I was given the freedom to do what I believed in
Born in Portugal, she studied in Lisbon and Barcelona and worked in London for more than three years before coming to the Netherlands. Joana Vlaanderen (33) has been working at Witteveen+Bos as a geotechnical adviser since 2016.
‘I studied civil engineering in Lisbon, just as my father had years earlier. He was always proud of what he did and would say things like: ‘Civil engineers have the best job in the world.’ His passion was infectious. While completing my master’s I went looking for a specialisation that I’d still enjoy after 20 years. I didn’t have to look long: geotechnical engineering. I now work on projects where land, water and built structures come together. The complexity of geotechnical issues continues to fascinate me.’
Safe tailings dams
‘I’m married to a Dutch man. The decision to live in the Netherlands was a fairly easy one to make. Because of the country’s location below sea level and its soft ground, there’s lots of work here for geotechnical engineers. But I also do a lot of projects for Witteveen+Bos overseas, primarily in Latin America. In 2019 there was a disaster at a mine in Brazil. A tailings dam failed and 270 people were killed. It was an eye-opener for the mining industry. Since then we’ve used our dyke expertise to make tailings dams safer. After all, a dyke’s failure mechanisms also apply to these dams.’
‘I’ve been given a lot of opportunities at Witteveen+Bos – a whole lot. Managers and colleagues have always encouraged me to grow and do what I’m interested in. My involvement in making tailings dams safer is a case in point. I saw an opportunity and was given the freedom to seek and work on projects I believed in. Since 2021 I’ve been a group leader. In this role, I try to help others in their personal development by coaching and creating the right conditions for them to grow. Meanwhile, my own development continues too. If I have a structural engineering-related question I still occasionally call my father, but he can’t teach me anything about geotechnical engineering anymore.’