Meet The Masonry Advocate
David Biggs P.E., S.E.
Behind Every Successful Person,
There Are Many Successful Relationships
Written by: Amanda Bedian
They say hard work pays off… and they were right! David Biggs’ success defines that advice and has proven that when you do what you love and truly care about the impact you make, the world is your oyster. Biggs has never stopped learning; he keeps an open mind and tactfully positions himself to grow. It is this mindset that has allowed him to mentor the next generation of great engineers, travel the world and enjoy the little things in life, like watch his grandchildren grow up.
We all end up on a path, most of the time we can’t remember how we got there, but for some of us, we can pinpoint the memory as if it was yesterday. As a young boy in first grade, Biggs’ art teacher pointed out that he would do well in mechanical drawing, this was it – this planted the seed. From the prized words of that valued teacher to earning his Architectural Merit Badge in Boy Scouts to working in a local architecture firm, Biggs knew this was his calling. He didn’t know where his journey would lead him, but he was confident in knowing that he would be contributing to society in ways that would have an impact in communities for years to come.
It wasn’t always the engineering route for Biggs. Once upon a time he thought architecture was going to be his career. Working at that local architectural firm gave him the opportunity to help in drafting which ultimately earned him a position as an Architectural Draftsmen. From that point on, he wanted to learn more about the world of engineering. Raised in Troy, New York, Biggs attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute earning both his Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering. After college, he left the Capital Region and set sail towards Philadelphia to start gaining the knowledge that would propel him in his career. Eventually returning to the Capital Region, Biggs teamed up with Tom Ryan which sparked the beginning of their firm: Ryan Biggs Engineering. Biggs made a personal goal that by thirty years old he would own a business, and that he did.
Thirty-three years later, more projects than he could imagine, a solid reputation and a strong employee backbone, Biggs decided to sell the firm in 2010. He has continued to remain involved as an independent consultant and truly embodies the term “expert.” As an expert in engineering, a masonry advocate and mentor, Biggs has dedicated his career to engineering resilient, safe buildings, bridges and communities.
Upstate Masonry Institute had the pleasure to sit down with and interview David Biggs, P.E, S.E. Learn more about his story and what has helped him be a successful engineer, business professional and advocate to the masonry industry. All questions answered by David Biggs:
Why did you choose masonry as one of your areas of expertise and how did you get started?
Working at a firm near Philadelphia, we did a lot of mass transit and steel bridge design. When I came home, the market dictated to change. I noticed there were few post-tensioned concrete designs in the area and very little to near-extinct masonry building codes. A change needed to be made and I recognized there were not many other engineers that were into masonry design.
I attended masonry apprentice school through the local union in the evenings, more as an observer, and learned so much just by listening and watching what skills were being taught to the trade men and women. Not to mention, my strongest masonry ally and mentor, Ken Dagostino Sr., had an open-door policy: I could ask any and all questions. Teaming up with the manufacturer of the product I would ultimately be designing, helped me out tremendously. They knew the product and I knew how to apply in design—it was an effective collaboration. Masonry is a logical material in many cases—it has a plethora of benefits—if people understand the material we can design stronger, more robust projects.
What advice do you give to students coming into the A/E/C industries?
Get involved and be seen. You will never stop learning. And, surround yourself with people in the business, whether they are in architecture, engineering or construction, you can never know too much. You simply learn from being around people.
As an engineer, you are not groomed to talk about what you do or how you do it, but, if you can come out of your comfort zone and share your story and experience with the people around you, you have already positioned yourself as a resource. That is when your reputation will really start to grow.
What do you attribute success to?
Simply put: my willingness to learn, networking, knowing the right people and writing/publishing.
Teaming up with Tom Ryan positioned me to build a solid foundation and the proper reputation. Ryan did a lot of the leg work before we partnered up. It was up to me to make the right moves along the way. Learning different trades, materials and having people to turn to who answered my questions taught me that information is invaluable. Building the firm from two people to over thirty people while I was part owner didn’t happen overnight; we wanted to create an atmosphere where our employees could excel and if they were exceling in their roles, we were exceling at ours.
I became internationally recognized because of articles I wrote for industry magazines and projects I was involved in like 9/11 FEMA investigation and the 2011 Chirstchurch and 2015 Nepal Nepal Earthquakes. By getting involved on a larger level I have been able to work in parts of the world I never imagined I would get to in my lifetime. Helping people and communities build after devastation is a blessing in and of itself.
How do you want to leave your legacy behind?
Through my two sons and my grandchildren. I am glad to be able to do what I do and have enjoyed my journey. Both my wife and I have taught our kids to do what they love, to step back to view the full picture at times and that sometimes changes need to be made which trigger you to pivot. Being vocal, doing what you need to do and asking for what you want helps you along the way.
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