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Insights How Chris is using VR and AR in his engineering career

As part of our #PeopleDriveResults campaign, this week we have caught up with Chris from our Digital Engineering team. 

Can you tell us a bit about your professional background?

I earned my bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 2003 from Auburn University in the U.S. Shortly after graduating I joined a small municipal/civil firm in Birmingham, Alabama as an Engineer-In-Training.  

In 2005, I moved to London, U.K. and joined a structural/civil firm where I took over their drainage and infrastructure department. In the spring of 2010, I became a Chartered Engineer and a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers. A few months later, I joined Atkins as a Civil Engineer where I worked in the Engineering and Major Projects division. I worked on several large programs like Olympic Park and Crossrail in London, and Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport in Saudi Arabia; where I became known for 3D modelling and digital delivery.

In early 2012 I transferred back to the U.S. to Atlanta, Georgia. The following year I became a licensed professional engineer. I specialized in aviation projects until 2018 when I moved into my current corporate design technology position. ​

What inspired you to become an engineer? 

I was torn between environmental science and engineering when I enrolled in university. My academic advisor told me it would be an easier transfer from engineering to science than the other way around, so I enrolled in the civil program. After working through some foundational classes I realized I found joy in the conic sections, physics and larger-scale engineering. Sequences and series, electromagnetics and chemistry all felt like you had to be too exact. I prefer real geometry because I’m much more comfortable getting things within a foot than a nanometer.

What is the coolest thing you are working on?

I get to work on everyone’s projects, which means I’m working on so many cool things. One I’m most excited about right now is the integration of extended realities like Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) into our delivery workflows. Remote working and the falling barrier to entry (Quest 2 for $300!) means we have the need and the access to engage in new ways of collaborating. If you want to try VR or AR on your projects, there is no better time than now to get into it!

What do you think had the biggest impact on your career development to date?

The juxtaposition of two very different positions I’ve held.

The first being my time at a small mom-and-pop shop in Birmingham right out of school. We printed onto mylar and did reproduction on a blue-line machine - I can still smell the ammonia! My boss would ask me to line up all the mylars before a submittal and ask “is it right?” before stamping them. We did not issue revisions and we did not deliver late.

The second was my time in Major Projects. Travelling from mega-project office to mega-project office across London and attacking problems was one of the most exciting positions in my career. I learned there really are no dumb questions and the best way to learn how to do something is by doing it, then figuring out how to improve as you go along.

What is the best advice you were ever given? Who was it from?

While I was leading the infrastructure department at my first job in London I was trying to juggle over 30 projects and deliveries. I worked harder and longer hours just to keep up. My then-manager sat me down and told me, “You’re never going to chop down that tree with a dull axe. I know it seems wrong, but if you stop and sharpen it for a bit you will get through the tree much faster than if you continue the way you are.”

He showed me how to make a program with activities that I could delegate and track instead of trying to juggle a heavier workload. I learned that if you try and do everything yourself you will never be able to do as much as you want to.

What is your favourite quote and why?

  In the immortal words of Jean Paul Sartre, ‘Au revoir, gopher’   

by Carl Spackler

I love this quote because it reminds us that were it not for the contingency of our deaths, we would never end. Choosing to be this or that is to affirm the value of what we choose. In choosing, we commit not only ourselves but all of mankind, and mankind’s unending war with gophers. 

Tell us one fun fact about yourself.

I played competitive ultimate frisbee for many years. Although the pairing of the words “competitive” and “frisbee” may seem strange, the sport is filled with fun-loving and athletically gifted people. In most tournaments, officials are not present. Instead, players decide for themselves when a foul has been committed and whether to contest it. This way players play to “what is legal per the rules” and not to “what a referee doesn’t see is legal”. There is no better way to understand how far you’ll go to win than to be required to police yourself toward victory.