TECHNOLOGISTS USE THEIR SKILLS TO HELP DESIGN A BETTER CANADA
Design drafting has come a long way since Heather Robertson started her career in front of a large wooden table using different weights of pencil to draw up designs for engineering projects.
And even when design drafting began the transition to computer-aided design (CAD), the firm she was with had a limited number of computers so staff would work in shifts to get access to the new technology, which relied on a disk operating system (DOS) in the days before Windows came up with a graphical user interface.
Things are very different today. Pencils and early CAD programs are long gone. Now manager, infrastructure, with Associated Engineering based in Kelowna, BC, Heather and her team use state-of-the-art software to design, implement and manage projects.
Heather spends much of her time responding to request for proposals for engineering projects, many of them from different levels of government. It’s an exacting job requiring careful attention to detail and a clear understanding of the scope of work being requested.
In writing a proposal Heather needs to demonstrate that the company has the expertise and experience to meet the criteria that will be considered in the selection process.
“I typically manage the proposal right through to submission,” she says. “Then, if we are awarded the project, I may take on the role of project manager and set up the contract with the client and any sub consultants we might include in the work.”
The projects Heather manages encompass a wide spectrum of engineering work from transportation to infrastructure and require her to coordinate with specialists throughout Associated Engineering.
Heather’s career began, in the late 1980s after graduating from the British Columbia Institute of Technology with a diploma in Building Technology. Since then, she has added to her knowledge as technology evolved taking the industry from pencils and ink to graphical design.
As a manager, Heather’s big challenges have moved from learning new technical skills to liaison with clients, managing staff and communicating regularly with all people impacted and involved in the projects.
“Clients need to understand what we are doing and why, and we need to stay within the scope of the project,” she says. “Our team, on the other hand, is there to support our clients and help them achieve their goals and objectives. So, it’s important to communicate with the team so that goals and objectives are realized.”
But even with good communication on all sides Heather says the job can be challenging.
“Getting proposals in on time can be stressful, so can ensuring that project deadlines and deliverables are met, and we stay within the project scope, on schedule and budget. It all takes careful management and a focus on the details,” she says.
Apart from the technology advances in the industry since she started, Heather says there has also been a big shift toward interdisciplinary teams on a project.
“A lot of the teams now include people with different skills such as specialists in environmental and agricultural sciences,” she says. “There might also be biologists, foresters and arborists, and even an archeological specialist if needed. There’s a lot more emphasis on a whole package for a project.”
Many of the people who make up the package are Applied Science Technologists, like Heather.
“I think people generally don’t recognize the contributions of a technologist. Career paths tend to be seen either as the trades or the professions,” she says. “But in reality, technologists fill a whole range of positions in between the two in a wide range of fields. Just about any building you enter, any community you walk the street in, any laboratory you go into, a technologist has contributed to make it happen in some way.”
Heather isn’t sure why technologists tend to be less visible to the public.
“We are probably not extroverts in many cases; we tend to embed our thinking in the details, and immerse ourselves in our work,” she quips noting that technologists are often the type of people who enjoy immersing themselves in the details of a project and take pleasure in seeing it through to completion.