Introduction

My name is Margarita Vizcaino, and I am from Guatemala. Guatemala is a small country in Central America, right in the south of Mexico. In my home country the first language is Spanish but there are over 20 languages of indigenous origin. Guatemala is a developing country and that brings many challenges for the 17 million inhabitants. One of the biggest problems that we face is that only 1% of its population has the opportunity to attend college and most people reach only through middle school. I grew up in an educator's family, so I have been aware of the situation of my country since I was little because we travel around the nation supporting public schools. Those years were special to me, and I knew I needed to be grateful for the opportunities I would have the rest of my life. I have taken advantage of every chance of learning something and I hope that every student can appreciate the blessings of education. I have been a dedicated student all my life with an interest in different topics. In high school I liked math, biology, sociology, but I was also part of the soccer team. I attended a democratic school in which we learn how a democratic state is organized by playing its roles, so I participated several times in the political parties to run for the presidency of the school. I was very competitive, so I needed to have the best grades in the class and at the same time join other activities and be the leader of them. I dreamed to build a career that would take me one day to become the first woman president of Guatemala. I wanted to choose a college career that would help me develop a strong mind to solve problems and to help others with my knowledge. I knew that following the path of engineering would provide me with tools and important mental processes to accomplish what I wanted. I decided Civil Engineering because it would teach me how to administer projects, design solutions for the needs of the people, analyze structures and be able to transform a blueprint into a tangible structure. I did my college career at Universidad del Valle de Guatemala; it is recognized as one of the best universities of Central America. They prepared professionals that have a lot of knowledge, high critical thinking aptitudes, and leadership. I met beautiful people there, including my husband, who is also a Civil Engineer. It has been great to share career, but we have chosen different paths in the field, we learn from the experiences of each other. I have worked in structural design, estimation and quality control of projects. My husband has been a project manager for several projects, including a hydroelectric plant. After the Civil Engineer degree, I received a scholarship for a master's in public administration and leadership. A couple of years later a decided to take another Master, this time in Financial Administration. The best part is that life will take each person on its own journey, depending on opportunities and what brings joy to them, so there is no rush to choose the path from the beginning. It is easier to enjoy the ride and follow what you feel is the best for you at each moment. I got married in 2021 and Guatemala is going through difficult times. There is a lot of corruption, violence, political instability, low salaries and low employment rate. With my husband we decided to explore possibilities outside our country, and we found a construction company in Atlanta, Georgia that was interested in supporting us. I now work with them as an estimator for masonry projects, which include concrete block, brick, stone, and cast stone. I quantify materials for every project that we will bid on, and if we are selected for the masonry scope, I prepare the shop drawings. The company is now growing, and we will diversify our services. That means also that I will need to adapt to new methods and other material characteristics. I am very excited about what the future will bring and all the new things that I will learn.

Civil Engineer

career options

This career gives many options for engineers, the most popular paths are structural analytic, hydraulic engineer, geotechnical engineer, project manager, or transport and city planner. A few examples are listed below but it is important to know that the path can overlap and usually they work together. Each of these career paths have their own divisions inside of them.

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Structural Engineer
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Hydraulic Engineer
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Geotechnical Engineer
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Transport and Planning Engineer
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Construction and Management Engineer
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Civil Engineer

 skills

What are the main hard skills you use on a daily basis in your current job?

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Technical knowledge

The technical knowledge required by a civil engineer is vast and diverse, surrounding various fields and disciplines. Some of the fundamental knowledge required for civil engineering is strong foundation in calculus, geometry, statistics and probability. It is also important to understand the mechanics, statics, dynamics, thermodynamics, and fluid mechanics to analyze forces, stresses, and material behavior. Other technical knowledge will vary for the civil engineering disciplines and their specialized areas. In my case, I require specific knowledge for my engineering project position. When I work on estimations, I am required to know how to measure accurately materials, labor and equipment for the project, also how the material costs, availability and performance characteristics will impact the budget. Another special skill for estimating is the takeoff ability to extract quantities of materials from project plans, specifications and drawings.

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Computer-aided design (AutoCAD)

AutoCAD skills are essential for creating and communicating their designs effectively. AutoCAD is a powerful 2D and 3D computer-aided design (CAD) software developed by Autodesk. It allows users to create and edit technical drawings with precision and efficiency, making it a widely used tool across various industries like Architecture, Engineering, Manufacturing and Graphic Design. For my job I was requested to have proficiency in creating accurate and detailed 2D drawings, including plans, sections, elevations, and details. This involves understanding basic commands, layers, blocks, and annotation tools. I learned to use this program in college; however, I continue to improve my knowledge in all my previous jobs.

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Cost Estimates

This skill plays a vital role in project planning, feasibility analysis, bidding, and overall project success. For estimating a project there are components that will vary depending on the company you are working for and the material and type of project you are estimating. As a basic component you need to understand the project scope and for that, you will need to know how to interpret project plans, specifications, and other requirements. Each company will have a different method to quantify materials, labor and equipment, some of which use specialized software, but other ones will create spreadsheets of Excel according to their needs. In my job as estimator, I have learned to adapt to the method of every company. In my current job I have become proficient in Plan Swift to do the take-offs of projects.

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What are the main soft skills you use on a daily basis in your current job?

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Problem Solving and critical thinking

Civil engineers work on complex projects with high stakes, making critical thinking under pressure an essential skill. Each project has its own challenges, and they differ in shape, scope, requests, place and many more characteristics. Being that different the solutions are always different and must be thought of for each project issue. Critical thinking under pressure isn't limited to emergencies. It applies to every stage of a project, from design to construction to maintenance. It allows engineers to anticipate challenges, find creative solutions, and adapt to changing circumstances, making them invaluable assets in any civil engineering team. I have used this skill in all of my previous jobs and in my actual job, and I learned with time, making mistakes, and observing how other engineers solve problems. In my current job I face problems like not having all the information that I need to estimate a project or having contradictory information; but there are also small technical problems that I need to solve every day.

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Teamwork

Teamwork isn't just beneficial professionally; it's personally rewarding. Building trusting relationships, sharing successes, and overcoming challenges together fosters a sense of belonging and accomplishment. Civil engineering projects are rarely solo efforts. They involve intricate designs, diverse stakeholders, and intricate regulations, making collaboration essential. From architects and surveyors to contractors and community members, effective communication and shared understanding are vital. It is important to be open to communicating with others and to learn how to be clear when explaining something. The engineer needs to speak in the right tone with people with higher hierarchical positions and those with lower hierarchical positions. Respect is one of the most important values to maintain efficient communication.


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Attention to details

Civil engineering projects deal with the physical infrastructure that forms the bedrock of our society. From bridges and buildings to dams and power plants, even small mistakes can have catastrophic consequences. Meticulous attention to detail ensures that every element is designed, constructed, and maintained according to strict safety standards, protecting lives and preventing accidents. These projects often involve significant budgets. Oversights and errors can lead to costly rework, delays, and budget overruns. A keen eye for detail helps identify potential issues early on, preventing mistakes and ensuring resources are used efficiently, saving time and money for everyone involved. I have applied this skill in my estimation jobs because a small error can represent a big economical loss for the company. It is hard not to make mistakes, but with time and practice you learn how to be more exact when estimating project costs.

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Margarita

’s personal path

Tell us about your personal journey in

Civil Engineer

:

I started working in my last year of college at a structural design company and after a couple of months I decided that I didn’t like that path of Civil Engineering. It was hard to find another job as a female civil engineer in Guatemala, so I worked as a teacher for two years. Being a teacher taught me valuable lessons and skills such as effective communication, patience, mentorship, innovation, and collaboration. I worked with students ranging from 7 years old to 18 years old. Since my groups were very diverse, the biggest challenge for me was adapting teaching methods to each age group. After those years, I recognize that I found it easier to teach teenagers and adults than children. In my country it is easier to find a job if you have friends that can recommend you for a specific position. I got recommended for field work in a company specializing in soil technologies. It was a big project, and I was one of the three engineers monitoring progress. I oversaw quality control of materials that arrived at the site, and I needed to report the weekly advancement to the client. I enjoyed that job because I did a lot of different activities. I learned to value the job of construction worker and the convenience that an office job offers compared to a field job. Upon completion of that project, the manager transferred me to the estimating department where I worked for over two years. I decided to quit that job because there were no opportunities to grow, and my work was becoming repetitive and boring. I decided to help my family with the administration of the educational institution they own. I took a pause in civil engineering but after a couple of years I decided to search again for a job related to my career. This time it was harder; I applied to a medium-sized construction company, and the interview process was disappointing and even hurtful. They made me do many tests and several interviews, until I asked them to stop the process because they were asking questions like if I already had the approval of my husband to work and other personal queries. I stopped searching for a job in construction in Guatemala after that experience and returned to the education field. I began training public sector teachers on democracy topics while also looking for employment opportunities in other countries. Since the goal was to find a job outside Guatemala, I started to publish my resume on job banks that had construction positions. I found the Georgia Hispanic Construction Association, and they noted that my experience matched what a company was looking for. I applied for the job, and the owner of the construction company called me for an interview. The interview was very easy and comfortable. I have already learned the importance of being yourself and trusting in your perceptions from the beginning of a job application. I believe that it is essential to feel good with your superiors and the job you will be doing. They valued my knowledge, my experience, the fact that I was bilingual, and that I was fighting to have a better future. I valued that they were a family company, they were willing to support me with the immigration process, and there were growing possibilities in the position. Each journey is different, and I am very proud of how mine is going. I feel happy, useful and valued in my current job. With my past experiences, now I can appreciate more what I have in my present occupation.

What would you tell your younger you regarding building your current career?

Civil engineering is for everyone, not only men's and those who want to build with their own hands. There are a lot of paths to take once you are a civil engineer. This career will train your mind to think, to solve and to see other perspectives of an issue. Enjoy your time in college and understand that life outside of it is different. In many of the jobs you will not use all the math that you learned; however, it is basic to understand your math related classes because the process of learning is what is important. Once you have a job, learn everything you can and participate in activities not strictly related to your position. Don’t be afraid to change jobs or search for different positions if you are not comfortable with something. Respect your instincts and follow your dreams.

Final thoughts & tips

In conclusion, my journey through education and career has been a testament to resilience, adaptability, and the pursuit of one's passions. From humble beginnings in Guatemala to navigating challenges and opportunities in the field of civil engineering, each step has been a learning experience filled with invaluable lessons. Along the way, I've encountered obstacles and setbacks, but each challenge has only strengthened my resolve and broadened my perspective. I am grateful for the experiences that have shaped me into the person I am today and optimistic about the future that awaits. My journey may have had its twists and turns, but I am confident that the best is yet to come. The field of civil engineering is vast and diverse, offering endless opportunities for exploration and growth. Embrace the journey, and never stop seeking knowledge. Always remember the profound impact that engineers have on the world. Your work has the power to improve lives, strengthen communities, and shape the future. Above all, remain passionate and dedicated to your craft. With hard work, determination, and a passion for innovation, you have the power to change the world.

Margarita Vizcaino

Margarita Vizcaino

Civil Engineer
Build Fellow
Open Avenues Foundation
Open Avenues Foundation

Margarita Vizcaino is a Civil Engineer Fellow at Open Avenues, where she works with students leading projects in Civil Engineering.

Margarita Vizcaino is a Project Engineer at Eagle Construction and Restoration, LLC., where she works on cost estimation of material, equipment and labor for masonry projects, reviews project documentation and technical specifications, and prepares reports for project management.

Margarita Vizcaino has ten years of experience in civil engineering.

She has had three jobs related to civil engineering, two related to education, and one in the finance field. In her previous job as a civil engineer, she was an estimator for a Central American company that works on foundations and soil technologies. It was an interesting job that usually required creativity to solve the challenges of each project. In that job, she learned the importance of having a good foundation in every building.

She holds a degree in Civil Engineering.

A fun fact about Margarita Vizcaino: she has been interested in politics since childhood, and one of her dreams as a child was to become the President of Guatemala, her home country.

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