In 2006, a few very special people left us, and I think it was that last person, a sales engineer in his eighties, whose obituary got me thinking of all the people who have helped me over these past 42 years in the building industry. Within that group of mentors, there were a select few that really, really made a big difference and he was one that did so from a sales engineer’s point of view.

Gone But Not Forgotten

When I was first starting out in the business as a trainee draftsperson, he showed an interest in my education even though he wasn’t going to allow me to specify any AHUs anytime soon. He was a step above what I affectionately call “sales weasels” but, before all you sales people e-mail me, please take this into account: my father sold cars, and every engineer (myself included) is in the business of sales. So much so that I hand out special sales weasel awards to those who help contribute to us closing a project contract. But I digress.

This individual helped educate me on the basics of central AHUs and the associated value of fan curves while another sales engineer took an interest in teaching me the basics of boilers. Then there was the sales engineer who never needed his product catalog to teach me acoustics. He had all the information in his head, while a fourth sales engineer always used his pump catalog to show me the various options when selecting in-line, end suction, and/or split case pumps using the pump curves and the wealth of engineer data that was documented therein. Today, the sales community frequently skips over the training process and saves you valuable engineering fee-hours by designing the unit for you, leaving you somewhat uneducated about what you just specified in the construction documents.

In reading a brief statement in the ASHRAE newsletter about this person who had passed on, it occurred to me that not nearly enough was said about him, including how he spent time teaching as well as selling his products. Now as I look around, I see we have lost more then just a few educators who took the time to advance engineering through leadership, mentoring, and sharing their passion for the building industry. We need to make sure that we do our part to continue the education process with no hidden agenda that could provide us with more business.

Our industry is continuously changing in so many ways. What was a good idea years ago may not be necessarily so today. This age of computers has changed how we design systems, how we select the equipment that makes up these systems, and how we document the installation, startup, commissioning, and O&M of these systems. For all the computer software that has helped us, it still can’t replace the value provided by a mentor: offering tricks of the trade, lessons learned, and the voice of experience. As I reflect back on those special people who helped along the way, I believe it was their ability to take engineering theory and transform it to a practitioner’s approach to this very challenging business that differentiated them from others in the business. I appreciate the time spent by those individuals who make up the generation ahead of me.

Continuing The Tradition

Taking the lead, mentoring, and sharing are activities that should be done continuously and not as a topic-by-topic opportunity to educate. There is so much to learn in the building industry, and as you become proficient in something, you can be assured technology and the building process will change and you are left to change with it. Helping others through education is usually a two-way street because you also take away a few things you didn’t know yourself. It could be considered reverse mentoring as the younger generation transforms your 20th-century business experience into 21st-century, computer-age application. So make a difference for your generation.

In addition to those I mentioned above, there is a wealth of retired engineers, builders, and operators who are still with us and who have also contributed to my education. A few of them I recognized in a book I wrote several years ago, because I thought it was important to give credit where credit is due even though none of these people were looking for any credit. It will be a shame to have lost the experienced of these professionals because our industry hasn’t established a way of retaining these resources. If we do, then we will continue to simply choose to print in the trade journal that another really good professional has passed away.  ES

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