Engineer / Project Manager – Meet Becky Chen

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Becky Chen wears an orange safety vest, smiling and crossing her arms as she stands in front of a Muni bus.Becky Chen stands near the hybrid buses she helped launched for the SFMTA.  

Engineer / Project Manager -- Meet Becky Chen 

Becky Chen is an associate engineer and project manager for our Transit Delivery program. Learn why she pivoted from advising nuclear power plants to managing complex projects for our buses. Find out the key skills she now applies at the SFMTA, and what a typical day looks like. See what she likes most about her job. 

Coursework and jobs before current role:  

Becky’s story:  

After graduating from UC Davis with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, Chen found an exciting consulting job at a company that specialized in piping systems for nuclear power plants. 

“For the majority of my time there, I did lots of analysis,” Chen explained. “It was very technical work and involved lots of calculations. I worked with numbers all the time. I also became more and more analytical and built a strong engineering foundation.” 

However, Chen says she often had to work alone. She largely sat at her desk doing calculations and writing reports. Still, she says she found the challenge invigorating, and says the visits to nuclear plants were always interesting. “My friends would ask me afterward: ‘can you glow in the dark now?!’”  

In the end, Chen longed for the chance to work with people more often. That wish inspired her to apply for an engineering role with the SFMTA. Now, she is part of the team that helps replace, maintain and enhance our buses.  

Previous coursework: Mechanical Engineering degree – UC Davis 

Previous job: 

  • Consultant for nuclear power plants.  

  • Focused on piping systems. Conducted analysis, provided training and advice, produced engineering reports.  

Key skills required for current role: 

In launching major projects for Muni, Chen now gets to work with many groups of people every day. 

She says these skills are key for her role:  

  • Collaborate to meet the needs of every team 

“It’s critical that you can collaborate with many types of people and understand what they all need to be successful. For example, as a team that purchases new buses, we work a lot with inspectors at our facilities. When they inspect new buses, we have to know what their requirements and expectations are. Then, we work together and find common ground on our next step with a project.” 

  • Being open to other perspectives / solving problems as a team 

“We learn a lot from others at the agency. We might think something is okay, but then other staff weigh in. They might identify a bigger problem for the long-term that we need to address. Even if we have different angles, we have to understand each other. That’s really why we see ourselves as part of the same team – maintenance and engineering – not two different ones.”  

  • Prioritizing tasks  

“So many things are happening all at once in my job. That’s why you need to be able to prioritize what to handle first. Some things can seem urgent, but they’re not actually critical. Sometimes things can seem like it’s okay to delay them, but they’re actually urgent. This is what you have to figure out!” 

In this area, Chen took the opportunity to build even more skills – after she had already started her role at the SFMTA. She found a great opportunity through City University. It’s a program through the City and County of San Francisco that offers tuition reimbursement for certain professional development opportunities. 

Chen secured funding through City University and earned a Project Management Certification through the UC Berkeley Extension Program. 


“There are many components of a vehicle, and it’s important to know the bus well and how it works. When we purchase a new bus, we have to specify technical requirements in the contract. So, that requires doing testing on prototypes, doing inspections with our inspector, and talking to maintenance.” 

Becky smiles from inside a bus as she holds onto a pole. We see blue chairs and yellow poles near her.Chen and her team work on projects that involve repairing, maintaining and enhancing Muni vehicles.  

What a typical workday looks like: 

  • Testing and launching new vehicle fleets  

“I'm the lead engineer to implement our Green Zone Program. We’re turning hybrid buses into part-time electric vehicles. This way, the engine can shut off at certain sections of the route. That helps the bus run partly on battery and partly on motor. I’ve worked on the testing and implementation for this at our Kirkland yard.” 

Chen also helped our agency replace the whole diesel bus fleet with a new Flyer Hybrid bus type. She is also working on a paratransit procurement project. That effort will replace the entire paratransit fleet to improve accessibility. 

  • Managing and reporting on complex projects  

“A big part of the job is project management. I am constantly in communication with vendors, contractors, project teams, inspectors and consultants. Part of the project management work involves reporting and tracking project status. I also need to follow up sometimes with vendors to resolve project issues. Finally, I often read reports from contractors and consultants, and facilitate meetings with them.  

  • Producing and managing contracts 

“As a project manager, I help draft the contract and technical specification templates for various initiatives. I work with the Contract and Procurement team as well as the City Attorney’s office to finalize contracts.” 

What she likes most about the job: 

  • Helping to make Muni safe, reliable and comfortable for riders (including her family!) 

“My team and I are always working to a provide safe, reliable, comfortable ride for Muni customers. I’ve taken Muni for many years, and so has family. My mom doesn’t even drive – she only takes Muni. The same goes with many of my relatives. So, working directly to keep the system safe is very rewarding to me. When I see a bus, and I can say, ‘I worked on that,’ it’s also very exciting!”  

  • Working with a supportive team 

“I really enjoy working with my team. They’re super helpful, especially given how busy everyone is. We step up whenever someone needs support. To think I started with a blank piece of paper, that I knew nothing about buses, and got this far? My supervisor and colleagues were so patient and taught me a lot of things. Plus, I’ve been able to continue learning as I go. I just really appreciate the whole experience."