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Maria O'Neill, Civil Engineer
Construction, Architecture & Property

Maria O'Neill, Civil Engineer

Maria works as an Assistant Resident Engineer supervising a water supply scheme for the Local Authorities. She did her Leaving Cert in St. David's in Greystones, and went on to UCD to complete a Civil Engineering Degree.

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What were the main 'career decision' milestones in your life so far?

Where to start.... I suppose the biggest career decision I made was picking Civil Engineering in UCD. I did Tech Graphics for my Junior Cert. I liked drawing things from the different angles, imagining what you would see from different views. I suppose that was when I first considered Engineering. My dad is an Engineer. I liked the idea of not sitting in front of a desk all day long. In saying that, wasn't too sure about standing in the rain in the winter. Engineering seems to give the middle ground, best of both worlds!

When I was picking my leaving Cert subjects I did think about doing Tech Drawings, but French was on at the same time. To go to UCD to do Engineering I needed a language, and science subjects. As much as I enjoyed the drawing, I wanted to keep my options open! I enjoyed maths in school. In 6th year I decided to do Applied maths for the leaving as well. I just did it for the year, Once a week and a bit of homework. I really enjoyed solving practical problems with diagrams, maths, thinking about it all logically.

Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?

My parents were supportive, but one thing they never did was tell me what to do! The idea of working similar to my dad, not always in the office, seemed good to me. When I finished college, I decided to work in a Consulting Engineering firm first. There I worked in the office designing Water Supply Schemes. I go out of the office usually a couple of times a week for site visits and meetings on Design.

When you are working in the office there are many people around, all ready to help you when you need it. You get to see all the different things you can do with Engineering. It was talking to the people I worked with, who had learnt so much working on site, that made me leave the comforts of the office to work on a construction site.

How did you go about getting your current job?

The job was advertised in the paper and on the council website. I filled in the application, waited patiently for an interview, and happy days, here I am.

Describe a typical day?

I am on site at the moment working as an Assistant Resident Engineer. I am supervising construction work of a Water supply scheme for the council.

Every day presents it's own problems. I get to work for 7.30am.  A few times during the day I walk around the site and make sure I know who is working. I answer questions for the contractor about the design, sometimes there are mistakes in drawings, or they have suggestions of different ways of building and I have to check if we are happy they are as good as the original design. I check levels to make sure its being built at the right height. I carry out concrete testing so we are sure we are getting the right concrete. I measure what they have built so we know what to pay them. I suppose no day is typical!

What are the main tasks and responsibilities?

My main task is to supervise whatever project I am working on to ensure that it is being built to the correct design and specifications and to help resolve any problems or questions which might arise from the contractor. 

What are the main challenges?

As with most jobs there is the continuous challenge of working to client deadlines while trying to ensure that high standards are maintained at all time. 

What's cool?

Working outside in the sunshine!  Again, there isn't much I don't like.

What's not so cool?

Being outside in the rain! On site there isn't really the same social aspect as there is in the office. You are only working with a couple of people on site. The work -, there isn't much I don't mind doing really.

What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?

Teamwork and good communication is important. you need to be able to work with others, and be able to admit if you've made a mistake!

What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?

In hindsight, I am happy to say I wouldn't have done anything differently to date! In my Junior Cert I did 9 subjects ; Maths, Irish, English, History, Geography, Science, Business Studies, French and Tech Graphics. I liked Languages and history the least. I won't lie, Maths, Geography, and Tech Graphics were the ones I enjoyed the most.

When I was choosing for my leaving Cert I still hadn't decided what I would do when I was finished. I was thinking of Engineering, Teaching or Physiotherapy. I wanted to leave my options open. To do physio you need a language (to get in to UCD) and 2 science subjects. I decided to do Maths, Irish, English, French, Geography, Physics and Chemistry for my leaving. That left all the options open.

I was good at Business Studies, but after looking at courses in college, I discovered you don't usually need a business subject to get into a business course. This is not the case for Science based courses. In 6th year I took up Applied Maths. Since I was doing Physics and Maths I had a good background for the subject. Twenty classes and just homework, and I got an honour. If anyone was to ask me if they should do it, if you like maths, its a great subject!

What is your education to date?

  • Secondary school - St. Davids in Greystones.
  • College - Civil Engineering Degree (UCD. . . . Best 4 years of my life). 
Then 3 years in work, the learning never stops, new things every day, training courses at different times of the year.

What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?

I suppose maths and drawing, I enjoyed them.

What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?

I spent 2 years working on the design of a water supply scheme. Now I'm on site supervising the construction. When it's complete I'll be able to say I helped design and build those two reservoirs for Sandyford Industrial Estate.... Happy Days.

What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?

I like working with people. Engineering is all about team work. I'm also organised, and positive. There are no problems, only difficult solutions.

What is your dream job?

The one I have!  I'm happy as I could be.

Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?

Engineering is a secure job. There are jobs in Ireland, and all around the world in Engineering. There are long days sometimes, but not all the time. As a lifestyle, Engineering presents a good lifestyle. I play football , and my job never interferes with that. My dad is an engineer too, and he was always around at home, evenings, weekends. The pay isn't bad either.

There is a great social aspect to Engineering, social events through work, keeping in touch with friends from college. Progression is good. There are many types of employers in the Enginnering world, they all encourage training on the job, any I've met have anyway.

What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

If you like working with others, and like problem solving then its definitely worth considering. Do you ever look at a bridge/skyscraper etc. and wonder how they did that? Or better still, are you looking at the way the road at home is laid out and thinking if they had of done something differently it would have been better.

Engineering is not a career people think about and say its helping people, but in many ways it is rewarding and just as much about helping people. Engineers design things used everyday that help people get to work, provide clean water, provide sewerage systems, care for the environment....

What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?

As Engineering is all about team work you need to be a good team player. You also need to be a problem solver and very organised.

What is your favourite music?

The Kooks

What is your favourite film?

Shawshank Redemption

What is your pet hate at work?

People clicking the top of a pen over and over!

What is your star sign?


Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?

Further training as part of my job as a Civil Engineer, nothing specific planned at the moment.

Further Education..... as much as I enjoy my job as an Engineer, I still have not ruled out Teaching. I am still considering doing Secondary School Teaching. As a qualified Civil Engineer, if I do a one year course in Teacher Training (H.Dip.ED), I will then be able to teach Maths and Applied Maths in School. Its worth remembering that!  

After four years in a course, its good to know you're not tied to the career, but you will always have the profession!  Engineering is a degree in problem solving. Getting a job in Engineering, Research, Teaching, Accounting, Management - its all possible.

What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?

A summer placement working in an architects or engineers office would be useful.  A  couple of summers working on a building site can also provide a useful insight.

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