Q: What is your job title with Berg Construction, and what are your typical responsibilities?
A: I’m a staff geologist, and I’m also the director of geotechnology. For companies like Berg, technology is usually split down the middle. On one side, there’s information technology, which covers most things in the office. On the other side, you have geotechnology, which covers everything in the field, as well as everything earth-based in the office.
For example, the technologies that are used to calculate our volumes, all the CAD technology, and everything associated all falls under me. I’m also in charge of all the GPS-driven equipment in the field.
Q: What are the main challenges of your role?
A: In this industry in general, you have to bridge the gap between what the technology can interpret and can make use of, and the intentions of the engineer. In other words, making sure our engineers can utilize the technology for what they need it for can be a real challenge.
Of course, GPS and technology in itself present a lot of challenges too. GPS signals are contaminated by all types of things, from wifi adapters to solar flares. I have to ensure that our signals aren’t distorted, and when they are, I need to make sure those distortions are compensated for.
Then, you have to consider that we actually live in the most complicated geological area in the United States. We have bedrock beneath us that’s an absolute jigsaw puzzle. That makes it very challenging to properly quantify volumes. When someone wants to build something, you have to determine what percentage of the material you have to move is dirt and what percentage is rock.
Getting an accurate ratio of that when you’ve got the equivalent of a broken pile of glass under you is always a huge challenge. You need to calculate that ratio correctly — not only is rock a lot more expensive to move than dirt but when it comes to balancing a site, it has a completely different impact on the work you’re doing.
The overall goal when you build any project is to try and have all the earth excavated from one part of the job site used somewhere else on the site. That saves a lot of money because you don’t have to export or import much material.
The ratio of soil to rock is very important in that respect because the soil has a net volume loss when you use it. If we excavate one cubic yard of dirt, by the time we reposition and compact it, it’s only about 0.9 cubic yards. Rock is the opposite — depending on the type of rock, there’s a net volume gain anywhere from 30% to 50%. If that ratio is off, you’re completely screwed. That’s a huge challenge for this area of the country.
Q: What did your education and work history look like before you joined Berg?
A: I joined Berg in January 2020. Before that, I had basically the same exact role for another construction company for 17 years. As far as education goes, I have a computer science degree from Alvernia University, and I have degrees in anthropology and geology from the University of Florida.
Q: What do you enjoy about working for Berg? What makes them stand out from the crowd?
A: Berg is a well-managed company. They’ve managed to stay at a good size where they’re big enough to be competitive and go after decent-sized jobs but they’re not so big that they price themselves out of the market.
Even more important is that Berg has avoided the formation of political culture within the company. When I was working at one of those big monster-sized companies — and there’s quite a few of them around — they got drowned in politics. It’s like trying to get something done in Washington, D.C. There’s so much red tape to cut through that no one ever accomplishes anything.
That doesn’t exist at all here at Berg. Everyone is on board. I can accomplish a lot more in a short period of time, which is what I really love doing. I love moving technology forward, and nothing’s more frustrating than when you get bogged down in red tape that prevents you from doing your job.
Two of my former coworkers from my previous employer have been with Berg for a few years now, and they both had nothing but positive things to say about the culture here. That’s the reason I chose to come here, and I haven’t regretted it for a second.
Q: Is there any part of your job that you’re especially proud of?
A: I am constantly innovating new technologies that don’t exist in our industry. There are times when I think it would be great if we had a program that could do A, B, and C, but that program doesn’t exist. In those situations, I love to pioneer new technologies for Berg Construction.
Instead of using someone else’s program, I can make one that’s exactly how we want it to be. I’ll go around to everybody and ask what they want to see in a program. That feedback helps everyone buy in, and then I get to make something that helps make everyone’s life easier.
Q: Do you have any insights about how our industry could better attract young talent?
A: I personally fell into this industry entirely by accident. If I hadn’t, I never would have guessed there were so many great jobs available in this industry. The biggest thing is to get young people to start thinking of this industry. Right now, most of our young people are pre-programmed to go to college, even if you have no idea what you want to do.
I make the same amount of money in this industry as I would have made in the petroleum industry, and my work conditions are overwhelmingly better. We need young people to understand how many exciting things are happening in construction today. GPS and drones are revolutionizing this industry, and I do a ton of work with subsurface imaging, ground-penetrating radar, and other tech like that.
There’s a lot of really cool and innovative things happening in the construction industry. All we have to do is get that message out to high school or even junior high students to get them thinking about it as a career path.
Q: Is there anyone in your life that you’ve consistently looked up to as a mentor?
A: I’m a good friend and a big fan of the work of Dr. Charles Ghilani. He’s a now-retired professor from Penn State University, but he and I still stay in touch with each other. He’s been an enormous help to me over the years.
I first met Dr. Ghilani at a convention for the Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors. We developed a working relationship, and I’ve used him as a reference for quite a few of the programs I’ve written. Whenever I come up with something complicated on the mathematical side, he’s a great help for me.
Q: How do you like to spend your free time?
A: My wife is a physician, but she’s actually staying home to raise our two children — we have a daughter and a son. Spending time with them is obviously a priority for me. My wife is originally from Ecuador, and whenever we’re on vacation visiting her family, I do volunteer archeology services there. That’s my favorite hobby. I’m also fully fluent in Spanish and I’m conversational in Quechua.