The life & times of an HVAC Engineer











Having won the Duke of Gloucester’s Young Achievers Scheme Engineering Award in November, I’m privileged to be receiving mentoring from senior engineer, Ben White, of Byrne Bros. We met for the first time in late January and it made for a fascinating morning. At CEL, routes to senior leadership have historically been through project management rather than through rising through the technical engineering ranks. Ben however, is a man after my own heart; he’s an engineer who wants to remain an engineer. The senior position he has risen to, and his own desire to stay a part of engineering, is a fantastic demonstration to me that it is possible to take an engineering route to the top, and to remain involved in engineering even at relatively high levels of seniority.

But having a mentor has benefits beyond providing a role model. Back on our first meeting we discussed all sorts of minor workplace challenges & he gave me some really good ideas to try out back in the office. Last but not least, the Construction Youth Trust has done an amazing job at managing to match me up with a mentor who really suits my ambitions & values. I’m very passionate about developing the people around me and in the long run getting them to engage with the next generation of engineers themselves. Ben is in the process of rolling out technical development programmes for the engineers working for him, and trying to figure out how he could roll this out to the rest of the company too. Given that this is a career goal of mine I think it’s going to make for a very interesting year hearing about his successes and lessons learnt from that project! 

Shard in Construction

Image credit: Jamie Barras

The main topic of conversation for our second meeting though was the Shard as I was lucky enough to be given a tour (Ben’s company, Byrne Group, are doing much of the work on site – hence our ‘backstage passes’ for the day). Construction and project management techniques used for high rise multi-use property are in some areas massively different from what you would find on the sorts of sites I’m familiar with, making it a very interesting and educational tour. That said, there were a lot of cross overs too, and the usual challenges of managing multiple contractors and trades within one site. Perhaps one learning for me to take back to my industry in that regard is dividing the construction site into sections (easily done on a high rise, as you can do it by floor) and then having managers/foremen supervising an area rather than a trade. It would certainly fit well with the concepts of collaborative working that we encourage on site.

The mentoring session wasn’t just about taking a trip around a construction site though; I got to have some very interesting discussions. Projects have been a little slow in the lull of winter, and I’ve had a lot of non-engineering work to do. Being the engineering geek I am I’ve struggled to find the motivation for some of these pieces of work as I’d rather be doing some HVAC maths & problem solving. Being able to talk it through with my mentor though gave me much more of the bigger picture, and has inspired me to make the most of these tasks. He’s also given me some great ideas about how to make the things I’m doing have even more of a positive impact on my company that they would have done. In fact as I write this the clock is counting down to an imminent meeting with my manager to discuss taking those ideas forwards. Talking with Ben has also made me feel much more positive and excited about a possible secondment opportunity I have…but more on that one if it comes to fruition.

For all the benefits mentoring by Ben & Byrne Group is providing for me though, it’s not all one way. I have to say I’ve felt a little pleased with myself at the end of both sessions so far, as each time my mentor has also gone away with a little idea from me & WSP CEL that may well be of use to him.  It just goes to show, there’s always something more to learn and it can come from any direction!

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{November 23, 2011}   Sisters are doin it for themselves

Doin' things for myself

I’ve achieved a lot over the last 28 years, and I’m very proud of it. I’ve worked really hard & done some good things. I’ve designed useful engineering solutions, been a STEM ambassador and won awards – I could very much agree with the lyrics of ‘Sisters are doin’ it for themselves’. In fact perhaps I could agree with them a little too well since even when notionally the things I’ve done have been for the good of others, it has always primarily been for my own development, my own satisfaction, my own pleasure.

Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that, there is no way you’re going to do the best you can in academic studies for anyone but yourself. I’m reaching something of a transition point in my career and life though. I can now only achieve so much, and get so much further, if I’m doing it for me, also my bonds with those around me have grown and strengthened, so it matters more to me how well they do.

Think about it; how much time does a good senior manager spend looking after their own development compared to the development of their staff, the growth of the company or the progress of their projects? I guess some end up in that position because that’s where you must focus in order to progress, and some end up there because the development of others/projects/the company interested them more & more and their focus on this meant that they grew into the right person to promote.

Personally I love a technical challenge, and to play a part in the development of others. Those two things can also give other individuals, the company and society, the means to grow. So that (taking on a technical challenge & developing others) is what I’m going to do whenever I can, and that’s what I’m going to aim to do in the future too.

That means changes like not just being a STEM Ambassador myself, but potentially rolling it out as a means of development & motivation for more of the company, including training others in how to make the most of it. I’ve benefitted massively from the mentoring I’ve received, and from the secondment I’ve had, so I want to make sure others get those benefits too. Currently I’m creating a ‘Project Engineer’s Handbook’, and am reading the WSP University mentor training; perhaps I should also be writing some ‘Bloggers Tips’? I want a role, eventually, where I can guide our projects to technical success and our people to personal success.

All this of course comes with the caveat that I still matter, much like it’s necessary to have a good work-life balance it’s also necessary to have a good me-world balance…and in neither context does ‘good’ mean all of one & none of the other.

It feels good to finally know my own mind, and not to feel like I’m missing something obvious any more. So, onwards & upwards to see what happens when I focus my desire for progress on the people, company and industry around me!



et cetera
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