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Bob Veenstra Jr.: Advice for Young Engineers

Life at V&K

Where are you from? I was born in Muscatine, Iowa, but moved to West Des Moines in 1961 when I started junior high school.

Where did you go to school? Iowa State University and Drake University

What office are you based out of? West Des Moines, Iowa

Why did you choose the engineering field? I was greatly influenced by my dad starting the firm in 1961. I was exposed to engineering at a young age and enjoyed math and science.

What has changed in the field since you began working over 40 years ago? Technology has evolved tremendously since I began working in the field. Back then, no computers, computerized surveying technology, or CAD existed. Our calculations were done by hand, often using a slide rule. From that perspective, advances in technology have improved efficiency in our work. However, today, some tend to rely too heavily on computers. When calculations were done by hand, you trained yourself to have a gut feeling if something seemed off or incorrect. However, those instincts have diminished in the field due to our reliance on computers today. 

Technology has also changed the exchange of information, with a particular impact on the urgency of things. Years ago, if something were urgent, you would write a letter and mail it. The time it took to write a letter and garner a response or find an answer was much longer than today. We didn’t have to react to everything right away.  

What has stayed the same? The fundamentals of what we do have remained the same over the years.  The basic interaction we have with clients remains today. We needed interpersonal skills over 40 years ago, and you still need to have interpersonal skills in the field today. 

A piece of advice you would have for those considering engineering as a profession? To get into consulting, in particular, you must have non-technical skills. Engineers don’t always have language and presentation skills as strengths. However, successful engineers need those people skills too. You don’t necessarily need non-technical skills to succeed in school, but you need those skills to go anywhere with your career.