National Engineers Week Spotlight: James Hornsby, PE


How has BBI helped you to develop and expand your professional career as an engineer?

BBI has helped to develop and expand my professional career as an engineer by believing me in and giving me the support and latitude to pursue unusual opportunities and go after seemingly impossible projects.  I feel that Brett and Larry believe in me and our group and that we can accomplish anything that we set our minds to, and that the good Lord leads us and empowers us to do.  The best thing about working here has been the support Larry and Brett have given me in going with my gut instinct and following my passions.  I have been at other firms where individuals in leadership have responded to an idea or a challenge with the response that was the exact opposite of my natural instinct or gut feeling. It has been refreshing and empowering to be given the green light by BBI to pursue some off-the-wall stuff.  Larry has responded to me several times by asking, “Do you think it will work, do you think we can do it?” And then, “Go ahead, let’s do it.”  It is unbelievably refreshing and empowering to know I have the support of leadership and that what I am passionate about is important to the company.

What initially sparked your interest in engineering?

I have always been interested in solving problems and trying to find the most economical way to complete a project or task with the most common sense approach using readily available materials.  This has been true in my personal life as well as work projects.  My interest in engineering came to focus when was when I was working as a teenager with my dad building houses and the whole project crew was standing around looking at the roof framing and trying to decide what size a beam should be spanning a room supporting the roof load.  Someone said we used two 2×12’s last time in a similar situation but this seems like a long span and may have more area supported.  I remember thinking to myself, there has got to be a better way, there has to be a correct way to determine the load to be carried and the  capacity needed of the beam and I am going to find that out.  So, I found the place that invented concrete, steel, structural theory and all other important world discoveries (The University of Texas) and enrolled there.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing structural engineering?

I would recommend that young engineers seek a solid understanding of the fundamentals of structural principles, not to get bogged down in the codes or how to use specific programs. These will change over time, but the complete art and feel of structural engineering, the “does this system support the load or not” will always be relevant. I once heard a professor at a conference years ago remark that his biggest observation from a career as an engineer and a professor was that engineers were better engineers back when they had to slide rules because they had to basically knew the answer before they started.  Apparently, a slide rule gives the relative answer and the user has to provide the order of magnitude.  For example, after a long calculation, the slide rule might show the answer as 3.6.  The user has to determine if it is 0.036, 0.36, 3.6, 36, 360, or 3600.  His observation was that computer programs that just give us the answer can often lead to a lack of understanding of what is really going on with a structure.  I have found it is very important to identify a complete load path for a structural system to make sure we are designing a complete solution to our given problem.

What part of your job do you find most challenging?

I would say the most challenging part of my job is time.  We seem to have a constant struggle to find a balance between meeting deadlines and having enough to do.  I worry about what is coming next, how many people do we need, and then, can we keep them all busy after that?

 What’s been the most interesting place you’ve traveled to?

The most interesting place I have traveled to is the mountains of Colorado with my wife and children.

Click here to learn more about DiscoverE and Engineers Week.

Click here to learn more about DiscoverE and Engineers Week.

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