The life & times of an HVAC Engineer

{October 3, 2011}   To be or not to be, that is the question

My vision for the future of our business, & engineering generally, is to have a more engaged workforce who are excited by what they do and can share this excitement with school children to reinvigorate our communities with a thrill for what can be achieved through engineering. And I want to be a part of making that happen, that’s something I’m very passionate about.

As a separate but related fact, I am in love with being an engineer, or more specifically with telling people I’m an engineer and with the feeling I get from their reaction to that. All over the world, but particularly in countries where women are not so free to pursue a career, the level of respect and sometimes even awe, you get from saying “I’m an engineer” can be as addictive as a drug.

I am now faced with a very difficult decision. I’m coming to the end of my secondment in project engineering & I need to choose a career path. Do I go back to building services engineering, to the technical details & calculations that I enjoy, and the respect I’m addicted to, or do I stay in project engineering, with the people factors and organisation I enjoy and the potential to grow into a role where I will have the influence to shape my vision? The likelihood of me obtaining the authority and sway within the business to grow my vision on a grand scale seems much greater if I go the project engineeringproject manager – business stream manager – director route. But if I depart from being an engineer do I loose authenticity and influence in the classroom when trying to get young people being interested in being an engineer?

Another factor that clouds my decision even further is the rather negative view many people seem to hold of project managers. Whilst discussing project managers with colleagues, friends, family or even when reading other blogs you get so many comments like:

“project managers are failed engineers” “project managers don’t do anything” “project managers are useless/don’t contribute”

Now, whilst these comments are true of a few individuals, on the whole they’re not true and perhaps that’s something I’ll go into in more depth on another blog post. For now, let’s just assume that it’s a false view, but none-the-less is the opinion of project managers amongst the many of the people I know & care about as well as many of the strangers I meet. The trouble with this view existing is that I don’t know if I can bear to place that stigma upon myself…not when I’m so addicted to the drug of engineering respect, and not when I’m unsure of whether it’s right for me anyway.

So, despite time still ticking away at my secondment, I remain undecided…do I pursue my love or my vision? To be a building services engineer or to be a project engineer. That is the question.


PM Hut says:

Hi Chloe,

Maybe I’m biased (I’m a project manager myself), but I have to say that what people are saying about project managers is false. Project managers are (mostly) hard workers and without them the project won’t get done. Yes, they don’t do actual work on the project, but without them nobody knows what to do. In any case, project managers are always unsung heroes

By the way, if you’re seeking a career in project management then rest assured as PM has a great career path…

geekchloe says:

Thanks for reading, firstly let me say that I completely agree with you that Project Managers perform lots of very useful functions and are vital to project success. My doubt about me being a PM hinges on two things;
– whether I would find it as enjoyable as I find engineering (I think I prefer technical problems to commercial ones but I love the organisation & team building)
– whether I’m too addicted to the ‘label’ of engineering to give it up when PMs are, as you say yourself ‘unsung’ and thus in some ways a less rewarding role (from a social back patting respect)

What are your experiences of how people/society views the role of Project Managers?

PM Hut says:

Hi again,

Well the thing is if the project manager is managing a small team then he is not “highly” appreciated by his team. But once the PM starts getting some experience, then his projects will become bigger and his team will grow – eventually the PM will become a Program Manager and will start managing programs.

There are lots of PM jobs at the moment and it’s really fun once you’re past your first few projects…

andybegoode says:


The problem with going into project management, is that it tends to happen by accident where by one day you are standing in the kitchen having a coffee wondering how you are going to balance a pressure cascade and the next you are running the job. As a professional HVAC engineer you would not ask someone to fulfill that role until they had completed the appropriate courses and gained some degree of experience – why is this not case when working as a PE / PM?

If you want recognition from your peers for your ablities as a PM / PE you should be working towards your professional qualifications aswell as getting your professional experience – this should be supported by your organisation.

Remember – “Fame costs, and right here’s where you start paying”


geekchloe says:

Hi Andy,

I think there’s a lot of truth in that. Many managers (be they project managers or people managers) end up in the role because they were good at doing the job they are now managing. Yet many of them receive little or no training for the role they are now expected to carry out. So why are we so often surprised when they don’t do it brilliantly?
If I do end up going down the project management route I shall definitely make sure I get some professional qualifications in it, thanks for the tip!


andybegoode says:

Hi Chloe,

Don’t get to bogged down on being either a PE or a HVAC engineer. Being a PE just adds another string to your bow and just means you can dip in and dip out of both roles depending on your organisations resourcing needs. I’ve been working as a process engineer, PE and PM – currently a process engineer – over the the whole of my career and what it has given me is a wider perspective on the project life cycle.

It also makes you more saleable if you’re looking for a change of scene compared to other prospective candidates.


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