PALADIN PERSPECTIVES: Commissioning Your Engineering Career

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By Candice Rogers, Paladin, Inc.

There is a new wave of talent entering the engineering field and our company is fortunate to be adding their energy and insights to our efforts to make buildings work as designed and desired. One of those is Jacob Duncan, a proud Kentucky Wildcat (class of 2015) who has become a strong contributor to our commissioning (Cx) efforts. If his enthusiasm is any indicator, the future of our profession is bright.

Q: What drew you to engineering in the first place?
A: In high school, I didn’t know much about studying engineering, but math and science had always come fairly easily to me. When I took physics my senior year, the light came on because it was applied math with a problem solving element. I liked engineering’s promise to help me dissect an idea, research a topic, figure out an answer then apply it.

Q: Did you take any commissioning classes in college?
A: I didn’t really hear much about Cx in college—my friends in Architecture heard a little more about it—but, unless you stumble across it at an internship, you’re not likely to hear a lot about it. College didn’t leave me unprepared, though. For example, the theory on thermodynamics, fluid dynamics, and heat transfer that I picked up in my college career keeps popping up in our projects and the technical writing and testing techniques I learned get used almost every day.

Q: What caused you to explore commissioning as a discipline?
A: Bottom line, I love the variety of challenges and experiences that come from spending time in the field. After a design internship in a cubicle farm that almost killed my soul, I decided I needed diversity in my days. I love how Cx allows me to see the real application of what we’re working on, how it’s installed, and how the equipment really works. Throw in the chance to learn the ropes from an engineering legend like Dick Burks and you have a pretty great setup.

Q: What is your typical workday like?
A: There really is no such thing as a typical workday in our profession. One day I’ll be in the field performing functional tests, the next I’ll be in a meeting resolving project issues and the day after that I’ll be at my laptop building closeout documents so owners know how to run their buildings. I’ve also done a little design work, a little controls work and even more testing. We’ll be testing 400 air terminal boxes in our next project, so I’ll be plenty busy.

Q: What’s the most important lesson about Cx you’ve learned so far?
A: The number one lesson on commissioning is GET STARTED EARLY. If you don’t start the testing and review process until a building is done, you are buying the owner a whole raft of problems. That’s why we’re a regular, maybe even annoying, presence on our job sites from day one, because we believe in checking, fixing and re-checking things. Done right, the Cx discipline helps create a culture of mutual accountability and respect that makes fixes in real time and helps every single company on a project strengthen their professional reputation.

Q: What do you enjoy the most about Cx?
A: I enjoy the one-on-one time we get with owners, architects, engineers and contractors, and the fact our discipline and our data give us the freedom, the obligation to speak the truth. Plus, I really like the experience of seeing a building owner genuinely pleased when his or her building works as designed and desired. It’s very gratifying.

Q: How has the commissioning discipline affected you personally?
A: Earlier, I mentioned that Cx isn’t necessarily a coherent course of study at most colleges, for most undergraduates, so we are on the hook to essentially commission our own career. Each student needs to test their assumptions, build a course plan that fleshes out his or her grasp of the fundamentals like thermodynamics then seek out work experience that lets you get your hands dirty. You have to be the one who pulls your own academic and professional career together and the commissioning mindset is the best way to keep yourself on track to success.

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