The life & times of an HVAC Engineer

{May 22, 2012}   The skills to pay the bills

Life in the Agg household is a very geeky affair, and dinner table conversation often consists of conversations about engineering. Many times in our relationship, particularly early on when I was just getting to know the family, we’ve talked about how much we admire my father-in-law’s skills: he designs & makes prototypes for specialist engine tools. The man is incredible, and can get his head around spacial, material & mechanical problems like no-one else I’ve ever met. I admired my Grandfather for similar skills (though admittedly Geoff’s are even more impressive).

But, these magnificent men & their flying building machines, and their wonderful wives, set their own businesses up to be their own bosses and they work (directly at least) with a very small number of people. Their achievements and skills are awe inspiring; but how would they cope in our workplaces?

So back to the dinner table, and earlier this week, over pasta bake, we were talking about what skills & knowledge you need to be a good engineer in current times, particularly in a consultancy. The conclusion that we came to is that engineering is not a pure and academic subject, it’s about the appliance of science and in order to apply science to a contextualised problem you have to really understand the problem. This means you have to have good communication and analytical skills in order to fully extract the client’s requirements. It’s a rare day that a client brief actually fully lays out all the constraints, issues and needs!

The client often is made up of several individuals, who all have different needs, but differing levels of authority and information. Understanding all of the different requirements and balancing them in terms of space, time and priority can mean you often have a be a real diplomat too. Then there’s the budget aspect too, if we didn’t have client’s with money to invest then we would be doing any engineering and there would be progress for the ‘science’ going on inside these buildings. Being a good engineer means designing cost effective buildings & products; in terms of hours to design, capital costs to build and running costs throughout the life of the building.

Also, no project is completed by one engineer alone. To design an operational building many different engineering disciplines must work together so teamworking skills really are critical, as is the confidence to stand by your ideas and fight your corner when you need to! Plus, the speed at which legislation and technology changes mean that it’s essential to be a life long learner – willing to take on new ideas and be interested in areas that may not be directly connected to your core working area.

I think though, that it’s all these extra skills, this broad range of activities that make engineering such a fascinating field to work in. It’s what brings so many different personalities to work with that so often put a smile on my face, and it’s the reason that after a long day at work Mr. Agg & I are still chatting about engineering at dinner.


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