ExpertiseDigital, Water, Project Management
Selected as ICE President’s Future leader
Mentored by ICE Past President Professor Lord Robert Mair.
Worked on ICE report In Plain Sight: assuring the whole-life safety of infrastructure
My working day
I’m not sure any day as a civil engineer is the same! I’m currently working on TEAM2100 as well as designing a fish pass (a structure that helps fish’s natural migration in a river) in Oxford, so my time is split.
Some days I’m in the office, writing an appraisal paper, procurement strategy or doing detailed design. The next, I could be on-site, speaking with contractors, planning, etc.
That diversity of skills and competence means there’s something to interest everyone.
Right now, I’m enjoying getting involved with all of it.
Every day is different, and results in achieving outcomes for local communities. It’s such a great feeling when a project has, for example, protected families from flooding, or improved the environment.
My career inspiration
There was no individual project that inspired me.
Instead, I was inspired to become a civil engineer after witnessing engineering in developing nations, which resulted in transformed communities.
As a young, impressionable person, I marvelled at things that, in more developed countries, we sometimes take for granted – like opening a tap and getting fresh water and being able to travel down the motorway.
Observing first-hand how these feats of civil engineering improved society inspired me to pursue a career in the industry to shape the world around me.
What’s one great thing that you love about civil engineering that you didn’t know until you started working in the industry
I didn’t know how varied the role of a civil engineer really is, and the scope there is to explore different interests, from working on site to designing, project managing and working on strategic documents.
Which civil engineering myth(s) you would like to bust?
There’s only one type of person that make a good civil engineer – put your stereotypes away.
The industry is changing quickly, with new commercial models, collaborative working, and a push to increase productivity and efficiency. It therefore welcomes anyone ready to part of solving the challenges of now and tomorrow.
Which civil engineering project (past or present) do you wish you’d worked on?
In history, I’d love to work on Sir Joseph Bazelgette’s London underground sewer network, which replaced the use of open sewers at the time.
By removing contaminated water via an enclosed sewer system spanning up to 82 miles in length, there was a drop in deaths associated with the disease cholera.
I think the project and the foresight he had as an engineer solved the big problem of its day.
Today, I’d like to work on a project that solves our biggest problem, such as how we meet the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, especially number 6 - water globally.
The UN SDGs are a set of goals that aim to tackle hunger, climate change, poverty and other global problems.
Would you recommend a career in civil engineering?
I think a career in civil engineering has something for most people.
The industry is tasked with creating solutions to problems facing humanity, so it needs a diverse range of people with different ways of thinking and experiences to help come up with these answers.
The industry is exceptionally varied. Civil engineers may find themselves in many different roles – connecting communities through bridges, designing and building highways, providing clean water from our taps, or developing the comfortable buildings we inhabit.
And there aren’t just various disciplines, there are various pathways, like the role you take on (consultancy, client, contractor) or the job (a designer, project manager, commercial manager, etc.).
There is something for everyone. For example, if you’re conscientious and self-motivated, you might be a great designer. If you’re open and good with people, you might be a great team leader.
In secondary school, I was active in my school’s Design and Technology club.
I also attended a women in science and engineering (WISE) course on engineering at Imperial, a BT Entrepreneurial Engineering course, and Headstart at Strathclyde.
I also undertook work experience at a design consultancy.
In sixth form, I studied A-Levels in maths, physics, and chemistry, and an AS in further maths.
I then went to Plymouth University, where I did an MEng degree in civil and coastal engineering, with a sandwich year working for engineering firm CH2M HILL, which meant I returned to university to complete my degree with some useful experience behind me.
In my final year, as president of the Civil Engineering society, we hosted a careers fair, where I met two Environment Agency (EA) graduates who talked to me about a career there. I later successfully applied for a graduate role and have been with the EA ever since!
Ayo Sokale is an ICE Invisible Superhero. To find out more about her alter-ego Eco Angel, head to the ICE Water: From Source to Tap exhibition page.