Geotechnical Engineer

James Beaumont

Geotechnical Engineer, Coffey Geotechnics

In a nutshell: Managing the geotechnical aspects of engineering projects.

Why? "Every day is different."

Pathway: Te Puke High School, Final year subjects: Calculus, Chemistry, Design Technologies (Graphics), Physics, Statistics
University of Auckland: Bachelor of Engineering, specialising in Civil Engineering

Earning: $85-95,000

I'm 'a dirt doctor': basically I look at the mechanics of dirt and rocks.

I started my career with hands-on civil engineering work, which built up my knowledge of soil composition and stability.

Now that I'm in a team leadership position at Coffey Geotechnics, my main responsibilities are focused around technical and team management. I head up team meetings, assign tasks, and make sure that jobs are running efficiently, on time, and to budget. I also keep track the overall scope of projects and write reports on their progress.

I used to do the soil sample collecting myself. I now organise the testing to be done by someone else. But I still get out on site. For example, I have a job on at the moment which requires me to visit once a month. It's a big site, so it's a nice bit of exercise for me.

One recent job was Soho Square, a new development of offices, shops, and apartments in Ponsonby. I managed the whole geotechnical investigation and all of the analysis and writing of the investigation report.

This was a very challenging project as we had limited space around the site. We had to come up with a way to have a certain length of nail in the ground to make a wall stand up. What we've done seems to have worked, though the job isn't complete yet. It's always challenging to find a problem and then to work out how to solve it.

I enjoy the 'technical nitty-gritty' of the job – the opportunity to use maths to find practical solutions.

I'm also building up my business skills, with plenty of negotiations with the people involved in each project. I'm always meeting new people, from clients to contractors, and they all have different attitudes and different approaches to tasks. It's often a careful balancing act to get the job done, but at the same time trying to keep everyone happy.

You have to be quite flexible in this job, as things come up unexpectedly and sometimes you have to be prepared to switch activities if an emergency pops up.

Posted December 2011

Follow this pathway:

Degree in Civil Engineering: Environmental, Geotechnical, Structural or Transport