Washington Building Engineers
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A Building Engineer’s Profession

A building engineer is an expert in technical and maintenance aspects of office buildings and other properties. Commercial building engineers work on the operation, renovation and maintenance of buildings as well their efficiency and environmental impacts.

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Ramon Rivera has a degree in Business Administration with a major in Finance. For his first seven years out of school, he worked in financial institutions and the finance department of an HVAC company. However, Ramon really likes working with his hands, troubleshooting in the ‘brick and mortar’ world and fixing things.

One day a former colleague from a facilities team reached out to him at the HVAC company to suggest they discuss a possible job opportunity as a building engineer. Ramon soon switched to his new field, which he says is “awesome.” His new employer had been looking for someone with customer service experience and Ramon could check that box with confidence. He explained that they already had good engineers who could work with their hands, but in this industry “you need to be good with people because you’re relating with tenants all the time.”

So Ramon was recruited to fill a role encompassing not just customer service, but hands-on technical work wearing ”different hats” on a daily basis. He says it’s more than a job and feels “like it’s a career from the get-go…changing the way I was going to do things in my life experience.” “It’s been amazing…just the fact that I started with no experience in this field. I didn’t know anything about it…I never heard of building engineers.”

Ramon appreciates the long-term stability and security that being a building engineer means for him personally. He said it’s “a career that you can go back to and make sure you’re safe” and in a “good place… opening the doors for electrical, plumbing, locksmith, anything.” In terms of mechanical skills, Ramon describes dealing with boilers, cooling towers, chillers, fire pumps and other equipment that tends to break down, especially if it’s had a long service life. He spoke of calling in experts from vendor companies to bring in replacement parts or make repairs, but then learning from them on the spot how to do it himself. “We have to be mechanically inclined for sure.”

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Working with customers in the building as an engineer can mean adjusting room temperatures that directly affect ‘how they feel” in their work environment. Ramon thinks that getting to know tenants personally is important. When asked about problem solving skills, Ramon refers to the need for “a problem-solving mind.” He explained that when you get to some issue, you have to be able to say, “okay what are my options? Like what can I do to fix this?”

Ramon highlights the need to troubleshoot in buildings that are not new, maybe even fabricating “some tail pieces for cylinders…we had to come up with an idea and fix something on the fly.”

Ramon’s advice for someone considering building engineering as a career is: “If you like to fix things…if you’re interested in plumbing, electrical, boilers or anything, this field is for you.” “If you’re young and looking for something in the trades, this is it. This is the place you start and figure it out after this. [But] I don’t think you’ll want to move because the beauty of building engineering is that you get to wear all these different hats, so you don’t get stuck with [just] one single thing.”

Ricardo Ibarra