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Meet Mike Fowler: U.S. public works ambassador to the Philippines.

He didn't begin his career with lofty goals. When he graduated from the University of Vermont in 1995 with a civil engineering degree, all he wanted was a decent job.

He joined the Vermont Agency of Transportation as a roadway designer. Soon, he realized that no one was the agency's go-to person for Trnsport, construction management software developed for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) by Info Tech Inc. of Gainesville, Fla. Becoming the resident Trnsport expert wasn't in his job description, but it didn't seem to be in anyone else's, either.

So he took it on.

As he worked his way up through the agency, learning new skills as a road and bridge designer, construction inspector, and pavement management engineer, he networked. He joined the Transportation Estimators Association (TEA) and helped found AASHTO's Technical Committee on Cost Estimating. His agency hosted the annual TEA and Trnsport users' conferences.

People got to know him. Word got around.

When senior vice president Tom Rothrock needed a user to help Info Tech's first international client—the Philippine Department of Public Works and Highways—implement Trnsport, Fowler was one of the first people who came to mind. Rothrock needed someone who not only knew the software, but could share best practices from the 40 state transportation departments that use it. (There's a scaled-down version, APPIA, for local departments: www.infotechfl.com.)

Last spring, Fowler took a leave of absence and spent two months in Manila. He'd never been abroad or tackled such an enormous assignment. His mission: to write a manual explaining how Info Tech software designers should modify their cost-estimating program for an agency that had been using paper and pencil and Excel spreadsheets.

It wasn't easy. Even though English is an official language of the Philippines, the Filipino engineers weren't accustomed to using it at work. He experienced the agony and the ecstasy of Filipino cuisine (such as “balut,” 17- to 20-day-old duck fetus). He perfected a humane disposal procedure for the giant cockroaches that sometimes greeted him when he returned to his hotel room. He pulled all-nighters.

And he'd do it again in a second.

“I learned a huge life lesson about the value of getting to know other cultures,” he says. “On the technical side, it was all about sharing with each other, and that was very fulfilling as well.”

Last month, the Philippine Department of Public Works and Highway began using Trnsport on its own.

Fowler would never have been such a great asset—to his agency, its vendor, or his colleagues in a developing nation—if he had said, way back when, “that's not my job.” In testing his limits, Fowler became the ideal representative of public service.

Stephanie Johnston
Editor in Chief