Plan where to put things like roads, sidewalks, and stormwater infrastructure. Oversee construction, maintenance, and reconstruction projects in your city to make sure the finished work is safe, functional, and looks great.

Headshot of Debra HeiserDebra Heiser, engineering director, St. Louis Park

Why she shows up every day: With civil engineering you get to go out and change the world. You get to see what you’re doing, you get to go outside, you get to work with people, and I was very attracted to that. I’ve always loved being outside, I’ve always loved the outdoors. I love problem solving, I love fixing things. The wonderful thing about my job is my lab is the city.

For me it’s also about ownership. In my profession as a city engineer I have the unique opportunity to be there from start to finish. You’re there when a concept is first brought up and you’re thinking, “What is the future going to hold?” You’re there when you start designing it, when you build it, and when it’s open and the public is using it. Sometimes those projects take five to 10 years to happen. We build it so that it can last because as the city we’re the owner. We have a real stake in it.

How she got the job (and how you could too): I always was good at math. I always knew I was going to be an engineer, but didn’t know what kind, necessarily. I went to the University of Minnesota, and I graduated with a bachelor’s of science in civil engineering. After graduating I started out as an intern with the city of Burnsville, and they hired me full time as a technician. A technician works in AutoCAD; they design, and do construction observation and surveying for different projects. I became the development review engineer, so I was really involved with land use approvals and with the planning department. From there I went to the city of Roseville for 15 years. I was city engineer and assistant public works director. Then I came here to St. Louis Park. It was an amazing opportunity, and I’ve been here for four years.

What’s the job like? Problem solving is huge. How do we make it better? How do we fix it? How do we rebuild it? How do we make a difference? Our department is in charge of managing the majority of the construction projects in town. We have about $20 million worth of work that we do a year. Our projects maintain and improve mobility in the city—streets, sidewalks, signals, so people can get around. We also address utilities—sanitary sewers, stormwater infrastructure, and water mains.

And for every single one of those projects, before we actually start building it, we engage the public. We have internal customers and external customers that we need to work with, talk to, and get feedback from. I’ve got 48,000 customers external, not including the business owners—48,000 is just the population—and we need to make sure we’re being responsive to their requests. We need to be responsible with how we spend tax dollars. What we build needs to last; what we build needs to look good, and serve the public.

The most rewarding part of my job is when a project is complete, and we have this beautiful new facility, and I can say I was a part of making it happen. It makes the city a better place. It makes it safer. We’re physically changing things, making them new, and they will last for another 50 years.

Are you interested in learning more about a city career? One great way to get advice is to contact someone in your own city or a city nearby. You can ask questions about the job and learn more about training programs that may be available. Connect to city websites and city contact information through the League of Minnesota Cities.