Ask electrician Willa Cantillon if she's feeling strong today.

"I'll say, 'Yeah, I feel strong every day,' " Cantillon said. "I was born strong. I have good genes."

That's a good thing because the 53-year-old San Francisco native prefers big jobs.

She helped install the huge steel trays that carry power cables and conduit beneath the travel decks of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge.

"I liked it," the San Francisco native said. "When I was young and we would be driving home, we were always so happy to see the Bay Bridge because it meant we were about to see the fog and get out of the heat."

The youngest of five children born to Irish immigrants, Cantillon wanted to be a firefighter. But she was drawn to construction after she took a job as a bank's first maintenance worker. Cantillon signed on as an electrician's apprentice and never looked back.

She has a good-paying job, benefits and a pension. And she has had a hand in building the Bay Area. In addition to the bridge, she helped restore San Francisco City Hall and is working on the city's new $90 million cruise ship terminal.

Cantillon credits her parents.

"When I told my mom I signed up for the electrician's program ... she didn't say, 'What are you doing trying to get a man's job?' " she said. "My dad was happy. He needed his house rewired!"

-- Lisa Vorderbrueggen

WILLA CANTILLON
Job: Electrician for 23 years, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 6 in San Francisco
Age: 53
Residence: San Francisco
Bay Bridge work: She installed steel trays for power cables and conduit beneath the self-anchored suspension span decks in spring 2010.
Job advice: "Do it. Don't let old stereotypes stop you. There are a few dinosaurs around but things have really improved for women and the unions are very supportive. It's a brotherhood but it's a sisterhood, too."