Engineers Beyond Their Careers
By Nikki Welch

THE ENGINEER: John O’Brien, P.E.
Associate and Technical Director, PES Structural Engineers

Hailing from South Florida, John O’Brien, P.E. began his engineering ambitions with a move to Columbia, S.C. to attend the University of South Carolina. He graduated in 2002 with a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering and continued on at the University, obtaining a Master’s degree in civil engineering two years later.
Following graduation, Carl Walker, a structural engineering firm focused on parking structure consulting and design, hired the Gamecock-alumni, bringing O’Brien to the Atlanta area. O’Brien then took a position at PES Structural Engineers in 2006 and has now been with the company for just over 11 years. In addition to being a registered P.E. in seven states, O’Brien is involved with the National Council of Structural Engineers Association (NCSEA) Wind Engineering Code Advisory Committee, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Wind Loads Subcommittee and the Structural Engineers Association of Georgia (SEAOG).


O’Brien started his home brewing hobby four years ago after the encouragement of several friends and a happenstance glance through a book at Whole Foods. “Living in Midtown, I wasn’t sure that brewing beer was feasible in my space. I happened to stumble upon a book for New York City apartment brewers one day and started to think that maybe I could pull it off. I began brewing on a very small scale – starting with one IPA beer.” In the past few years, O’Brien has fully embraced the hobby, upgrading his equipment and broadening to several different beer styles.
“My fiancée, Erica, isn’t really a beer drinker, but I’ve brewed between 10-15 different styles, so she’s been able to try a few different brews she can get more into.” In addition to his fiancée and friends, O’Brien enters into two or three brew competitions a year to get feedback. “It’s nice to get some outside, objective opinions,” says O’Brien. On top of the constructive feedback, O’Brien’s brews have won several awards, including a gold medal for his saison and silver for his rye pale ale at the 2015 Peach State Brew Off – the largest non-professional brewer competition in Georgia.


“Home brewing takes as much time as you want to put into it and you don’t have to be rich to do it. Almost every day I have a conversation or share an email with someone about brewing. We also have “Growler Fridays” at PES, so I get to bring some of my different styles into work to share.”
As far as similarities between his life as an engineer and his hobby as a home-brewer, O’Brien thinks he gets the best of both worlds: “There’s a lot of science behind brewing – item processing, number tracking, calculating efficiencies – there’s definitely an engineering side to brewing, but it’s a lot more like cooking. You have to adjust on the fly sometimes. It’s as much art as it is science.”


“I recently upgraded all my equipment, so I’m looking forward to doing a lot more brewing, mixing it up with some different styles and entering more competitions in the coming year.”

What’s the difference? Here’s a list of descriptions detailing the beers mentioned in this article:
IPA: Characterized by floral, fruity, citrusy or herbal character, this style is all about hop flavor, aroma and bitterness.
RYE PALE ALE: Beers that fall into this category tend to be moderately bitter, allowing the often spicy and sour-like rye characteristics to pull through.
SAISON: Saisons are traditionally brewed in the winter to be consumed throughout the summer season. Many brews are very fruity in aroma and flavor, but tend to be semi-dry and have only a touch of sweetness.
STOUT: Stouts typically range from dark brown to black in color. A common profile amongst Stouts is the use of roasted barley which lends a dry character to the beer as well as a heavy roasted flavor that can range from burnt to chocolate to coffee.