The Art of Engineering
Three key pillars — Approachable People, Proven Capabilities, and Global Experience — are the foundation of the TYLin brand and the reason for our success.
Next up in our Connection Builders series is Nat Oppenheimer, PE, Sector Leader, Buildings Sector, Senior Principal TYLin/Silman. Nat's unconventional path to structural engineering started with a family background in poetry and writing. However, it was his exposure to structural engineers Paul Weidlinger and Mario Salvadori, along with his love for space and knack for math and science, that fueled his decision to pursue civil engineering.
What or who inspired your pursuit of a career in structural engineering (vertical structures)?
I grew up in a family of poets and writers in an affordable development of only artists. There were no engineers or architects in my family or among the people I knew. From age 12 to 22, I worked at various restaurants throughout New York City, ultimately working my way up to line cook during college. When I was in high school, my mom went to work for Paul Weidlinger and Mario Salvadori (a pair of well-known structural engineers). It was my father’s love of space (even as a full-time working poet, he had time to sketch floor plans in the evening for fun); my mother introducing me to Mario Salvadori; and my aptitude for math and science that influenced me to pursue civil engineering at Clarkson University. When I graduated, I had to choose between a job as a full-time cook or a career in structural engineering. After meeting Bob Silman and getting to know the firm bearing his name, I dove in and have never looked back, 36 years later. (Silman joined TYLin in April 2021)
What keeps you motivated at this point in your career?
The good fortune I’ve had — and continue to have — working on amazing buildings throughout the country, but especially those in New York City, motivates me to this day. The incredible feeling I get when I go for a run or drive my children to school and see the hundreds of buildings in the city that we have worked on continues to energize me. That, and the ability to mentor young engineers and see them grow, flourish, and lead is amazingly rewarding. Nothing brings me more joy than having an engineer whom I’ve mentored replace me on a project at the client’s request!
What industry trend will impact your field the most significantly in the next decade?
Structural engineers becoming increasingly integrated directly into the design, fabrication, and construction of the built environment. The boundaries between design and construction will continue to fall, and we will wake up, not too far into the future, sketching an initial plan and seeing it simply morph into a final fabricated element after only a few steps.
What impact do you hope to make in the next five years of your career?
I hope to prove that the structural engineering discipline in the buildings market can thrive within an infrastructure company. For the first 35 years of my career, I had the awesome opportunity to convince owners, architects, and builders to do crazy stuff with structure. Now, my job is to promote the idea that as creative, iterative, and sometimes chaotic as the buildings market can be, real rigor and business acumen can be injected into a project that can create joy in what we do and joy about the impact it can have on our bottom line.
If provided $1M investment to solve a major challenge within the transportation field, what problem would you tackle?
First, 1990 called and wants its question back! Seriously, nothing can be solved for $1M these days. But, if I had the money at my disposal, I would use it to convince an entire generation of smart young people that seeing projects you worked on emerge within the community you call home is infinitely more gratifying in the long run than just raking in cash in the financial world. I would convince future professionals to use their talents to create amazing algorithms that change the communities we inhabit.
What has been the defining moment of your experience at TYLin?
I’ve only been with the company for two years, so it’s too early to mark a singular moment. I will say, however, that I’ve met an amazing group of like-minded engineers who are in this profession for all the right reasons. It is not often that an entire room of leaders, all managing disparate groups of engineers doing different types of work, are, at the end of the day, talented, hardworking engineers dedicated to improving the quality of life for our staff and for the people in the communities we serve.
What have been the skills/strengths that have helped you succeed most in your career thus far?
Patience, humor, a dash of smarts, compassion, and always remembering that I have a lot more to learn.
What are your professional goals? Where do you see yourself at TYLin in 5 years?
Leading an amazing group of professionals within the Buildings Sector who are pushing me out the door to other things.
What do you enjoy most about working at TYLin?
The people. And the opportunity to expand my vision and reach beyond the geographical and service markets where we presently thrive, without losing our love of the work that got us to this point.
A year ago, TYLin unveiled a new brand position – Connecting people, places and ideas. How does this apply to the work you do?
To me, our positioning aligns perfectly with what Silman — now a primary part of the Buildings Sector of TYLin — is about: collaboration, joy, top-notch engineering. The work we do is about community. If I were to add a bit to the brand, I would suggest that in connecting people, places, and ideas, we are building what I call “time machines.” Through our work, we save people time, effort, and energy in their everyday lives. That’s an incredible thing.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to others about their careers?
Staying with one company for 36 years (and beyond) can be an amazing experience that grows richer every day. Things change, they morph, and it is not all joy. There are days we are devalued, yelled at by contractors, and beaten up financially. And yet, the longer you stay at it, the more satisfaction you can find. You don’t get that by bouncing from job to job. Take your coat off; stay awhile.