Name/Title: Lyn Gomes
Title: Senior Commissioning/MEP Coordinator, DPR Construction
Educational Experience: Bachelor's Degree in Mechanical Engineering, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
Professional Credentials/Accreditations: Licensed Professional Engineer (P.E.), Mechanical; Lighting Certified (LC); Certified Commissioning Provider (CCP); Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Accredited Professional (AP); Certified Lighting Controls Acceptance Test Technician (CLCATT)
Organizational Affiliations/Achievements/Awards: ASHRAE member; BCxA member, board member, and co-chair of its annual conference; vice chair for LP-14, the upcoming IES Standard for “Sequences of Operation for Lighting Control Systems,” the lighting controls equivalent of ASHRAE Guideline 36P; Techbridge Role Model of the Year, 2009; founding Techbridge board member and former advisory council member; and Girls Inc. Women for Women Award, 2010
What caused you to/when did you fall in love with engineering?
I've always loved taking things apart and putting them back together again. Thankfully, my stepfather was supportive and helped me channel that desire into working on my car. When the transmission failed, we rebuilt it together. Once it was back together, I turned the input shaft and was completely mesmerized by all those gears meshing together and the shafts turning at different speeds. Angels sang and a heavenly light made the oil on the gears sparkle.
Thinking back, the light could have been the bare bulb over the workbench, and the angels could have been the neighbor’s lawnmower, but, to me, it was a transcendent experience.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of working in the skilled trades?
The opportunity to be challenged every day while being able to support my family is incredibly rewarding.
Describe the proudest moment in your career.
Today, receiving this award is among the proudest moments of my career! Realizing that all the folks who have supported me and that the years of hard work and persistence are bearing fruit.
What challenges do women face in this profession? Can you give a personal example? Why aren’t there more women in engineering? How can we increase the number of women in engineering?
Being able to persist, even though you are routinely “the only” woman on the job site/project/company is quite challenging. For example, when you’re “the only,” you eventually look around and ask yourself, “What am I doing here?”
In my senior controls class in college, I remember looking across a row of desks to see another woman (the only other woman in the class). I asked myself, “What is she doing here?!” Then, I thought, “Wait, what am I doing here?” because I had internalized the notion that being male was a qualifier for being an engineer. Then, I was horrified at myself.
Looking back, I know I shouldn’t have been so hard on myself — that internalization occurs so gradually that it's hard to notice — we call it unconscious bias today. I have learned from that and worked hard to recognize those thoughts, have empathy on myself, and continue to do better.
Only by recognizing the ways that I am uniquely suited to being an engineer have I come to fully accept that I do belong, even though I don’t fit the stereotype.
Why aren’t there more women? You should ask my dad — he didn’t think working on cars was suitable for girls. (My brother got that opportunity even though he hated it.) I am thankful my stepfather did.
Also, being “the only,” combined with management and other engineer’s unconscious bias, doesn’t make it any easier.
How can we increase the number of women in engineering? I believe this requires efforts on two fronts. First, we must increase the number of women coming in by recruiting women from different backgrounds and fixing the leaky pipeline, and, second, we must retain the women who make it through.
All educational opportunities are not equal. (Did you know not all high schools teach calculus or have AP courses?) Only once we recognize that the playing field is not level can we strive for equity by bolstering educational programs and adding supportive services to help those students persist. This is why I’m an enthusiastic supporter for Techbridge, an afterschool STEM program for underserved girls.
Retain the women who make it through. I hope colleagues and managers can both recognize their own unconscious biases and work within themselves and their companies to counter them. Having unconscious biases is not necessarily bad unless you do nothing to prevent acting on them.
What does your day-to-day job entail?
My job as an MEP coordinator is to startup (mostly) green buildings. I work with our trade partners (DPR calls our subcontractors "trade partners" to emphasize our team approach to construction) to install, startup, program, integrate, and test building systems, so they perform as well as the design allows. I rely on the expertise of our trade partners, design engineers, and some of my own to succeed in our mission. It is absolutely a collaborative effort that I could not be successful at if I did it on my own.
I’m persistently solving problems by coming up with solutions to make things work — collaborative solutions are usually the best. Ego-driven solutions always deserve more scrutiny.
Implement the plan. Hold the team accountable for their part(s). If it didn’t work, go to the beginning and keep doing it until it works. Pat McDowell, a fantastic MEP coordinator at DPR, once told me that if the first solution wont/didn’t/can’t work, “there is always another way.”
What drives/motivates you every day?
Kaizen — continual improvement of myself in my technical knowledge and abilities as well as in how I treat myself and others.
I’m driven to do my best given the circumstances. I used to berate myself for not getting everything on my list done before I realized there is a lot I can’t control. Today, I might not get everything on my list done, but if I’ve gotten the most important tasks done and helped someone along the way, that is a good day for me.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you personally and professionally?
Personally, it has helped me to be more empathetic of others. Construction was one of the first professions to go back to work after lockdown. Forget knives — you needed a chainsaw to cut the anxiety present on our job sites. Crews were anxious because there was a lot we didn’t know about COVID. Speaking with our crews helped me to understand where they were coming from (I had to understand why work wasn’t getting done as quickly as I had hoped). Some folks went back to work because they needed to provide for their families. Most were fearful of contracting COVID.
Only by understanding where people were coming from and having empathy for what they were going through could I come up with solutions our team could depend on.
What remains on your engineering bucket list — what do you aspire to do that you haven’t accomplished yet?
I’m dedicated to making the world a better place. I don’t know if I will ever succeed because that is an impossible, immeasurable, goal, but you have to have big dreams so you can make them come true, right?
Other goals include getting LP-14 approved by the committee and published (this is the IES standard for lighting control sequences of operation); setting aside enough money for a substantial scholarship for women in engineering; receiving the President’s Award or Benner Award from the Building Commissioning Association; and being inducted into the National Academy of Sciences like my stepfather.
Don’t get me wrong, the awards would be nice, but they are really external symbols of the differences I’ve made. If I don’t win them, that’s OK as long as I’m OK with the work I’ve put in.
What’s one thing no one knows about you?
Despite working in construction and having little fear of conflict, I am a very sensitive person.
List any mentors who’ve helped you succeed and describe exactly how they’ve shaped your success.
My mother and stepfather, who reinforce that being a woman engineer is the best thing for me. Their encouragement has been a big reason I have stayed in this career. Diana Bjornskov for being a trailblazer in commissioning before commissioning was a thing. She is so incredibly wise both technically and interpersonally. Liz Fischer, the executive director of the BCxA, for being absolutely authentic in her authority and how she wields her power to push the BCxA in a better direction.
Pat McDowell and Victoria Julian for showing me that being a technical woman in construction is the most normal thing on the planet and is nothing I need to apologize for; my husband, Ron, for helping to understand the interpersonal side of things; and Lynn Putnam and Sarwan Wason for teaching me important lessons about the business side of engineering.
And, finally, all the negative role models who showed me the person I don’t want to be and sometimes teaching me lessons about myself.
What advice do you have for prospective female engineers considering entering the field?
Tell the people you love how much you love them today. Don’t take things personally. Pay attention to what they’re saying, not how they’re saying it. Pick your battles. When something goes wrong, tell yourself “it’s all a part of the story” to help you take the judgement out of it and help you move through it into creating a solution. (I learned this from Ruth Taylor, project manager for the advanced lighting team at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.) Persistence is the productive side of stubborn. If anyone tells you “you can’t,” give them the finger and succeed anyway. And, finally, do it for you.
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