the early 1990s, Mike shifted his career trajectory once again, overseeing contracts for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) commuter transportation system.
  • Paraprofessionals are already integrated into other professional fields, such as medicine and law; our guest believes they will soon start being introduced into the engineering industry.
  • Mike suggests engineers develop mentor relationships, especially as they enter management positions.
  • Having an interest in engineering preservation, our guest has started the Fredrick and Pennsylvania Line Railroad Museum.
  • Mike can be reached via email: Mike -=+at+== fplmuseum dot org.

Thanks to the Tim Green for use of the photo titled “Vacancies No No.” Opening music by John Trimble, and concluding theme by Paul Stevenson.