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Insights Pathways and Perspectives: Voices of Two Civil Engineers at AtkinsRéalis

Exploring the behind-the-scenes of professional journeys within a company can offer a fascinating perspective on challenges, successes, and lessons learned. In this article, we had the privilege of meeting Nikki and Illya, two remarkable civil engineers from AtkinsRéalis. Join us as we delve into their stories, trials, achievements, and lessons learned at the heart of the civil engineering industry.

Photo of Illya and Nikki smiling towards the camera

                Nikki Tan                                                     Illya Romanskyy

What is your role at AtkinsRéalis?

Illya Romanskyy: My current title is Senior Civil Engineer, Group Leader, but I still go by “Civil Engineer”. It is always possible to add different suffixes and prefixes to this basic title, but I remain the Engineer, doing the same engineering work – designing infrastructure, applying my expertise for the project reviews, mentoring junior designers and EITs.

Nikki Tan: At AtkinsRéalis I work as a civil engineer in the Roads and Highways Group. When I first joined the company over 10 years ago, I initially began by contributing to drafting tasks for civil and utilities works on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT project. Over the past decade, my role has evolved significantly, now focusing primarily on design aspects, particularly for underground utilities, parking lots, and roadwork, including the integration of bike lanes into infrastructure projects. In an addition to my contributions to the ECLRT, I also lend my skills to various other projects. I have taken on a specialized role as the go-to person for accessible trail design, having successfully designed several trails in York Region, Ontario in the last few years.

Tell us a little bit about your background

Illya: After graduating as a Civil Engineer (specializing in road and airfield design and construction) I worked at a university dividing my time between science and real roadway projects. I participated in different projects and highway research in Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and Austria. These gave me very good experience and confidence in myself. Then, after immigrating to Canada I started as a junior draftsman, but it didn’t take too much time for me to confirm my qualifications and experience and to get an engineering license. I took part in many different projects (roads, highways, LRT, BRT) and I can say that every 400-series highway in Ontario has a part of my work (some have a big part, some have a small).

What inspired you to become an engineer?

Nikki: Growing up, I had no idea what I wanted as a future career. In high school I excelled in math and physics, which led me to consider engineering as a logical choice for university studies. I was initially drawn to aerospace engineering for its allure, but it was in my third year of university that I stumbled upon transportation engineering. The satisfaction of designing roads and other civil infrastructure resonated with me deeply; it felt like solving tangible, real-world puzzles. I realized I wanted to do work that not only had visible impacts, but also served practical purposes for the community, such as enabling the smooth flow of traffic or facilitating efficient public transportation systems.

What is the best thing about your job?

Illya: The best thing in my job is when I finally get to see the results of my work. I am proud to drive on the highways I designed and show my kids or my friends the elements that were done by me.

What is the coolest thing you are working on?

Nikki: Currently, the coolest project I’m involved in is the Northern Road Link (NRL) project. The NRL is a significant undertaking aiming to improve transportation infrastructure in the Northern regions of Ontario and facilitate better connectivity and accessibility to Indigenous communities. What makes this project particularly exciting is the array of unique challenges it presents. From harsh environmental conditions to logistical hurdles associated with remote locations, each aspect demands innovative solutions. It is incredibly rewarding to contribute to a project that has the potential to make a meaningful impact on regional development and accessibility. Furthermore, I will have the opportunity to showcase our work on the NRL through a presentation at this year’s Transportation Association of Canada (TAC) conference in Vancouver.

What has been your favorite project so far?

Nikki: My favorite project so far has been the project to design new airport terminals for small, remote airports in Northern Ontario with MTO Remote Airports. These airports play a vital role in serving indigenous communities so isolated that access is limited to airplanes or ice roads. Witnessing the conditions of the existing terminals during a three-day site visit was eye opening; they were essentially single room structures lacking basic amenities such as running water and reliable heating. What made this project especially memorable was the unique experience of traveling to each location in a small six-seater airplane. This immersive site visit not only provided invaluable insights into the challenges faced by these remote communities but also highlighted the significance of the project in improving their infrastructure and connectivity. It's been deeply rewarding to contribute to initiatives that directly impact the lives of people in such remote and underserved regions.

Illya: When I started my career as a civil engineer, I was involved in a very interesting project – The widening of an old bridge. It was one of the first concrete bridges in Europe, constructed in 1911-1912. I had to read the original documents in German and Polish languages and get familiar with the bridge and road standards almost a century old. Till now I remember the excitement I worked on this project with, the many hours of overtime I spent for my post-graduate self-education, and my older colleagues who shared their professional experience with me. And I remember the very symbolic moment when we took a picture of ourselves – all designers stayed under this bridge when after testing it was opened for the traffic. It is a very old tradition – to show to the public, that we, engineers, are responsible for what we design. This widened bridge serves people till today.

What makes a good day for you at work?

Illya: Two things. First, when I know what I am doing, and the project starts taking shape. Second, meeting friendly colleagues who share the same passion for the projects and civil design.

What would you say to someone thinking of joining AtkinsRéalis?

Illya: It is a great place where you could start your career, apply your experience, or implement professional ambitions.

What are the main challenges female leaders can face in the workplace?

Nikki: Female leaders in the workplace, in engineering especially, encounter a variety of challenges which stem from longstanding gender biases and stereotypes within the field. One significant challenge is the gender imbalance, where women are underrepresented in leadership positions. This can create a lack of female role models and mentors, making it harder for aspiring female engineers to envision themselves in leadership roles. Additionally, there may be implicit biases and stereotypes that undermine women's authority and competence, leading to difficulties in gaining respect and recognition for their work. However, I have been fortunate at AtkinsRéalis in that I have always been surrounded by amazing women on the engineering team.

What advice would you give to young individuals seeking to join AtkinsRéalis?


  • Embrace Your Passion: Pursue engineering with enthusiasm and dedication. Let your passion for the field drive your commitment to learning and professional growth.
  • Build Your Skills: Focus on developing strong technical skills in your chosen engineering discipline and never stop learning. Seek out opportunities for lunch and learns, training, and additional courses. Ask your colleagues about projects they’re currently working on. I find that people like to talk about their work and I always end up learning something.
  • Be Confident: Believe in yourself and your abilities. Trust that you have the skills and knowledge to succeed in the engineering industry, and don't hesitate to showcase your talents and ideas.
  • Advocate for Yourself: Speak up about your accomplishments, goals, and opportunities you are interested in.

How do you see us doing things differently in the future?

Illya: I’m a little conservative by nature (who isn’t at my age?) and I do not expect that revolutionary things and methods will happen that would make everything different in Civil Engineering. It’s one of the oldest professions in humankind. But I see Civil Engineering as a very important part of progress. Not the technical progress only, but all aspects of human life – where we live, how we live and what are we planning for the future. The results of our work will last decades at least or even centuries. I think we will enhance our work by integrating more advanced instruments and software tools, including the application of artificial intelligence (AI) systems for the planning and decision analyses. This approach could refine our project workflow, making it more resilient to errors and cost-efficient.

Fun fact about you

Illya: I collect graphite pencils, not just ordinary pencils, but wooden, professionals, for the technical drawings only. I started my hobby when all drawings were done using pencils, rulers, and paper. The collection has about 2 thousand items now. It is the biggest professional pencil collection in Canada.

Nikki: Over the past four years, I've dedicated most of my free time to fostering neonatal kittens for Toronto Cat Rescue. This involves taking in kittens that have been found, abandoned, or surrendered, and nurturing them until they're ready for adoption. This commitment often means waking up at all hours of the night to bottle-feed orphaned kittens, administering medications, and showering them with love and care. Through this journey, I've had the privilege of welcoming 111 foster cats into my home. Despite the inevitable messiness that comes with caring for these tiny (but mighty) creatures, the experience has been incredibly fulfilling, fun, and rewarding.

Feeling inspired by Nikki and Illya's journey? Ready to make your mark in civil engineering? Join our team at AtkinsRéalis and be part of shaping the future of infrastructure. Apply now and embark on your own remarkable professional journey!