Engineers: What is the Work You “Can’t Not Do?”

by Sam Rubenzer, PE, SE

Recently I listened to Scott Dinsmore’s TEDx Talk, “How to Find Work You Love“, and could not help but think about how it could guide so many structural engineers and others in the Architecture and Engineering world. The talk defines how we need to figure out what work we truly want to do, then inspires us to pursue it.

One of Dinsmore’s closing thoughts is, “What is the work that you can’t not do?” This talk was certainly inspirational. Some of the ideas promoted from Live Your Legend are not always as sound (some I would outright disagree with), but I think there are several things to learn from the video. And the essence of the talk is a great stimulus for positive changes in your career. Also, the video stops just short of another important question to me which is so much larger than our specific career, “how do we have a career within our life or do we live in our career?” What type of projects do we pursue? Who do we work with? What is the purpose for why we are working in the first place?

  • What types of jobs do we work on? Big and small, for profit and not for profit?
    • By far, the most rewarding project I have worked on was a small roof system meant for some of the world’s poorest people. It was a collaborative effort to create both an affordable and a buildable shelter. Yes, there have been much more challenging and intellectually difficult projects. However, the small roof system was the most meaningful. Solving a complex roof system, understanding the true response to dynamic lateral loads, while considering the limited resources to build a robust structure in remote areas of the world was very challenging. However, to me, it was most fulfilling to create a design that would radically improve lives of people with limited resources. Much of our work can be categorized into improving people’s “wants”; this was improving people’s true “need” for a safe home.
  • What project stands out as most fulfilling to you? Can you set a goal to pursue more projects that inspire you?
    • If you’re like me and you are interested in more work in developing communities, you might find out it’s not always possible to choose those project types within your current organization. There are other non-profit companies that may work on the projects you would like to impact. It’s likely your organization supports employees working with these non-profit companies. A few examples are Engineers Without Borders, Engineering Ministries International, or Build Change.
  • How did you come to do what you do?
    • As engineers, I believe we likely all started out as problem solvers with a sense of responsibility to provide safe designs for people in our community – a basis of engineering ethics. Has this initial motivation morphed into only considering profit margins and retaining business? Both are important, but these two philosophies can become opposing forces. I think the recent economic woes certainly make this more challenging. We can not lose sight of our original purpose, passion, and ethics.
  • Who you work with (this includes all colleagues, including your boss)? How do they impact your success? Do they want you to succeed as much or more than their individual success?
    • Find those people that inspire you and support you. Surround yourself with them.
      • Mentor programs within a firm is a great way to build strong relationships and morale within teams
      • Becoming involved in the greater SE community also allows you to meet people that inspire and support you, such as local chapters of SEA, ASCE, SEI, or code committees.
  • Who we work for: For me, this is an easy question as I am a man of faith, a husband to my beautiful wife, a father of three incredible children, an active community member, and I strive to be an active contributor to the global profession of structural engineers. For you, it might be slightly different, but ask yourself who you work for and why you work. This question alone inspires me to want to do my best at my company and in all those that I work for and with. Scott Dinsmore closes his talk by stating:

“I imagine a world where 80% of the world loved the work they do. What would that look like? What would the innovation be like? How would you treat those around you?… Ask yourself what is the work you can’t not do. Discover that. Live it. Not just for you but for all those around you.”

Recently, I read NCSEA President Brian Dekker’s article, “What on Earth is NCSEA Here For?” He talks about the goal for an organization meant to serve structural engineers. It caused me to ask, why am I a structural engineer? What am I here for, working in this engineering profession? I believe answering that question will guide me, and you, to live your structural engineering legends.

Sam Rubenzer, PE, SE,  is Structural Engineer and Founder of FORSE Consulting.  See

Also contributing to this article are Cathleen Jacinto, PE, SE, and Stephanie Fontaine, both with FORSE Consulting.

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