The life & times of an HVAC Engineer

For the last 6 or so months I’ve been the project engineer for various projects, but one has run throughout the majority of my secondment. That project is going to be issued to the client today, and that is going to be a massive relief. Over the months that the project has been running (including the best part of 8 months before I came on board) the it has been much delayed and changed. Without wishing to get into the dangerous topics of fault, error and blame, no matter what the real reasons for delays and changes they have resulted in me sometimes feeling like I’ve been managing it really badly. Thankfully it is now coming together, the client seems happy, but I still have some of the sensation of “could do better”. Now admittedly it has been the first time I’ve done something like this, so there were always going to lessons to learn, but I still didn’t feel great about how things have gone. But comments made in the last couple of days have really made me feel less to blame.

So who made those comments & what were they? Were they from my managers? Were they ‘you’re doing a grand job’?

Oddly enough, no…

The comments my ego and conscience are treasuring most were made by the draftsmen on the project. It turns out that it’s the little throw away comments from someone else who has been affected that matter the most. Specifically, on occasions when they could have chosen to blame me for delaying the project by not getting them the right information first time round, these comments were made:

“I’ve read through that e-mail you forwarded…it’s like squeezing blood from a stone!”
“we asked the right questions at the right time”

We. We. We. It’s incredible how much that one little word makes you realise that you really are part of a team, and that you’re wanted on that team.

I’ve learnt a lot on this project, much of it about how projects run from a project management point of view, or about the commercial aspects of projects. But I’ve also learnt a lot about myself, teams, and tackling issues. Mainly, I’ve learnt that being part of a team, rather than a collection of individuals, provides a safety net that no amount of procedures or motivation from management could ever possibly replace.
I’ve also learnt that the grease to make the well-oiled machine of an engineering team run smoothly is chocolate biscuits.


There are many mis-conceptions when it comes to engineers. People think we’re perpetually covered in grease & armpit deep in machinery. Or that we’re clad in white coats, carrying clip boards and peering over halfmoon glasses with our silvery hair. Last but not least, many people seem to think that engineers are lone geeks sitting in dark back rooms, speaking to no-one for days on end.

Now ok, there are a fair few grey hairs to be spotted in most engineering offices, and my mother claims she knows I’m an engineer because I’m always mucky…so perhaps I shouldn’t argue too much with the first two descriptions. The last, however, is another matter. Engineers, whilst they don’t tend to be renowned for having the greatest social skills or ’emotional intelligence’, are not the sad lonely folk we’re often painted to be. Engineers are cogs in a machine – they need all the other cogs to be able to produce anything of any use.

We are always working alongside other engineers; as a building services engineer I need the electrical engineer to provide a power supply for my air handling units, I need the control & instrumentation engineer to monitor and control the air conditions passing through it. I need the civil engineer to build a strong enough floor for me to put all my equipment on and the process engineer to tell me if there is anything hazardous or explosive in the air I’m extracting. I need the mechanical engineer to route, and support, pipes for heating & cooling and of course I need an architect to design the building layout. And that’s before you get to all the people I work with on the client’s team or along the supply chain.

When you take all of this, and the support of more experienced engineers from your own department, into account, being an engineer is certainly not a lonely job. Instead I often end up feeling like part of the family. Of course families can be very caring & sharing, and they can also be very argumentative, but whatever their temprement on a given day, I’m always glad to be a part of them.

The fact that engineering teams have to work so closely together means that team bonding is an important point to consider as a project or business stream manager. So every now & then the ‘family’ all come together and head out for a meal….and a few drinks, and following the drinks…a few anecdotes. Which means that alongside all our drawings, calculations & specifications there’s a lot of banter, and a lot of grinning at the rememberence of stories that might not have been told without the help of a pint. When those stories include revelations about someone’s saturday night cross-dressing habit, comparisons between team members & the cast of baywatch, and the discovery of someones marvellous singing voice through the medium of “I’m a lumberjack & I’m ok…”, it’s little wonder that the engineering office is so filled with laughter now & then.

et cetera
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