Anna Kotas, P.E., M.ASCE

Woman with short blond hair wearing a white leather jacket and pink shirt smiles at the camera.
Anna Kotas

I wish I’d known earlier in my career how critical it is to have good people skills to be able to bring a human touch to business. I have been a geotechnical engineer for 23 years now and have always loved the work and found it important.

But for the first 15 years or so, I lacked a feeling of fulfillment in my work. It’s only been in the last roughly six or so years that I found my true calling: the work I enjoy so much that it hardly ever feels like work.

At first, I followed the traditional path of a geotechnical engineer, working on projects in the field. I gained knowledge and experience but missed that feeling of contentment. So, I moved onto a more managerial track, taking charge of a department, then a branch of a geotechnical consultancy. I even tried running my own business, but that also wasn’t exactly right for me. I wanted something more.

Finally, I found my niche as a business development manager for a geotechnical laboratory firm. At first, I didn’t know if I’d be successful at bringing in new business. But as I began to interact with potential clients, I discovered that this work came to me naturally because of my extroverted personality.

I also realized that my early career as a practicing engineer had been essential to making me who I am today. All that earlier work translated into experiences that help me now talk with new clients with conviction and total and complete genuineness. That work bought me credibility.

What I’ve learned is that no matter how technically proficient a company might be, business development requires that human touch I mentioned earlier. Your company won’t sell itself, and even a good website on its own cannot sell your company’s services. Instead, it takes humor, eye contact, and a firm handshake — things that relate to how people perceive you and respond to what you’re saying.

And if you get those things right, maybe they will do business with you. None of this is taught in engineering schools.

But in today’s world, these people skills are as essential as technical expertise. So, you need to reach out to people and connect with them!

Anna Kotas, P.E., M.ASCE, is a geotechnical engineer who works in business development at GeoTesting Express, a subsidiary of New York City-based Geocomp.

This article first appeared in the July/August 2023 print issue of Civil Engineering as “Wish I'd Known.”