How to Self-Teach Civil Engineering

How to Self-Teach Civil Engineering

Often called ‘the mother of all engineering’, civil engineering is one of the oldest and most important disciplines.

It’s also a field that is notoriously difficult to self-teach, due largely to the vast amount of information and specialized skills required. 

In order to learn civil engineering by yourself, there are a few steps you should follow (in order) – learn the basics of math, physics, and chemistry, understand fundamental engineering concepts, specialize in a particular area of civil engineering, and lastly, complete an on-site internship. 

Through this guide, we’ll take you through each of these steps in detail so that by the end, you’ll know exactly what it takes to self-teach civil engineering.

We’ll also discuss your career prospects, and how to best prepare for the field. Let’s jump right into it!

4 Steps to Self-Teach Civil Engineering

Here’s an in-depth guide on how you can self-teach civil engineering, in case studying the regular way isn’t an option for you.

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1) Learn the Basics of Math, Physics, And Chemistry

Learn the Basics of Math, Physics, And Chemistry

The three natural sciences are the foundation upon which all engineering is built. A strong understanding of each is essential for success in civil engineering. 

  • Math – You will need to be proficient in both algebra and calculus. Algebra is used for solving equations, while calculus is used for more complex analysis of data. You should also be comfortable with geometry and trigonometry, as they will come in handy when dealing with measurements and angles.
  • Physics – Physics is all about understanding how the world works. You’ll need to know the basics of mechanics, electricity, and magnetism. You should also be familiar with the principles of waves and thermodynamics.
  • Chemistry – In civil engineering, you’ll be dealing with materials like concrete and steel. As such, it’s important to have a basic understanding of how these materials behave. You should know the basics of chemical reactions and the properties of different elements.

You can use websites like YouTube or Khan Academy to learn more about these topics. Alternatively, you can find textbooks and other resources online.

Remember, while you don’t need to be a genius in any of these subjects, it is important that you have a strong foundation.

Once you understand the basics, you can move on to more specialized concepts.

2) Understand Fundamental Engineering Concepts

Now that you have a strong foundation in the natural sciences, it’s time to start learning about engineering. The best way to do this is by reading introductory textbooks on the subject. 

Some key concepts you should familiarize yourself with include statics, dynamics, thermodynamics, mechanics of materials, fluid mechanics, and soil mechanics.

These concepts will form the basis of your understanding of civil engineering. 

Here’s a handy little table showing you how each of these concepts is used in civil engineering, along with examples. 

Engineering ConceptsDefinitionImportance in Civil EngineeringExample
StaticsStatics is the study of objects that are not in motion. This includes concepts like force, equilibrium, and tension.Used to create structures that can withstand external forces.Building a dam requires a strong understanding of statics, as the dam must be able to withstand the standing force of the water.
DynamicsDynamics is the study of objects in motion. This includes concepts like velocity, acceleration, and momentumUsed to analyze the effects of moving loads on structures. Tall skyscrapers must be designed to withstand the high winds at the top of the building, thus making use of dynamics and its concepts.
ThermodynamicsThermodynamics is the study of heat and energy. This includes concepts like heat transfer and the laws of thermodynamics.Used to analyze the behavior of materials under different temperatures. Designing heating and cooling systems, especially for large buildings.
Mechanics of MaterialsMechanics of materials is the study of how materials deform under different loads. This includes concepts like stress, strain, and Young’s modulus. Used to determine the strength and durability of materials. When building a bridge, engineers must consider the weight of the bridge and the materials it is made of. They use mechanics of materials to determine if the bridge will be able to support the load.
Fluid MechanicsFluid mechanics is the study of fluids in motion. This includes concepts like fluid flow, pressure, and density.Used to analyze the behavior of liquids and gasses and how they interact with structures. Fluid mechanics is used in the design of plumbing systems. The flow of water through pipes must be carefully analyzed to ensure that the system is efficient.
Soil MechanicsSoil mechanics is the study of how soils behave under different loads. This includes concepts like consolidation, shear strength, and compaction.Used to analyze the behavior of foundation materials and to design earthworks. When building a house, the foundation must be designed to support the weight of the house. To do this, engineers use soil mechanics to determine the appropriate type and size of the foundation.: 

There’s no need for you to memorize everything you find in introductory engineering textbooks.

Just make sure you understand these key concepts, how they relate to civil engineering, and some basic theories and formulas. 

Pro tip: To find relevant beginner books on these concepts, simply do a Google search for ‘Introduction to *insert topic here* for civil engineering’. For e.g. – ‘Introduction to statics for civil engineering’. You’ll find some great resources this way!

3) Specialize in A Particular Area of Civil Engineering

Specialize in A Particular Area of Civil Engineering

Now that you understand the basics of civil engineering, it’s time to start specializing in a particular area. 

Civil engineering is a multi-disciplinary field, which means there are many different specializations to choose from.

Since it’s quite a herculean task to become an expert in all of them, it’s important that you focus on one or two areas that interest you the most. 

Some popular specializations include construction engineering, structural engineering, transportation engineering, environmental engineering, geotechnical engineering, and water resources engineering. 

Take a look at what each one means, and then choose the one(s) that interest you the most:

  • Construction Engineering: This area of civil engineering deals with the planning, design, and construction of buildings and other structures. You coordinate with multiple teams to ensure that a project is completed on time and within budget. 
  • Structural Engineering: A subset of construction engineering, structural engineering deals with the quality and safety of the materials used in construction. You make sure that buildings and other structures can withstand the forces they’ll be subjected to, such as wind, earthquakes, and so on. 
  • Transportation Engineering: This area of civil engineering deals with the planning, design, and construction of transportation systems. This could include anything from highways to airports. Most transportation engineers work for government agencies. 
  • Environmental Engineering: As the name suggests, environmental engineering deals with the protection of the environment. You work to find ways to reduce pollution and minimize waste. You’re also responsible for creating sustainable solutions for the future. 
  • Geotechnical Engineering: This area of civil engineering deals with the behavior of soils and rocks. This is very important as the stability of structures depends on the quality of the soil they’re built on. You use your knowledge to help in the construction of foundations, dams, tunnels, and so on. 
  • Water Resources Engineering: This area of civil engineering deals with the management of water resources. You work to find ways to conserve water and prevent flooding. You might also be responsible for the design of irrigation systems. 

Along with these 6, there are niche specializations like coastal engineering, earthquake engineering, highway engineering, and even forensic engineering! 

Once you decide on a specialization, learn everything you can about it. Read books, take online courses, and solve as many problems as you can. The more you know, the better your chances of success!

You should also try to attend conferences and seminars related to your chosen specialization (online or offline).

This is a great way to network with other experts in the field and stay up-to-date with the latest advancements.

4) Complete an On-Site Internship

Complete an On-Site Internship

The last step to becoming a self-taught civil engineer is to complete an on-site internship. 

An internship will give you the opportunity to see firsthand how everything you’ve learned applies in the real world. It’s also a great way to make industry connections and learn from experienced professionals. 

Remember, some internships require you to have a degree, so be sure to check the requirements before applying. You could always get in touch with civil engineering companies and request an internship even if they don’t have any formal program.

Here are some of the most popular companies offering internships for civil engineering:

  1. Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory: Offered by the US Department of Defense, this internship provides hands-on experience in real-world laboratory settings. You’ll get the chance to test out the latest technologies and work on serious projects.
  1. AECOM: One of the world’s largest engineering firms, AECOM offers internships in a variety of specializations. You’ll be mentored by experienced professionals and have the opportunity to work on some major projects such as the Gordie Howe International Bridge.
  1. American Bridge Company: This company is one of the leading builders of bridges in the United States. As an intern, you’ll get to work on some of the most iconic bridges in the country. You’ll also get a chance to develop your skills in a variety of areas, including project management and operations.
  1. Crawford & Associates: Being a primarily land surveying company, they offer internships that focus on this area. You’ll be working alongside a team of engineers, planners, designers, and surveyors. This is a great way to learn about the surveying process and get experience working in the field.

Once your training is complete and you have some experience under your belt, you’ll be ready to start your career as a self-taught civil engineer!

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3 Must-Have Software to Make Learning Civil Engineering Easier

In today’s day and age, there are a ton of software programs available to help you with every aspect of civil engineering.

From design and analysis to project management, there’s a program out there to make your life easier.

In this section, we’ll take a look at three of the most essential software programs for self-taught civil engineers:


AutoCAD is a computer-aided design (CAD) program that is used by architects, engineers, and construction professionals to create detailed plans and drawings.

It’s an essential tool for anyone in the industry, and it’s a great way to visualize your projects.

If you’re serious about becoming a self-taught civil engineer, then you need to learn how to use AutoCAD.

There are a ton of online tutorials and courses available, so you can easily learn at your own pace.

You can download AutoCAD through this link – 

Here’s the best website you can use to learn AutoCAD for free –   

MS Excel

MS Excel is a spreadsheet program that is commonly used in businesses and organizations. However, it’s also an incredibly powerful tool for civil engineers.

You can use Excel to do things like create financial models, manage data, and perform statistical analysis. You can also use it for making daily progress reports, which is essential for project management.

A strong understanding of Excel and how it works will make your learning journey infinitely easier.

Plus, it makes you a more valuable asset to any organization, as most businesses use Excel in great capacity.

MS Project

MS Project is a project management software program that helps you keep track of your projects, tasks, and deadlines. It’s an essential tool for any civil engineer, as it allows you to stay organized and on top of your work.

Project management is a critical skill for self-taught civil engineers. Without it, you’ll likely find yourself struggling to keep your projects on track.

MS Project is a great way to learn the basics of project management and get yourself organized.

These are just three of the most essential software programs for self-taught civil engineers.

Of course, there are many other great programs out there, but these three will definitely be invaluable tools to help you on your learning journey!

What Are the Career Options for A Self-Taught Civil Engineer?

Civil engineers enjoy a wide range of career options. You could find yourself working in construction, project management, land development, or even teaching at a university. The possibilities are endless!

Another great thing about being a civil engineer is that you can work anywhere in the world. There is always a need for infrastructure projects, no matter where you go.

So, if you enjoy travel, you could find yourself working on some amazing projects in far-flung corners of the globe.

Take a look at this table to see the most sought-after jobs in civil engineering.

RoleDescriptionAnnual Salary (in dollars)
Building Control SurveyorResponsible for ensuring that all new construction projects meet the necessary safety and quality standards. This included inspections for new buildings, alterations, installations, and repairs.$55,918
CAD TechnicianUses computer-aided design (CAD) software to create plans and drawings for construction projects. This process is also called ‘draughting’. $58,113
Consulting Civil EngineerProvides specialist advice to clients on construction-related matters. This could include anything from project feasibility studies to environmental impact assessments.$88,900 
Contracting Civil EngineerManages the construction process from start to finish. This includes overseeing the work of contractors, managing budgets, and ensuring that projects are completed on time.$81,483 
Design EngineerDevelops the plans and designs for construction projects. This could include anything from bridges and roads to sewers and water treatment plants. Requires a high level of creativity and technical skill.$78,437
EstimatorResponsible for preparing cost estimates for construction projects. They have to consider the cost of materials, labor, and equipment, and then present their findings to clients.$93,392
Nuclear EngineerDevelops and designs nuclear power plants. They also play a role in the disposal of nuclear waste. Requires a high level of technical expertise and experience, and usually works in teams.$78,657
Site EngineerResponsible for the day-to-day management of construction sites. This includes supervising workers, coordinating deliveries, and solving problems that arise.$85,692
Structural EngineerDesigns the structures that make up our built environment, such as buildings, bridges, and dams. They have to ensure that these structures are safe and fit for their purpose.$87,644
Water Resources EngineerDevelops plans and designs for the management of water resources, such as reservoirs, canals, and flood protection schemes. They also play a role in the treatment of water for drinking.$59,028

As you can see, there are many different career options available to self-taught civil engineers.

No matter what your interests and skills are, there’s sure to be a perfect job for you!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Are the Career Options for A Self-Taught Civil Engineer

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about becoming a self-taught civil engineer.

Q.1. How long does it take to become a self-taught civil engineer?

A. For most newbies, it takes around three to four years to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to become a self-taught civil engineer.

If you have a degree in any of the other engineering disciplines, it will likely take you less time than someone without any engineering experience. 

Q.2. Who is the father of civil engineering?

A. The father of civil engineering is considered to be British engineer John Smeaton. He made huge contributions to the designs of bridges, lighthouses, and harbors, and was the first person to call himself a “civil engineer.” 

Q.3. What are the most important skills for a self-taught civil engineer?

A. The most important skills for a self-taught civil engineer are problem-solving, critical thinking, mathematical ability, and computer literacy.

It also helps to be able to work well in a team and have strong communication skills, since most engineering projects are done in teams.

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Final Thoughts

We hope this article has been helpful in answering some of your questions about becoming a self-taught civil engineer. It’s a career path that’s definitely worth it.

The rewards are great, and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve built something that will last for generations.

So, go ahead and start your journey today!

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