From Structural Engineering to software, this Hokie’s career success compels his giving

The very building in which Bruce Bates’ structural engineering software company was located in was designed — entirely by chance — by the same software the company created.

That’s the kind of prevalence of RISA Technologies, which was founded, owned, and operated by Bates, an alumnus of Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering.

“We’ve been in this building since 2000, we’re one of the original tenants. So when we relocated from our prior location to this building, of course we sent out notification to all of our clients that we relocated, and one of our clients called me up and said, ‘hey, I designed that building and I used your software to do it,’” Bates said. “So, if there are any issues, I guess I have myself to blame.”

For a civil engineering Hokie who originally envisioned himself as a structural engineer, his diverging path into software development paid off — quite literally. In November 2017, European software provider Nemetschek acquired RISA Technologies, citing the Foothill Ranch, California-based company’s prominent use by top design firms in the U.S.

Bates demonstrates the caliber of a Virginia Tech alumnus, with both a 1979 bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a 1981 master of science degree in structural engineering from the Charles Edward Via, Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

But his good example doesn’t end there: Bates reconnected with the university all the way from California by giving back philanthropically and of his time.

Bates said by virtue of being so far away, he wasn’t always so connected to the university. It was through the encouragement of a fellow Hokie, Tim Groover, that he reconnected with the university and was invited to join the civil engineering department’s advisory board.

“That really helped me reconnect with the university, and so I would go back at least twice a year, sometimes three times a year for those meetings and would be on campus,” Bates said.

Coming back to campus is an opportunity for Bates to reflect on his time at Virginia Tech. Bates fondly remembers his time in civil engineering honor society Chi Epsilon, his frequent visits to War Memorial Gym, and Siegfried Holzer, a professor who served on his master’s committee.

Holzer taught Bates in the first matrix methods class he took, which was when Bates said “the lightbulb clicked on, as far as computerized structural engineering.”

“That was the class that made it interesting to me,” Bates said. “So I’ve always thought of him as my mentor all the way through.”

Bates says his master’s degree played an integral role in his transition from structural engineering to software development, which is where his career took off.

“Originally I imagined myself as a structural engineer, designing buildings with the hard hats, with the blueprints, all that kind of stuff,” Bates said.

But a job working for a large company doing day-to-day structural engineering pushed him into a different direction. He applied for a job at the same company’s analysis group working on software.

Bates said it was his master’s degree from Virginia Tech that helped him land the job. His appreciation for the opportunities afforded to him thanks in part to his education ultimately compels Bates to give back to the university.

“When you look back and reflect, you realize just how important the education is,” Bates said. “I give back just to repay some of the debt I feel to Tech for preparing me for the career that I’ve had.”

Written by Erica Corder