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IGS Young Members: Down to Earth – An interview with Edoardo Zannoni

IGS Secretary General Edoardo Zannoni shared his career story and his love of boats during a recent interview with our Young Members Committee.

Name/Institution: Edoardo Zannoni, Maccaferri Africa

Specialist Fields: Soil reinforcement, road and ground improvement, mechanically-stabilized earth walls.

What inspired you to enter civil engineering, and what continues to inspire you?

I loved rowing as a teenager and I was fascinated by the construction of rowing boats, especially the ingenuity in developing their shape to improve performance. At one point I decided to study naval engineering, but it was too narrow with limited job prospects, so I opted for hydraulic and then coastal engineering.

When I started working I shifted to the geotechnical field as most of my design work was in designing retaining walls for mines. I realised that what we do changes people’s lives. For example, building roads or retaining structures for failed slopes makes a difference in society. I am proud of be part of that, as well as looking after our environment.

What do you enjoy most about working in the geosynthetics industry?

I enjoy being able to bring to the table innovative solutions not thought of before to solve a problem. However, I most enjoy the technological advancements every year. If I consider how we designed retaining walls just 10 years ago compared to what is about to come up in few years, it is amazing what we are able to achieve.

When and where was your first involvement with geosynthetics?

During my Masters I studied the use of geotextile tubes for coastal protection. It was back in 2006 when the system was at its early stage. There was a project in Italy for which I developed a 3D volume of fluid model for the breaking waves and the dissipation of energy, comparing it to the real conditions.

Do you have any advice for young engineers beginning their careers? What do you think are the most important skills in today’s industry?

Experience as much as you can. You will never know where you will be in three, five or 10 years. We all have to adapt to the demands of the fourth industrial revolution and we need to be able to analyze the situation under all circumstances. This means sometimes the best design is not necessarily the best solution because of the socio-economic environment. It’s not enough to have good knowledge, you also need real world experience.

How can a Young Member improve their career prospects?

I believe a Young Member should be exposed to as many situations as possible rather than specialise at an early stage. Geosynthetics can be used as a platform as there are many stakeholders involved such as manufacturers, suppliers, engineers, specifiers and contractors. This allows a Young Member to really get a 360-degree exposure. I think few industries can be proud of such diversity.

How important is having a mentor?

To become a registered engineer you need to have a mentor and mine was the most senior engineer in my company. However across my career and today I still have a few mentors who I call on when I need to bounce an idea or share a problem. In my case, I didn’t choose these mentors; they became part of my life. I think the mentor-mentee relationship is a valuable one to learn from each other.

Where are the opportunities for the next generation of geosynthetics engineers?

That’s easy! The geosynthetics industry is growing much faster than any other industry. There are many industries that have started using geosynthetics but they are sceptical about them in some parts of the world due to lack of exposure to the materials. Geosynthetics is not a standalone technology as you need knowledge in hydraulics, geotechnical aspects, environment and chemistry to best use them. I think going forward, geosynthetics engineers will need to have a solid background in some of these other disciplines. It won’t be enough to just know the basic technology.

What initiatives are you undertaking as part of the council? How can young members contribute?

The IGS evolves to meet the needs of its members. In the past few years there has been a concerted effort to strongly support the Young IGS to be an active part of the council. For example the Young IGS Chair has a seat at the Council and in all our activities there is a component for the Young Members, such as including specific themes at conferences, developing the first Young Geosynthetics Engineers Conference and also trying to spread the word about the IGS at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

The Young IGS members drive the success of our Society. We encourage all Young members to promote geosynthetics with us.

What are your hobbies and interests outside work?

I enjoy outdoor activities, playing beach volleyball and scuba diving. Here in South Africa and Mozambique there are lovely reefs to explore.