Career Advice: Do I need an engineering degree to be in engineering?

By Joakim Silva


Q: Do you think that you could have gone as far in your field without an engineering degree?


I would like to introduce myself to you as a trainee quantity surveyor in the Commercial Department of Midgard Ltd. I am now 26 years of age. After following the conventional route of education I was fortunate enough to attain a 2:2 university degree in Biochemistry with Management at Imperial College London. After graduation, I was unemployed with a £50,000 debt and did not know that my ideal job as a quantity surveyor existed at that point. At the end of the degree program, I did not know what I was passionate about or where I would fit into society in terms of career. I gained a vast amount of soft skills from my management year that would later apply in my profession.


After graduation, I was volunteering at my local church providing food to the homeless and needy in society for 6 whole months! And I must admit I was eating the food too because I was so tight on finances at the time. In my quest for employment and a deeper meaning to life, I stumbled upon a job opening in my firm and was given the opportunity to work with a 3-month probationary period based on my performance without a degree in civil engineering or quantity surveying. Perhaps I had never seen the obvious in connecting the dots in my life but I developed a genuine passion for quantity surveying from discovering it and actually working as a quantity surveyor for my day job for 8-months. Prior to joining the firm I did a considerable amount of research about the projects Midgard was involved in, I made a financial statement for the firm to see where it was heading, which was promising, I liked the size of the company, and I also purchased the Quantity Surveyor’s pocketbook for some background reading into the profession.


I discovered that quantity surveying is a practical and philosophical discipline originating in 1805-1815 during the Napoleonic wars. In 1828 separate trades contracting was discontinued for public works in favour of general contracting after enormous costs in construction works, most notably Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. Estimating and costing was required in the construction industry, but quantity surveying itself was not an established profession under a general contractor. I am very fond of history and where things originate from, so it was a nice touch to learn this. Although I had my doubts as to the origins of quantity surveying because surely the ancient Egyptians and ancient Greeks required detailed planning and estimating for their constructions?


Most recently I was approved for applying for a Level 6 apprenticeship scheme paid by the firm in Quantity Surveying with Commercial Management at the University of Westminster. I have an interview in two weeks to decide my fate and future in the profession, whether or not the university will accept me on their course. I believe completion of the course will enable me to become a Chartered Quantity Surveyor. I think that the opportunity given to me within the firm shows that you don’t have to have a background in civil engineering to go far and that the degree and the rest of your work experience can come after you discover, or in my case rediscover your passion.


On a daily basis, I read technical drawings, estimate measurements using the on-screen takeoff software, prepare a bill of quantities for tender, make tender enquiries with subcontractors and assist the Senior Quantity Surveyor with those enquiries. I have particularly enjoyed the current construction project I am working on because it’s a live construction site. I get to physically go on site and see how the specifications and estimates result in something tangible. I love how piecing together elements of the construction process enables you to see how important steps result in a finished product: a building.


In summary to answer the question: I am just at the beginning of my profession in quantity surveying without a degree and now I have the opportunity to get one through finding my passion. I have a tremendous amount of respect for civil engineers and architects, interior designers and the like, and I hope to meet you all one day.


Kind regards,

Joakim Silva