March 20


Maybe you had a vision when you were five years old that you wanted to prepare traffic signal timing plans.  Not me.

My path looks a lot more like Forrest Gump bouncing along.

I failed all of my math tests in first grade, which I’m guessing isn’t very typical for engineers.  My grandpa and dad played cribbage with me the whole summer before second grade and I’ve been acing math tests ever since (thanks dad).

I went to De La Salle High School on Nicollet Island in Minneapolis (it’s really on an island in the Mississippi).   The Hennepin Avenue bridge over the island was reconstructed my junior/senior years.  This didn’t have much of an effect on me, but it inspired my buddy Jim to look into becoming a structural engineer.

I really didn’t like Spanish Class in high school.  At the University of Minnesota, taking a foreign language was required in the college of liberal arts (I only applied to the U).  Jim told me there was no language requirement at the U’s Institute of Technology.  I looked into it and he was right!  Six quarters of calculus was way more appealing than taking Spanish.

I enrolled in the civil engineering department at the U.  I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I had to fill in the declared major box and Jim told me about civil engineering.

At different points in college I thought I might want to be an orthopedic surgeon (I blew out my knee playing high school football), a bio-medical engineer, and an anthropologist (who wouldn’t want to be Indiana Jones) – but I never changed my declared major.

I got pretty good grades in college, but I noticed I aced all of the courses related to transportation engineering my junior year (all three of them?).  Plus I didn’t care too much for some of the other specialties within civil engineering (designing a real building or bridge that could fall down and kill people terrified me).

I ended up getting an internship with the City of St. Paul, MN in their traffic signal and lighting division.  Great guys and I learned a fair amount about signals.

As I was graduating, I still wasn’t sure if I should go into engineering.  I got lulled into applying at Anderson Consulting through a career fair – computer programming!  After five interviews, someone realized I wasn’t qualified to be a computer guy.

Ouch.  Now it’s May of my senior year, I’m engaged to be married that September, and all of the new graduate hiring was already done.

I networked like crazy (inspired by Havery Mackay’s books).  I somehow decided to go to the spring North Central Section ITE dinner meeting and ended up sitting with Todd Foster.  He worked at Bonestroo & Associates (since gobbled up by Stantec).

I stayed in touch with him and they ended up deciding in July that they needed a graduate traffic engineer.  Mostly based on my experience at St. Paul, I landed that job and started working as a traffic engineering consultant  in August (I also accepted a ridiculously low salary without trying to negotiate) .

And that’s the story of how I became a traffic engineer.


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Mike Spack

My mission is to help traffic engineers, transportation planners, and other transportation professionals improve our world.

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