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Q&A Jun 24, 2022

Be Patient, Take the Time to Appreciate Each Step: A Q&A with Rita Oliva

Rita talks career, what brought her to the U.K. from Portugal and how she feels about being part of a team that will deliver the third-widest bored tunnel in the world.

Q&A with Rita Oliva Jacobs Book of Plans Manager

For International Women in Engineering Day 2022 we’re excited to bring you a series of interviews with some incredible #OurJacobs women from around the world. In this article meet Rita Oliva and learn how she got to where she is today, why she was attracted to a career in STEAM and what she thinks is the best part of working at Jacobs.  

Let's talk with Rita:

Tell us what you’re working on these days.

I’m the book of plans manager on the Lower Thames Crossing project, an essential component in the U.K.’s future transport infrastructure. I manage and coordinate the production of the Development Consent Order (DCO) drawings and associated schedules that translate the design into the planning application. I draw upon my experience in major infrastructure projects and engineering background to bring together the relevant information from all the design disciplines into a suite of documents essential for the DCO Application.

What led you to this point on your career path?

I studied Civil Engineering and did a master’s degree in Geotechnics at Lisbon Technical University. I started working in a Portuguese consultancy in the earth dams department designing earthworks, then an opportunity arose in the underground and tunneling department, and I began working as a tunnel designer. I did this for 10 years and had the chance to get involved in international projects for metro lines and road tunnels as a designer of different underground structures, like sprayed concrete lining tunnels and underground stations and shafts. Halfway through my career, I decided to challenge myself and broaden my experience and skills and moved to the U.K.

Over the years I’ve realized that I enjoy working on major projects and I thrive in multi-disciplinary coordination roles and that’s why I was so keen to get involved in the Lower Thames Crossing.

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEAM?

The main driver was my passion for getting answers and solving problems. In school I liked all disciplines, but found math and physics to be the most interesting subjects. I enjoy using critical thinking and the best thing about being an engineer is the ability to work in a field where there is always a scientific or technological development to learn and apply to real-life situations.

Tell us about a memorable project you’ve worked on that has helped build a brighter future.

I once worked on a design and build road tunnel project in the north of Portugal. I was the lead tunnel designer and, simultaneously, the design coordinator liaising between the engineering design disciplines and our client, the contractor. These were a memorable six months because I had to balance two distinct roles: one that pushed me to expand my rock tunneling knowledge in a pure technical role, and the other that challenged me to understand the requirements imposed by a contractor that was on site while we were defining the technical solutions and developing our designs, improving my understanding of project management.

This project was memorable because it had the full support of the communities — building a tunnel through this mountain range improved the connectivity of all towns and villages in the northeast with the rest of the country as the tunnel would enable all journeys to take place despite weather conditions. During my site visits I was able to gain an appreciation for how much this project positively impacted the lives of residents and enabled the growth of local businesses, and I was very proud to be part of the project team.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?

I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is to take risks and don’t be afraid to do or go somewhere new. I completely left my comfort zone by leaving a job I liked in Lisbon for the unknown — but exciting — opportunity to work in the U.K. Now, almost seven years later, I’m delighted with my choice, and I wonder where my next risk-taking decision could lead me in my career.

“I believe that being patient and taking the time to appreciate each step in your career lets you enjoy yourself more, discover new opportunities and build relationships with people you meet along the way. ”

Rita Oliva

Rita Oliva

Jacobs Book of Plans Manager

Most interesting career moment?

My most interesting career moment is my current role on Lower Thames Crossing, working as the coordinator between the design teams and the legal and planning teams. This is a unique opportunity to get a deeper understanding about the challenges involved in the planning phase of major infrastructure projects with so many important stakeholders, land use constraints and engineering complexity. I also feel really excited about being part of a team that will deliver the third-widest bored tunnel in the world.

What does the future of engineering look like to you?

I think that in the future the answer to climate change will shape the legislation and the government policies that regulate engineering projects. In civil engineering this will mean answering the challenge of resource management, where I think engineers will be asked to develop innovative ways to use scarce and expensive resources, like water and energy, in the most efficient way possible. I truly believe that it’s our job as engineers to use our passion for innovation and drive to find answers to contribute to and develop more sustainable solutions to deliver projects and construction methods.

If you could tell your 18-year-old-self one thing, what would it be?

I would tell myself to be patient! I believe that being patient and taking the time to appreciate each step in your career lets you enjoy yourself more, discover new opportunities and build relationships with people you meet along the way.

People would be surprised to know that I…

I did the U.K. National Three Peaks challenge! But I am not sure it counts as I walked up the three mountains under bright and warm sunshine.

What do you enjoy most about being part of #OurJacobs?

What I like most about Jacobs is being part of a team where management takes a real interest in my career path and values my opinions and my contribution. I enjoy being part of #OurJacobs and the support network where there is an expert in almost any field willing to share their knowledge and experience.

About the interviewee

Rita Oliva

Rita Oliva is the book of plans manager on the Lower Thames Crossing project. She oversees the production of DCO drawings and ensures its compatibility with the project’s planning application. She has lived in London for the past seven years, joined Jacobs in 2019 and never misses an opportunity to go back to her home country for some sunshine, codfish and to watch her beloved Benfica play soccer.

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