20 Under 40: Jennie Schnackenberg on path to success as CDOT engineer
Though a joke about “my way or the highway” might befit Jennie Schnackenberg’s job more than most people, the amount of collaboration in her job as a design engineer for Colorado Department of Transportation is an asset for all in Northwest Colorado.
Schnackenberg, originally from Alaska, studied in the engineering field in Colorado and later returned to the Centennial State to raise a family, all the while on a path of success, receiving a long list of honors for her work improving area roadways.
In your chosen career field, how has the job evolved since you first began?
Technology is constantly changing and it’s increasingly challenging to keep up. The amount of documentation and administrative tasks have increased. Documentation and file management is also shifting from paper to electronic, which saves paper and space but also increases the vulnerability to cyber attacks.
How do you feel your line of work is different from someone in a similar job a generation before you?
Increased stakeholder input, environmental regulations, oversight, and accelerated schedules have really increased the complexity of projects and made the planning process and project management more important. I think trying to balance engineering judgment with all the input from stakeholders and other agencies, regulations, utilities, and environmental concerns is getting tougher.
What kind of challenges do you feel like you and your coworkers will face in the next decade?
Self-driving cars will eventually make their way to the market, despite all the flaws and design challenges they still have to overcome. I think that’s really going to create some changes in the way we think about and design road projects. I think all the big data that comes from the technology is also going to open up a whole new world.
What is the most rewarding part of your job on a day to day basis?
I can honestly say that I enjoy working with all my coworkers here in the Craig office. I’m fortunate to work with such smart, supportive and down-to-earth people. For such a small office we put out an incredible amount of work.
If you hadn’t gone down your particular career path, what else would you have liked to do with your life?
My plan from childhood was to be a large animal veterinarian. Never once did I even consider engineering. When I found out the student debt that I’d have to take on to go to vet school I reconsidered and settled on engineering. It worked out well in the end but I think if I could go back and do it all over again I would still get my engineering degree but take all the prerequisites for vet school so that I had both options.
What types of jobs would you avoid at all costs?
I enjoy the variety and challenges that come with each project, so I would say a job that is the same day in and day out.
How do you feel your work-life balance differs from those of your parents/grandparents?
I think younger people really value a better work-life balance and flexible working schedules. People typically don’t stay in the same job or work for the same company for 30+ years like they used to so there’s less company loyalty and incentive to sacrifice family for work. My father worked a shift job that alternated between day and night shifts and worked a lot of overtime so I didn’t get to see him as much as I would have like when I was growing up. I’m lucky to have a good work-life balance to where I can still run my kids around to their activities in the evenings and spend time with them on the weekends.
How do you feel everyday life is better or worse in 2020 with certain technology shifts?
Technology continues to make peoples lives easier and gives us more free time to do what we like. On the flip side it’s made it easier for people to disassociate with their community and even their own immediate family members. I think one of the things that people value here in Moffat County is the sense of community that’s been eroded in many larger communities. I hope that never changes.
What kind of strengths or weaknesses do you believe your generation brings to your career field?
I think that younger people are more accepting of change, which is nearly constant in any large organization or life in general. Everything is presented in very analytical and black and white terms in college and I don’t think it can really prepare anyone for all the grey area that they will be forced to navigate in the profession and the communication and compromise it takes to manage projects successfully. The field of civil engineering is becoming increasingly niched and I think it’s getting harder to become a well-rounded engineer
How do you feel your generation fits into Moffat County’s future?
More and more young people are choosing to live in mid- and large-size cities so I think the people who live here do so because they truly value rural and small town living. We’re motivated to come up with ways to diversify the economy and keep jobs so that young people and families can continue to live here and enjoy a good quality of life.
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There is a chill in the air, and snow covers the ground outside a farmhouse west of Hayden as Noah Price and Sydney Ellbogen talk about the operations of Mountain Bluebird Farm.