Duncan Codd is a principal structural engineer at Aecom. Here he describes what it takes to do his job.
Describe your job
I lead a team of bridge and highway engineers as part of the Conway Aecom JV working for Transport for London (TfL).
What’s the most exciting part of your day/ week?
Apart from getting home to play with my 18 month-old son? I particularly enjoy our weekly presentations. The office has fostered a culture that encourages presentations on an extraordinary breadth of engineering projects, technologies and professional practice by people of all grades.
Why does your job matter so much?
I’m part of a team that designs, builds and maintains infrastructure that allows people to go about their daily lives without having to worry unnecessarily about safety or health. Ease of getting around, communication and access to clean water underpin civilisation. It’s the human capacity to employ and propagate sophisticated technology to achieve that civilisation that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom – and that’s what I get to do for a job.
How do you explain what you do to your friends and family?
I tell them I’m a bridge engineer and I design, build and maintain bridges. Sometimes I have to entertain a discussion about what an engineer is, since as an industry we don’t really own the word, but everyone knows what a bridge is. If I need to go into depth I’ll talk about computer modelling of structures and project programming, since that plays such a big part of being efficient in a modern consultancy.
How did you get into the job/what was your career route?
I started out with a BSc in botany and zoology, but some staff departures in my final year at university lost me the opportunity to work in the then nascent field of biomimetics, an evolutionary biology/engineering crossover. What followed was a circuitous route to civils, inspired by that interest in engineering, via land surveying and working as a CAD technician. I remain grateful to the people who recognised I could transfer my scientific training to engineering. I was sponsored through a part-time MSc in civil engineering and received tremendous support from the ICE and my colleagues which allowed me to become chartered.
How do you see your job changing in next five years?
For me the most exciting developments are in materials science. Things like self-healing concrete, carbon nanotubes, graphene, nanomaterials and perhaps harnessing biological processes to employ materials such as nacre.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about becoming an engineer?
I would advise that person to do it if they’re a creative individual who is inspired to better the technology civilisation relies on, but I would advise them not to do it they’re interested in making lots of money and retiring early to play golf. I do think engineering should be financially rewarding, but I don’t think that should be anyone’s raison d’être; life is too interesting for that.
What would you be if you weren’t in this role?
I would like to think I would be a scientist or a teacher.