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Learning the HVACR Ropes as an Engineer-in-Training

Learning the HVACR Ropes as an Engineer-in-Training

by Ethan Parks, Associate Member

Born on August 27th, 1998 in Shreveport, Louisiana, where I was raised up, my first exposure to the HVACR industry came from working for my dad within my grandfather’s mechanical contracting company at the age of 14. In my teens, I mainly did work around the office, which included organizing parts and cleaning in and around the shops. When I turned 16, my grandfather finally OK’d me working out in the field as a HVAC/plumbing apprentice. I began as a laborer, assisting my dad and the other foreman with demolishing piping, pouring concrete pads for condensing units, applying duct sealant to the seams of ducts to prevent leakage, painting pipes, etc. Not long after being in the field, I realized I would rather be on the design side of HVAC, which ultimately led me to pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering at Louisiana Tech University (Graduating Class of 2021).

Choosing Louisiana Tech was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Not only did I learn about engineering fundamentals and complex systems, but I also learned how to make ethical engineering decisions as well as how to approach and resolve issues that one may not typically run into. Once it came time to graduate, I felt fully prepared to join the real world and had the resources to do so. I strongly recommend taking and passing the FE exam before interviewing with firms. The question came up in every interview: “have you passed the FE exam?” Louisiana Tech required all engineering students to take the FE exam before graduation, which I passed.

May of 2021, I took a big risk and accepted a job offer with a firm in Sarasota, Florida. Not knowing anybody in the area and being at my first “big boy job,” I was very nervous and out of my comfort zone. However, I believe that growth is enhanced by struggle, and I did a lot of growing professionally my first year. I asked many questions early on, took as many notes as I could, listened to the mechanical engineers anytime they spoke, paid attention to how they carried themselves around clients and attended as many lunch-and-learns as my schedule permitted, which I believe is a necessity for young engineers wanting to grow quickly. In Sarasota, I mainly did small renovations for large hospitals—and anybody that has done hospital work can attest to its difficulty. Many 1:1 air handler replacements, MRI renovations, CT/OR room renovations, as well as larger suite renovations. The level of difficulty and attention to detail that this work required was demanding, but I knew I was gaining a lot of knowledge quick.

One of my mentors mentioned to me to always listen to what someone has to say if you are being made an offer elsewhere. In early 2023, I received and accepted a job offer at an engineering firm in my hometown of Shreveport, which I ultimately accepted. It was an extremely tough decision due to how well my first employer out of school treated me, how fast I grew in the technical understanding of the work I did and what that work did for the trajectory of my career (as well as being in paradise, i.e. Sarasota). However, I knew moving back was the best decision for me so that I could be closer to family. Although it has only been a few months, I am already recognizing the benefits of learning the different ways and methods of designing an HVAC system at a different firm.

Learning the methods and approaches of a new firm will teach you a lot but learning how two firms did it provided me even more knowledge and experience that I did not anticipate. For example, when I started working in Shreveport again, there were learning curves early on with the software used to calculate heat loads.

Every firm in the southern US has the same goal when it comes to designing HVAC systems: provide an exceptional client experience and ensure that you never receive the “its hot” call in the summer. However, no two firms do everything the same way, and I encourage any engineers-in-training (EITs) who are considering making a switch to another firm to do so if you would like to grow as an engineer quickly. Any young EIT can succeed in the industry if they follow these tips:

  • Ask as many questions early on as needed (ignorance is not stupidity).
  • Take notes until your hands fall off.
  • Listen to the mechanical engineers anytime they speak.
  • Pay attention to how the engineers carry themselves around clients.
  • Pay attention to how the engineers reach out to equipment vendors/manufacturers.
  • Stay organized and don’t let a mound of work overwhelm you.
  • Look back at your past projects to see what went wrong and what worked.
  •  Attend as many lunch & learns as your schedule permits.