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Q: Could you tell us a bit about your background—such as where you grew up and how did you become a civil engineer?
I come from a town called Petaling Jaya, located adjacent to the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia. My family consists of my 3 older siblings, my father, a teacher, and my mother, a homemaker. Being a second generation Malaysian of South Indian origin, my parents thought I should continue my studies in India after high school. So, at the age of 17 I moved to India, where I attended pre-university followed by an undergraduate program in Civil Engineering at the (then) Regional Engineering College in Trichy, in the state of Tamilnadu. My interest to see more of India made me use my semester breaks to travel–visiting exciting new places and meeting people, while absorbing as much of the local traditions and cultures as possible, and especially getting to know the land of my ancestors.
Upon completing my undergraduate studies in Civil Engineering in 1989, I returned to Malaysia and worked as a junior engineer for about a year and a half. Some of the engineers I worked with already had graduate degrees, and I realized the importance of having a graduate degree in the long term. This prompted me to apply to graduate schools in the US, which back then involved corresponding with the schools through letters, all of which took time, and unlike these days where you can get so much more information in just a day using the internet. My choice of schools was founded upon my love for the outdoors which limited my application to schools located in the warmer regions in the US. I finally set my sights on Texas Tech University (TTU), as it offers an excellent graduate program in Civil Engineering, and Lubbock is a great place for a student without the many distractions of a large city. Additionally, I was always intrigued by the state of Texas and what better way to know a place than to experience it firsthand!
Upon completion of my MSc. in Civil Engineering in 1993, I returned to Malaysia and worked for almost 7 years in the construction and consulting areas before returning in the fall of 1999 with my wife, Shobha, to pursue a PhD at TTU. Due to personal reasons, I discontinued my program, and moved to Houston in 2000, where we have been since (yes, still in Texas). We have a teenage son, Devinraj, who was born in Lubbock. Since 2001, I’ve been involved in the area of Offshore Geotechnics which involves occasional travel to various places around the globe to study the soil and rock formations, and to come up with engineering solutions for the design of foundations, especially for the offshore Oil and Gas sector, and recently for the Renewable Energy sector.
Q: Your career at Fugro-McClelland sounds exciting and it certainly seems to have taken you to many different places around the world. Tell us about it?
My work in the area of Offshore Geotechnics has definitely given me many opportunities to travel to many countries and experience their diverse cultures and traditions: West Africa, Central and South America, Europe, Middle East, and the Far East. Besides the academic and work related gains, experiencing the various traditions and cultures is definitely the most enriching part of this entire experience.
When travelling or living in a different environment (I use the term “environment” loosely to mean place, people, religion, tradition, and culture) I believe it is always good to do so with an open-mind. Since we all tend to have a “reference point” we cling to (most likely the place or culture we’re accustomed to most of our lives), each one of us will have a different perspective of the places we visit around the world, and this can have a different impact on each of us. We have to be mindful and respectful of the local traditions and cultures as they all have their purpose and meaning in the local context. By understanding these traditions and cultures, we can better appreciate the environment we’re in. There will always be some good we can take away from this new experience. If possible, allow yourself to immerse in the local way of life. Also, this learning process can be two-way, as the people you meet are just as curious to know and understand you.
The engineering community today is fully aware that the work we do has no geographical boundaries. Even if you are not physically abroad, it is most certain you will interact with someone from an international background. The engineering community has made us “global citizens” and the experience gained from an international experience will definitely open your mind and further enrich your understanding of the people and world we live in. No experience gained, however small, is ever lost.
Q: What are some of your interests and passions outside of work?
I love most sports, especially soccer, and still play occasionally with my teenage son, his friends and their dads, music (I play the guitar & occasionally jam with some buddies of mine), motorcycles, and on the lighter side……gardening, and walking “Nitro” (our beautiful rescue dog).
I’m also an active member in the Geotechnics Sub-Committee of the ASCE Coasts, Oceans, Ports, and Rivers Institute (COPRI) Marine Renewable Energy (MRE) Committee.