In our interview with Mr. Entry Level Energy Engineer, he emphasizes the importance of trying out lots of internships, never burning bridges and being pro-active in seeking out assignments you want to work on. He sees opportunities for entrepreneurship not just in creating his own business but also in growing a business within the organization he works in.
ZD: Describe your current job; a normal day.
A: I review energy efficiency projects for large-scale (non-residential) buildings and facilities, analyzing and building energy models using Excel, eQuest, EnergyPro, and other software to determine savings from energy projects such as HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) upgrades, interior and exterior lighting upgrades, and innovative cooling solutions to mission critical facilities (data centers). I spend 10-20% of my time in the field at job sites, inspecting boilers, chillers, rooftops, basements, and mechanical rooms. At these sites, I am viewing equipment and taking measurements including temperature, power, air flow velocity, and lighting. The remainder of my time is spent in the office, building computer models and reviewing floor plans, equipment specification sheets, and mechanical schedules of existing and newly constructed buildings.
ZD: What was your major in college?
A: College: B.A. in Physics, Brown University
Graduate School: M.S. in Civil Engineering, UC Berkeley
ZD: When you were in college, what did you think you would be doing when you finished? What was your actual career path? How did you find yourself on this path?
A: I decided to major in Physics based on the advice I had received from teachers in high school. Although I enjoyed science, including engineering, I didn’t know that I wanted to work in the mechanical engineering field after college, let alone engineering. I studied a subject whose knowledge I could apply to multiple fields, even if my interests changed. I never thought I would be doing work as a mechanical engineer in the energy consulting field, even while I was in graduate school, but I knew that I was interested in the energy sector. So that I could learn more about the field, I interned at a couple of organizations while in graduate school, including the EPA, and the California Public Utilities Commission, and took some classes in renewable energy and mechanical engineering; when I finally started applying for jobs, I kept my options open to anything in the energy sector that seemed interesting where I could gain experience in the field.
ZD: Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? How do you plan to get there?
A: I am working on becoming a project manager, overseeing multiple projects from both the engineering and budgeting aspects, and working to streamline consulting processes within my company. I envision growing the business within my company to bring on new clients and become a leading sales person with the technical skills to sell and design large-scale engineering projects.
I’m also thinking about what it takes to start my own engineering company, and how to turn opportunities in the energy field into a business. Whether I venture out on my own, or help to grow my company’s business, I’ve gained a lot of experience in the past couple of years and will continue to pursue exciting challenges.
ZD: What did you think was the most important thing you learned while in college? Did that help you in your career? What do you wish you had studied or studied more of in college?
A: My fundamental skills in science, including math, physics, and chemistry, have helped me perform some of the larger, more complex analyses that I have undertaken while working. In addition, writing and communication courses in college have helped me when interacting with customers, especially when composing emails, talking on the phone with customers, and meeting them face to face. Although I took a few writing courses in college, I would have liked to gain knowledge in ‘business writing’, focusing on small things like how to write an email to a customer, or how to write reports.
ZD: Looking at where you were back in college and where you are now, what is the biggest surprise you encountered in the work world and in your career path?
A: I never imagined doing what I am doing now, and didn’t realize how much learning I would be doing on the job. I think 90% of what I do at my job I’ve learned on the job. Although it seemed daunting at first, I tried asking questions every step of the way and getting help from both colleagues and mentors so that I could build a strong background in my new field. I was eager to take on new assignments that I wasn’t familiar with, which allowed me to see what different areas of expertise there were, and figure out which ones I wanted to pursue further.
In addition, I’ve realized that I need to be more proactive when I want something. Whether it be a promotion, or to ask my boss if I can work on different projects more to my liking, these things won’t come to me unless I ask for them and am proactive about getting what I want. I try to be friendly and non-confrontational, but am ready to discuss issues or problems when they arise. Come up with a plan beforehand and practice conversations or scenarios that you feel uncomfortable with.
ZD: What do you feel is an important quality to have to do well in your field?
A: Solid math and reasoning skills are vital to being successful. The projects I deal with on a daily basis are all unique, and always require critical thinking to understand the issues and find solutions.
In addition, good ‘people skills’ – being able to have a conversation with someone you just met, being able to speak with someone professionally and to gain their trust, and finally, being able to write well and form ideas and write them clearly and succinctly – are key.
ZD: Do you have one piece of advice for college students interested in pursuing a career in your field? What worked? What you would have done differently?
A: I suggest interning in as many different companies or organizations as possible to see what type of working environment suits you and whether the tasks you will do all day are interesting and are something you want to do for a while. Jumping from school to a full-time job is a big change and it is important to get as much information and advice upfront before you start something that you will be doing in the next chapter of your life.
ZD: What is the best piece of advice someone has given you in your workplace?
A: Never burn any bridges. If you need to part ways with a company, or you don’t like working with an individual, always act professionally and never do something that might hurt your career going forward. Always try to make contacts with new people in different industries, even if you don’t think what they are doing now is especially important to help you; you never know where they will be in the future.
ZD: What do you do in your spare time?
A: I’ve enjoyed exploring the California outdoors, and spend a lot of time biking, hiking, and backpacking during the summer and skiing and snowboarding during the winter. I’ve joined a couple non-profits in the Bay Area that deal with social, economic, and political issues, as well as city transportation planning.