Energy/Sustainability Chief Engineer
“Get out from behind your desk and go into the field! Meet people. Meet with our customers and clients. Meet your colleagues—other engineers who are doing difficult and challenging work.”
I’m the Chief Engineer at Mason & Hanger. My team is responsible for commissioning newly built and newly renovated buildings.
We ensure that everything is working properly; and that all of the systems – electrical, fire, security; heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC); emergency power – are working properly. We also conduct energy audits to identify how customers and clients can make better and more efficient use of energy and thereby save money. And, we conduct facility lifecycle performance evaluations, so that they can plan and budget for preventative maintenance and thereby get optimal use of the systems upon which their facilities rely or depend.
Most of our customers and clients are federal government agencies, such as the Department of State. I’ve been to U.S. embassies worldwide, and it’s always been interesting and challenging. I enjoy it.
I’ve always enjoyed fixing things – whether it was my old eight-cylinder Pontiac, the leaky kitchen faucet, or the family’s shorted-out air conditioning unit, that’s what I do. It’s what I do even today, in my spare time, when I’m not working. I fix things – around the house, on my car, in the family trailer. So, engineering was kind of a natural, and almost inevitable, career choice.
I’m old enough to recall when we had gas lines and oil shortages. I don’t ever want to see us go back to those days. Doing what we can from an energy and sustainability perspective – through better building and engineering design—can go a long way toward ensuring that we make better and more efficient use of our energy resources, so that we never again have to endure energy shortages and rationing. And of course, it also will help us save the planet.
Oh, goodness, so much has changed! At the risk of dating myself, let’s just say that when I became an engineer, personal computers were in their infancy. Heck, when I was an engineering student, we still used those old slide rules like you see in the movie Apollo 13!
Now, of course, we all take personal desktop computers, and pocket computers (i.e., the smart phone or iPhone) for granted. We can do so much more – better, faster, quicker, as they say. It really is amazing when you think about it.
As engineers, we are trained to solve problems and to complete projects – on time and on budget. That’s how we’re trained to think and act. However, I have very little control over a project’s schedule, and we do not control the budgets or timelines of our customers. That’s challenging. What it means in practice is that we might have six pressing projects one month, but one or two pressing projects the next month. Allocating talent and manpower to meet fluctuating customer needs and expectations can be a real challenge.
Definitely working with young engineers and getting out in the field to work with our customers. We have some extraordinarily talented young people on our team – newbies fresh out of school. They’re superbly trained and credentialed engineers, and I’m glad that we have them on our team; but everything that they’ve ever done is from behind a desk and in front of a computer.
I encourage them to get out in the field, work closely with our customers, and see firsthand the issues and challenges that they are confronting. It’s professionally rewarding; it builds bonds between us and our customers; and it cements workplace relationships. Goodness all around.
I’ve had a lot of great experiences while working here at Mason & Hanger; but one of the most memorable has to be the work that we did on the eternal flame at the Arlington National Cemetery gravesite of President John F. Kennedy.
This project had obvious national and historical significance, and it was challenging to say the least. This was on the fiftieth anniversary (2013) of JFK’s death (1963).
The eternal flame relied upon a series of old, obsolete and dangerous electrical, gas, and grounds systems that had to be replaced. But at the same time, we had to respect and maintain the historical integrity of the gravesite.
There was an entire team of people from our firm, the Army Corps of Engineers, the groundskeepers at Arlington National Cemetery, and other federal agencies working on this project. We developed some great working relationships and really bonded as a team. It was challenging, as I say, but we got it done.
When we finished the job, all of us felt a tremendous sense of achievement—and not just from an engineering and systems performance perspective, but also from a historical sense that we had done something that really mattered to our country.
As I said earlier, get out from behind your desk and go into the field! Meet people. Meet with our customers and clients. Meet your colleagues—other engineers who are doing difficult and challenging work. You’ll learn from these interactions. You’ll find them professionally and personally rewarding, and it will motivate you and keep you engaged.