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We sat down with HVJ South Central Geotechnical Manager Leo Ruiz. Leo candidly discusses his most inspiring career moments and offers wisdom on the skills engineers need to unlock their professional potential.
1. Starting with some background about yourself, can you share how you got started in this field and what inspires you most in your work?
I grew up in West Texas, surrounded by the oil and gas industry, but I did not want to make that my career. When we took family vacations to cities like El Paso and San Antonio, I was fascinated by large bridges and building structures. This fascination is what first inspired me to pursue construction in college. During my science and math college courses, I was introduced to civil engineering. I wanted to go beyond building structures and be part of the design process. I especially enjoyed taking soil classes that included hands-on testing and on-site learning, which led me to focus my career as a geotechnical engineer. After graduation, I began my career working for a geotechnical engineering firm in the Dallas metro area.
Looking back, I credit my father because he was a hard worker who instilled a good work ethic in me at a very early age. I thought he was tough at the time, but his work ethic has inspired me never to give up on engineering challenges I encounter. I appreciate that civil engineering allows me to serve society by making people’s lives safer and better through infrastructure facilities development and improvements.
2. What is your role at HVJ, your favorite type of project/work, and why?
My current role at HVJ is Geotechnical Department Manager in Austin, in which I manage a talented, diverse group of young professionals who represent seven different countries. I find it very interesting and enjoyable getting to know my team members’ cultures and backgrounds on a personal level. Although my time is limited, I still enjoy mentoring the young staff whenever possible. I think it is vital that I have one-on-one conversations with my team and make myself available whenever possible to keep my team engaged.
My favorite type of work is public sector projects in which our services help improve the quality of life for countless people. Through my years of experience, I have found that constant communication with my team and our clients is most important to achieve success.
3. What are the common types of problems that your customers are trying to solve? What do you think draws them specifically to HVJ?
Clients often come to us needing to solve slope stability or slope failure-related challenges. What draws clients to HVJ is our vast experience working with large roadway, municipal, and county projects. This experience gives clients confidence that we can resolve their issues, no matter how complex. I am appreciative of the deep expertise among our team. It has allowed us to be successful in earning our client’s trust. I reinforce to my team that clients return to HVJ because we provide expertise and stay in constant communication throughout the project to keep them engaged and allow us to avoid any pitfalls collaboratively.
4. Can you briefly describe one of your recent projects and what you found most interesting or rewarding? What was the most significant achievement that came out of the project?
HVJ is working on a large highway transportation design-build project in San Antonio. It’s my first design-build project of such a large size and has required substantial time and effort throughout the proposal and project award phases. As Project Manager, I was excited to take on this challenging yet rewarding experience.
The project is ongoing, but one significant achievement to date has been planning and staffing in anticipation of the project’s needs. Building a dedicated project team was my first step after discovering we were on the winning team. The nature of design-build projects requires moving quickly and providing immediate information as needs arise. With this in mind, we selected a team that includes a full-time geotechnical engineer and four field engineers/geologists. To choose each person, I collaborated with HVJ’s HR team, senior management, and the geotechnical project managers to comb through resumes and professional connections. This effort paid off, as we put together an extraordinarily experienced and well-rounded team with experience on similar design-build projects.
5. One of HVJ’s promises is a commitment to ongoing learning. What resources or training opportunities have you found to be most helpful?
HVJ has an excellent training and continuing education policy. We hire many young engineers and geologists, and we always encourage them to pursue any additional learning opportunities that will help them grow professionally. We have self-paced in-house learning opportunities, monthly learning forums, and seminars or learning sessions.
A resource I found helpful is the ACEC (American Council of Engineering Companies) Leadership Academy, which I am currently attending. This seminar is a short series that consists of four monthly meetings. The academy has helped me learn leadership and non-technical leadership skills, including communication, culture-building, problem-solving, business development, and team management. It has been an essential learning experience that has helped me grow as a department manager. The relevant subject material has given me tools to enhance my daily managing duties. As an added benefit, I have been able to network and form great relationships with other class attendees who are also leaders in the industry.
All engineers must prioritize ongoing education to keep up to date technically. However, I have found that maximizing an engineer’s potential and becoming a leader requires going beyond technical skills. Leadership and people skills are foundational for career growth; they are the building blocks of client satisfaction, team development, and project success.