Heather Hill: Civil engineering education for a high-tech career

Thursday, October 24, 2013

For Heather Hill, CE ’11, a civil engineering degree from Georgia Tech was the perfect preparation for her current job: systems integration consulting analyst for technology giant Accenture.

That’s right: she helps corporate clients do large-scale software installations and upgrades.

“Kind of a deviation from the norm for a civil engineer,” she says with a slightly muffled giggle.

“But the truth is, my ability to get good grades at a school with the reputation of Georgia Tech, my training as a problem-solver, and even my ability to get geeky with the engineers I sometimes work with – all of those things have made this a great career choice for me.”

The 24-year-old former Nashville resident says she is not alone. Turns out, her Houston-based company regularly hires engineers, albeit from more computer-oriented disciplines, like electrical, computer, or even aerospace engineering. The secret, she says, is not in the specific knowledge she brought to her new job, but in the systems-level thinking she got from civil engineering.

Heather Hill during internship at Fluor corporation“I use the same problem-solving method, the same ability to break down a system and look at its parts that I used as an undergraduate and a graduate student in civil engineering,” she said. “And the great thing is, I get to share my skills with people who have different skills. It couldn’t have worked out better.”

Hill got her start in civil engineering as a teenager, when CEE alumnus Raymond J. Lawing MSCE ’77 helped the newly admitted Georgia Tech freshman to get her first job – filing papers at an engineering firm.

“I’d contacted the Georgia Tech Alumni Association, looking for a summer job, and [Lawing] said he could use someone to help out,” says Hill. “It gave me a chance to interact with engineers, to see what types of jobs they did.”

The following summer, Hill asked Lawing if she could come back to that firm.

“I told her absolutely not. ‘You need to go somewhere where you can get some engineering experience’,” he said. “And then I called a friend of mine at AMEC [where Lawing now works] and said ‘You must hire this student.’ They hired her that summer and the summer afterwards.”

Mr. Ray LawingAfter two summer internship at AMEC, she took a job at another engineering giant, the Fluor Corporation – this time, without any help from Lawing.

“I wasn’t surprised that they wanted her. She’s an amazing young woman, with math skills that were better than some of the full-time engineers at our firm.”

The opportunity to work in the field was invigorating for Hill, who’d arrived at Georgia Tech with only a hazy idea of where her strong science skills would land her, career-wise. With each internship and summer job, she saw that civil engineering was a good fit.

Eventually, however, she wanted a great fit. That’s when she decided to explore consulting with Accenture.

“I really wanted to do something that would leverage my skills with people – skills where I could help them solve big-picture problems -- rather than working on equations and designs,” she said. “It’s something I’m good at, and I am working to get even better.”

Is that a challenge?

“Getting through Georgia Tech was a challenge that taught me how to work hard,” she says. “It gave me what I needed.”