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Want to get ahead? Go outside the box ... and your office

One transportation engineer shares how getting involved in professional organizations turned his career around

At one point in his career, Joy Bhattacharya was the last person you could expect to find at an industry association event. Now, it’s part of who he is as a person and principal in our transportation practice. Between life chapters in Tokyo and the San Francisco Bay Area, Bhattacharya has learned some of his greatest career lessons outside of the workplace, which he shares here.

Q: There was a time in your career when industry activism was the last thing on your mind. Why was that?

A:  Freshly out of college, I started working in Tokyo at a transportation and planning firm. I quickly got a sense for their work environment: do nothing but work…literally. The managerial MO was to keep people happy by getting work done. That was all. Soon, I had the same mindset. After exhausting my opportunities in Tokyo (including a career switch to working IT sales), I moved to the United States to pursue a new world of opportunities.

Q: When did your perspective change?

A: Shortly after receiving my master’s in management science from the University of Delaware, I began working at a small firm in Houston. Leaders there encouraged senior engineers to explore industry leadership roles outside of the workplace. Getting involved in professional organizations not only helped build client relationships, but it helped strengthen business development. I joined the Institute of Transportation Engineers, known usually as “ITE.” This changed my life.

Q: How?

A: Well, it was a process that didn’t really start until I committed to engage. Initially, I didn’t really know if ITE would be a good investment of my time. Like most, I went to lunches and exchanged cards. Then I made the “leap” to get involved. I began serving as a volunteer, assisting ITE with building its membership base and chapter website. I was testing the waters, getting a sense of what it is like to join a professional organization and working amongst a team of fellow volunteers.

Q: Then you moved – did that help or hurt?

A: Moving to the Bay Area, I immediately joined the local ITE chapter. This is when I really saw the benefits. After attending one meeting, I felt like I belonged there – it became my turning point. I was new to the area but had a network through ITE. I could find clients and project partners – I was valuable to my employers. With my newfound drive, I took my involvement to the next level and became president of the Bay Area chapter in 2006. Shortly after, I served on the board for the California state chapter of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS). Among my most significant objectives was to create better ties between ITS and ITE, and we did so successfully.

Q: How do you encourage future engineers to explore industry service opportunities?

A: As a lecturer and ITE student advisor at San Jose State University, I’ve realized that teaching provides a great platform to instill industry activism in future leaders. I share advice based on my experiences, and students truly value that information. I tell them to get involved during the early stages of their career. I also try to help provide them with valuable opportunities that allow them to do so through their student ITE chapter and tours to transportation consulting firms to learn about the day-to-day activities of a transportation engineer.

Q: What piece of advice would you pass on to newcomers in our industry?

A: Understand that your professional values may change. Over the years, my values, goals, and drive have changed. They changed as a result of getting involved – it helped me build my character. I would say when you learn or come across something entirely new, you can either take the opportunity or leave it behind. Don’t be afraid to try new things or leave your comfort zone! Because I grew out of my comfort zone, I took an important role with ITE. And now, I am and looking forward to taking risks and new challenges at Stantec.

Joy is a principal in the traffic engineering group based in our Walnut Creek, California office. 

After attending one meeting, I felt like I belonged there – it became my turning point.

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