“Rutgers gave me the basics for what I need to do at work every single day.” – Nicholas C. Wong
Titan Engineers founder and president Nicholas (Nick) Wong earned his B.S. in civil engineering and his M.S. in structural engineering at Rutgers. After working for several engineering firms, he established Titan Engineers in 2005. The firm, which has offices in Union, New Jersey and Hauppauge, New York, is a 2018 winner of the NJBIZ “Best Places to Work in New Jersey” award. Taking a “hands-on” approach at Titan, Wong regularly serves as chief engineer on projects ranging from building investigations and structural condition surveys to structural engineering design services for a diverse group of clients.
Why did you choose Rutgers?
I grew up in Jersey City. Rutgers had a reputation for value and delivering an excellent education coupled with the affordability of in-state tuition. I also knew that if engineering didn’t work out for me, Rutgers offered a breadth of subjects. I knew that anything I wanted to do in the future would be available at Rutgers.
Back in eighth grade, we were asked what we wanted to do in the future. I wrote down “engineer.” I was strong in math and science, and liked the idea of applying them creatively. I thought it was a great field to get into.
What convinced you to earn your master’s degree?
As an undergraduate, I was ready to get into the work force right away versus pursuing a master’s degree. I had a work-study job in the civil engineering department. I worked in the office, and cleaned and swept the floors in the lab. One day, Dr. Perumalsamy Balaguru asked me if I’d consider going for my master’s and said that he would offer me free tuition, a salary as his research assistant, faculty parking, and university health care. Of course I said yes!
I asked him why he was offering this to me. He said, “Over the years, I’ve seen many work-study students come and go. You are the only student who’d move the furniture to make sure you cleaned thoroughly.”
From this, I learned that no matter how small the task, you should do the best you can as you don’t know where it might lead you.
What else did you learn at Rutgers?
Rutgers gave me the basics -- and provided me with a foundation – for what I need to do at work every single day.
What did you do after you graduated?
I started working three days after graduating with my master’s degree. I’d been in school for 18 years and was eager to get to my career started. I worked for a total of three engineering firms before starting Titan.
What inspired you to found Titan Engineers?
For entry-level engineers at established companies, I discovered it can be hard to have your voice heard and difficult to change the status quo. I wanted to work for a company that was adaptable, modern, state-of-the-art, and able to change with the times.
So I created the company I’d always wanted to work for, where all employees are heard and that is able to adapt to changes in markets and the economy. I wanted a company where everyone was a friend and part of a family – and where everyone could speak their mind without repercussions.
I’ve been told Titan is a place where people feel like they are hanging out together all day long and accomplishing goals together. It’s a great team atmosphere, which is why I’m so proud we are a winner of the NJBIZ 2018 Best Places to Work in New Jersey award. It’s an award based on how Titan employees feel about how they are supported and treated.
What else do you think contributes to your success?
Titan’s one of the few companies that likes to hire straight out of college. Students have to start somewhere. We go to all the career fairs, including Rutgers. We’ve developed a great mentor program, with team leaders and project managers, who are available for guidance and training. When it comes down to it, engineering is a lot like an apprenticeship. During your first few years you need to work – and learn – alongside experienced engineers.
Do you hire Rutgers alumni?
My second hire was Dr. Yubun Auyeung, a fellow graduate student at Rutgers, who is now a senior vice president. Another fellow student, Dr. Ronald Garon is branch manager of our New Jersey office.
Does anything stand out to you about Rutgers alumni?
I’ve noticed they have a particular wit, passion, and enthusiasm. New Jersey is a busy and competitive place to live, work and play in, so I’ve also noticed that Rutgers graduates have the street smarts that help them handle clients effectively.
How do you describe your leadership style?
It’s definitely to support the company, staff, and our engineers. I always say if I have the best engineers, there’s no way I can’t have the best company. Since I want everyone to be able to be the best they can be, I support them with the technology, resources, and benefits they need. The company should be there to support employees – not be a barrier. It’s also important to trust employees – otherwise it’s a hindrance to growth.
I’m approachable: all the employees here feel the freedom to come to my office and talk to me at any point. When they need help and support they aren’t afraid to ask for it. And when they have suggestions, we’re ready to listen. We do walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Before leaving, our three summer interns made a couple of suggestions. We’re implementing them this week.
Do you see yourself as a mentor?
I never thought I’d be in this role – it’s a little like being a father. I was taught I’d need a career but not how to go about being a great teacher, mentor or father. So finding myself in these positions is surprising.
What did you do for fun at Rutgers?
I liked to hang out with my friends. My dorm room door was always open. The best times were when my room was full of people, telling stories and jokes.
I continue that at Titan. I ask all project managers to leave their doors open, except when they need privacy for phone calls. An open door is more inviting.
What do you do when you’re not working these days?
I spend time with my family. I have two amazing little girls, age 13 and 10 and I love taking them places and helping them discover new things.
You designed Titan’s interior. How would you describe your aesthetic?
I’ve always liked great design that’s expressive. For the interior design of our office, my preference was for a clean, modern, and very minimalist style.
I’m also a big fan of Renaissance and Impressionist art. I was in Paris recently and was blown away at the Musée d’Orsay. When I was standing in line to go in, I thought I was going to hyperventilate – I couldn’t believe I was going to be inches away from those masterpieces!
If you could go on vacation again tomorrow, where would you go?
I would go back to Paris. Other than New York, it’s the only city I’ve been to that would take a lifetime to discover. I told my wife that if we moved there and didn’t work, it would still take the rest of our lives to fully discover.