Danielle Civitillo on Curiosity, Problem Solving, and Inclusivity
This interview is part of a series featuring the members of our diverse AU community, from speakers and conference attendees to forum participants and online commenters. You are AU.
1. What’s your current job role?
I’m a corporate design technology specialist at VHB, a mid-sized consulting firm specializing in civil and environmental engineering and planning. My main focus is on advancing technology for our designers, but I also provide support and expertise on the Autodesk products such as Civil 3D.
2. What do you enjoy most about your work?
I love solving problems. I enjoy helping people use technology smarter and better. It’s a good feeling knowing that I was able to help someone, especially when it means figuring out something new in the process.
3. What are your main areas of expertise and interest?
This is so dorky, but I love CAD. I went into civil engineering because I took AutoCAD in high school and wanted to use it more. I have always loved figuring out how to use different computer programs and solving weird issues through trial and error. So, in 2010 when VHB started using Civil 3D, I taught myself how to create corridors and make the program more efficient for us.
4. What one challenge in your work would be most satisfying to solve?
If I could figure out how to get information to folks in a way that makes them want to consume it and learn from it, I would solve every problem I have at work. We’re living in an age of information overload, so I completely understand why people struggle with this.
5. What one thing should new graduates entering your field know?
Retain your textbooks for the PE exam but otherwise, everything you’re ever going to do at work you’re going to learn on the job. Ask questions, listen a lot, and ask for a mentor. Then after a few months, ask to attend meetings. Offer to sit and take notes at first so you can absorb everything. I guess I could boil all this down to, “Always be curious.”
6. What is your all-time favorite AU class and why?
Probably anything Curt Moreno has taught. I love his passion and excitement for CAD management and anything else he talks about. I goofed and didn’t sign up for any of his classes in 2019 but I’ll make sure to fix that in 2020.
7. Describe a favorite project you’ve worked on using Autodesk software.
While Civil 3D is my favorite CAD program, I do enjoy the end products you get with InfraWorks. I once used InfraWorks to show the construction staging for a small bridge replacement project in Vermont. I have no idea how to design a bridge but using the InfraWorks tools made it easy to show the different phases clearly. We were able to match the piers with the existing ones that were being replaced and remove the bridge deck to show just the girders during another phase. The final product was superior to any 2D paper plan and helped us and our client convey the construction sequencing to the interested parties.
8. Why do you create, design, or innovate?
Most people I’ve come across don’t know what a civil engineer is until you say, “I design the infrastructure that gets you from point A to point B.” Designing roads, bike paths, and transit systems that are used by every single person is a challenge and a huge responsibility. It has to be safe, practical, functional, but also should be aesthetically pleasing and welcoming. You have to think about all the different people that will use what you’re designing. Is it inclusive? Does this bus route make sense and for someone trying to get to a major transit hub or grocery store? I love solving problems and getting to be creative. Being a good civil engineer means you get to do both.
9. What has been one of your most impactful moments attending AU and why?
My most impactful moment was speaking last year—the class is Why Diversity and Inclusion in the AEC Industry Is Necessary—How to Achieve It. It was my first time ever speaking and presenting like that. The topic—diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I)—was so scary because it was so important to me. I didn’t want to mess it up and let so many people down. When I finished my presentation, I felt such an amazing sense of accomplishment and enjoyed connecting with so many wonderful people who were passionate about DE&I as well.
10. What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the DE&I Employee Resource Group (ERG) that I started at VHB. We went from little to no recognition of our differences and what makes us unique, to a full program with events, panels, and celebrations throughout the year. We’re also teaching folks about unconscious bias and trying to raise awareness around the importance of diverse perspectives.
11. Where do you see your industry in 10 years?
I see a more diverse and inclusive industry in 10 years. We need to grow and change along with our clients. Our real clients are all of us, so we need to think and create and design in ways that help everyone. I also hope we have smarter traffic signal infrastructure and faster trains. I think in 10 years we’ll be on our way to interruptive technology but I don’t think we’ll be quite there yet.
12. If you could contribute one thing to making a better world, what would it be?
Compassion. Think of all the time and energy we waste, collectively, when we judge people. Imagine the inventions we don’t get to see because people aren’t given a fair chance. If we could think about others’ perspectives, we might be able to find the compassion to treat each other with respect and understanding. When that happens, the possibilities will be truly endless.
Check out Danielle’s profile (and follow her) to learn more about her work and contributions to the AU community.