<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=2854636358152850&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
17 min read

SBA 243: Building Automation Careers 101

By Phil Zito on Mar 29, 2021 6:00:00 AM

Topics: Podcasts

Are you wanting to start a career in building automation but you don't know where to start? 

Would you like a proven process to get a job in building automation?

If so then this episode of the Smart Buildings Academy Podcast is for you. In this episode you will learn:

  • Why BAS is a great career field
  • What the different roles are in building automation
  • Our proven 8 step process to getting hired in BAS with zero experience

Click here to download or listen to this episode now.

Resources mentioned in this episode

Building Automation Technician Certificate Path

Subscribe via iTunes

 Subscribe via Stitcher

Show notes

Phil Zito 0:00
This is the smart buildings Academy podcast with Phil Zito Episode 243. Hey folks, Phil Zito here and welcome to Episode 243 of the smart buildings Academy podcast. And in this episode we are going to be tackling building automation careers. So we're going to be discussing all about building automation careers. What a career and building automation is why you would want to work in it. what jobs are there? How can you get into building automation? How can you learn building automation and everything in between? Today's episode is sponsored by our building automation training courses, you can find out more about those by going to podcast smart buildings Academy comm Ford slash 243. Once again, that is podcast dot smart buildings academy.com Ford slash 243. So folks, I've been out for a little bit, went on a brief vacation to South Carolina. And now I'm back. And while I was gone, I got a ton of questions about how do I get into building automation? I got questions from managers who are looking to hire people, but just couldn't find them. So they're like, how do we develop people. And then I got questions from tons of folks who are either in the field right now as mechanics or electricians, or who are getting out of high school and have heard this thing building automation. Maybe they've done some home automation, and they're interested in it. Well, first thing I want to cover today is what is building automation. Because this is something that seems to be pretty misunderstood, even in our own industry. And then I'll talk about why I believe that working and building automation is quite possibly one of the best careers to have to future proof yourself moving forward. So building automation quite simply, is a solution, a software as well as a hardware solution that enables you to automate the control of systems within the building. Now typically, those systems are HVDC systems. Although we're increasingly seeing those systems become lighting systems, we're seeing those systems become audio visual access control security, but primarily it's for hv c control, which brings us to one of the questions a lot of folks have is, can I even work in building automation? If I don't know hva? See? And yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, that is one of the biggest misunderstandings in our entire industry, is you have all these folks out there. Just promulgating this belief that you have to be a mechanic that you've gotta have five years of experience with mechanical systems, in order to succeed in building automation that couldn't be further from the truth. As you'll see further in this episode, the need to know information or the information that you need to know about hv AC is actually not that expensive.

Phil Zito 3:05
I dare to say, it's more that you need to understand theory and how things need to operate rather than the hands on I've yet to meet a building automation technician who got their job because they were able to install fan motors, or because they were able to install pipes and coils and things like that. No, I'm sure one of you will chime in and be like, well, I got my job because I knew how to install fan motors. But you know, as a kind of large macro group. No, that's not something that typically drives people into building automation. Is that experience? It's more so can you work with computers? Can you understand concepts? Can you understand systems theory? Do you understand basic h vac theory? Do you understand that electrical theory? Do you understand basic it? And can you interpret data and convert it into actionable programming actionable designs? And can you think in a process oriented manner? You know, I was gonna post today on LinkedIn about whether or not process is really the key to building automation, professionals succeeding, you know, if you think about everything we do in this field is process. So that may sound pretty boring. And you may be thinking to yourself, why would I want to work in something that is super procedural? repetitive and just doesn't challenge me. Just because something's procedural and repetitive does not mean it's not going to challenge you. I will tell you doing some of the most procedural tasks that you could do things like install things like going and downloading controllers has put me

Phil Zito 4:52
in environments where I got to see some of the most interesting things working at an Intel fabrication plant working at The film studio where they edited the movie Ninja Assassin, and I got to hear like ninjas killing each other again and again. And again, because they were doing audio editing literally as I was working in the ceiling. So I got to hear the same scene again and again. But I got to be exposed to those things I got to think if I remember correctly, I don't think it was Bill Gates house we were working on it was that the other guy who was the co founder, he's no longer alive. But I got to be exposed to places that normally you would not get to go into. And I got to see some really cool things and work on some really cool projects all because of building automation, it was consistently challenging. But what was really nice about it is, no matter what I wanted to learn, and what I wanted to do, I could branch out into different avenues. If I wanted to learn like deep programming, I could go into product development, I could go into integration. If I wanted to get into sales, I could go down the sales path. If I wanted to be more operational, I could go down operations or project management paths. If I wanted to be artistic, I could do graphics and design. If I wanted to just like live in a Batcave and never see the light of day I could do programming, and they could feed me under the door. And I could just write programs. And no one would ever know that I worked for the company except for my names on a paycheck. So there's so many different options for what you can do. So let's talk through these. Now I'm going to make the assertion. And this is kind of a strong assertion. I'll get people who will disagree with me. But I believe that we can prove this assertion true that for pretty much any job in building automation, you can with no experience get hired into it. Now you may say to yourself, Phil, how can I get hired into being an integrator or a programmer with zero experience? Now note, I did not say zero skill. I did not say zero knowledge. I said zero experience specific to building automation. If you have a, you know, a C sharp or a Java programming background, you've maybe got a bachelor's degree in computer science. Maybe you've worked on Arduino stuff at home for home automation, and you decide that you want to apply for a programmer job, I would give you a fair Look, I would say to myself, do I feel like this person could pick up the core concepts of HVC? Because at the end of the day, programmers, the key thing is Do you know how to think in a systematic and logical sense? And do you understand things related to programming programming concepts like design patterns, that you can then go and apply. So you can take a job which arguably programming or integration or two of the hardest jobs, you could take someone who's outside the field, and train them up rather rapidly on that if they have the core skills, which we'll get to a little bit later in this episode. So what jobs are there? Well, the first job there is is installation, this is going to have the lowest salary cap. So when I talk about projects or side projects, when I talk about roles, I was reading my notes, and I said project manager on there, when I talk about roles, I want to not only point out what the role does, but as as well, the salary ceiling installation, people are going to have the lowest salary ceiling, meaning that the highest amount you can get paid is going to be lower than pretty much any other role out there. Because I mean, at the end of the day, you're running wires, you're bending conduit, and unless you're unionized, you're going to be a pretty low Labor Rate. Now, that being said, it's a decent way to get into the field. A lot of people though I meet have trouble jumping from installer to any of the other roles, in my opinion, it's a very hard role. To start out as if you want to jump into other roles. It in my opinion unnecessarily adds a fair bit of time in your career journey. Whereas if you could just get in a technician role, or just get in a designer role as like a junior designer or a junior technician doing some basic commissioning doing some basic point to point and functional test, you would be better off and further along the career path.

Phil Zito 9:26
So I'm not saying don't ever go and install but I am saying if you have a choice, I would highly recommend other roles than install. Let's not to put down installers, they do a great service. There are some who like their work looks like works of art. It's amazing. They are very technically sharp. That being said, there's just only so much you can install. And also, installation is dependent on having stuff to install. Whereas with programming and designing and integrating You can still do that kind of work, even if there's no projects on the books. So what I want you to think about is three things, right? What is my salary ceiling? Where could I get to as far as salary? What are my growth opportunities, and also, does this position potentially position me to be tightly coupled to project work. And if there's not project work, I'm going to be let go. Or if there's not service work, I'm going to be let go, or is this a skill that even if there's not a lot of work, they can trade my labor, if I'm in a large company to other divisions, as well as I can go and kind of do a 1099 contractor route and render my services and programming or graphics are designed to other companies, there's a lot of things that I want you to think about, especially with the economy being kind of crazy. So tech missions, that's the second role. These are the folks who are going to make sure everything's properly calibrated, they're going to upload and download controllers, they're going to go and make sure things are installed properly, they're going to go and do basic setup of the front end, etc. service technicians, these are folks who are going to go out and support customers, they're going to troubleshoot problems, they're going to go and try to solve problems for the customers. Also, you have not just service technicians, but you have service technicians who do retrofit, which is more install kind of work. You have service technicians that do plan service agreement, which is more service agreement work. And then you have troubleshooting service, folks who do kind of troubleshooting issues. designers, these are the people who are going to create the control submittals, they're going to design the panel layouts, they're going to design how systems will be installed and wired up, then you have graphics, this is not always a dedicated role. But with some companies It is these are the people who are going to create the graphics for the projects, you have programmers, these are the people who are actually going to write the programs that get installed in the controllers. So this could be graphical lock, graphical block programming, or could be line could programming depending on the manufacturer, integrators, these are people who I are, they kind of fall into two buckets, right? You're either gonna have integrators, who really, they're just doing basic protocol integration, mapping and chillers, mapping and boilers. And then you're gonna have integrators that work with a variety of different systems, not even building systems, but just all sorts of systems. And they tie them together into use cases. And those often are called master systems integrators. And they integrate multiple different systems together. Then we have our project managers, these people are going to be overseeing projects, you've got kind of three types, right, a financial project manager, who just manages the finances, a operational project manager, who manages the operations, and then a working project manager. This is someone who not only manages projects, but also executes projects. And then we have sales, right? And on sales, we have inside sales, maybe working at a distributor doing lead gen, stuff like that. And then we have outside sales, who works directly with either the construction side of the business, working with, you know, engineers, architects and contractors, or works with the owner side of the business working directly with owners. So as we think about these jobs, there's a series of skills that they kind of stretch across all of these roles, right, and they just flex in their level of intensity. So if you think of an installer, it's heavily weighted towards electrical labor. But if you think of a programmer, it's not heavily weighted towards our sorry electrical skill, programmers are not heavily weighted towards electrical skill, they're heavily weighted more towards h fac knowledge and the ability to take sequences and turn them into logic. If we look at a project manager who's financially focused they're going to be primarily weighted towards business skills. So as I look at the skills that are key to building automation, baseline electrical knowledge we've covered this in multiple podcasts in the past but basically understanding ohms law understanding AC DC understanding transformers, understanding circuits, understanding safety circuits, relays, etc.

Phil Zito 14:20
basic common knowledge and then we have h fac right so h vac you need to understand what systems are. So what is an air handler? What is a VA vi what is a chiller? What is a boiler How do they work? And then also how do they sequence so understanding that a chiller removes bt us from the primary chilled water side and transfers them to the condenser side right so that they can go out to the cooling tower and transfer those BTS to that atmosphere in a water cooled chiller scenario. Understanding that theory is great, but you need to understand how to sequence that theory. So do In the isolation valves first do you turn on the pumps? How do you stay on the chillers? How do you stage down the chillers? Do you do load? Do you use a decoupler? And look at GPM? What do you do? Do you do BTO calculations and stage up and down there? How do you do these things? So right, we talked about electrical, we've talked about basic h fac, do you have basic just system and hands on aptitude? And this is something you either have? Or you don't have? You can't really train for it? You know, are you someone who can work with your hands? Can you look at objects and inherently just intuitively know like, that's four inches long, or look at something and go, Oh, that's x Hi, just being able to look and really work within the spatial realm of diet, the dimensions of objects and understanding, like, Oh, I'm looking at that schematic. And I can relate that schematic to this wiring diagram I'm looking at here because I can just, I can take a concept and visualize that in my mind and transfer it. That's a key skill. And that's important across almost all the roles, I would say, maybe for project managers not so much. But even sales, it's important because oftentimes, you're having to do estimating work. So we've talked about electrical h fac, we've talked about that kind of intrinsic mechanical aptitude. And then finally, technology competence, being able to turn on a computer understanding basic network concepts, being comfortable with applications within a computing environment is critical, especially with our newer systems. So how do you get into building automation? Well, I've come up with an eight step process that has worked for me in pretty much every role I've ever applied for even when I was unqualified. This is how I got into building automation in the first place. And a lot of our students have used this exact process as well. So analyze the role you want. So the first thing I'm going to do here, I'm just gonna go with a role I'm familiar with, I'm going to type in Johnson Controls, system technician. Okay, so I'm going to type in system technician Johnson Controls. And I'm going to see what comes up as far as job descriptions here. And I am going to analyze the role I want which is step one, and I'm going to identify the key skills on the role, which is step two, says I look at the role. It says this role is going to perform assigned system commissioning using Johnson Controls configuration and commissioning tools. That should tell you hey, it's very much a system technician role right? troubleshoot and resolve basic h fac electrical and controls problems respond to basic warranty calls. So this is a project job and you're going to have to respond to warranty issues potentially load up system level controller software, okay, so as a system tech guy, or as a technician, I said you would be going in potentially loading programs into controllers loading programs in the supervisory devices. And you can see that right here you're doing them perform basic commissioning and system diagnostics. So basically Point to Point check out right, going and making sure stuffs wired up right and that it actually strokes fully open, fully closed the sensors work and updating your point to point check out sheets and functional test sheets, keeps management and JCI contractor involved. Okay, that's basic communication, calibrate systems with electronic test equipment, basically using a multimeter to make sure stuffs working right. timesheets, Okay, got it as built docks, so making sure that you can go and do red belt red lines, and then translate those to as belts. So when you have all of that information, right now, you need to train and develop the skills. And there's a couple ways you can do this, right. So there are some trade schools 18 to 36 months long, you can go to those, they're relatively decent, we get a lot of students coming out of them that still don't know how to do building automation. And they come to us for training. Obviously, you have smart buildings Academy where we provide training for people on these specific skills so that they can come in and hit the ground running.

Phil Zito 19:19
And then you just have, you know, good old, buy a box of hearts and just try to learn it on your own. I mean, that's what I did, because none of this stuff existed back when I started. But you want to identify the skills, you want to come up with a clear plan to train those skills, and then a clear plan to identify that you did train those skills. Once you've done that, though, and what that may look like right, so we talked about in that role, that this person needs to be able to go and do Point to Point checkout. So what that may look like is that may look like buying a lab kit, whether you buy one from us or you buy you know off eBay, whatever you do, buying a controller, buying an actuator and some inputs, getting the software for that controller, connecting those inputs and the actuator and power to the controller, programming the controller to do some basic sequences, and then making sure you could do Point to Point checkout. going and doing that right, you've then taught yourself and if you can teach yourself if you can learn that, rather than and learn that, before you're even employed. rather than waiting for when you are employed, you're going to be in a much better situation. Which brings us to step four, connect with companies with that role. So right you find companies that have that kind of role, or at least those kinds of skills. Now you go and find the managers for that company. Now, how do you do this? A lot of people struggle with this. Well, if you are working construction role, right? It's like making all these hints that you're doing project and construction work, which we kind of saw that, right, it was talking about warranty calls, it was talking about point to point check out things like that? Well, once you've identified that, then you want to look for the construction manager for that company, and you want to message them and you want to explain, hey, I saw this role, I identified that these are the key tasks, here's what I've done, to train myself to do those tasks. I realize I don't have field experience. But I do have initiative, I'm going and learning maybe I'm in these courses. And I am showing key point here, initiative to understanding the skills that you need, and the tasks that you want me to do. And I am making being proactive. I know this sounds kind of silly, but I can't under emphasize how important it is to express to managers that you are interested in self development, and that you are taking the effort outside of work hours without even having a role to go and develop your skills. Because I've heard from manager after manager after manager who if they find someone with that kind of initiative, they will hire them. Because that is the biggest problem these managers have is they hire these people that either hire them through a recruiter and they get a person who, you know, left the previous company and kind of lied about their skills and isn't really good. They hire someone who maybe just isn't motivated, or they hire someone who has no aptitude. But by you going in explaining that you understand the role. You taking a proactive stance, this is not the quick, you know, quick and easy way, but this way works. And then you describe to them how you can do that. And you challenge them to bring you in to a job interview. And to have you wire up a actuator Have you go and commissioned a controller, and then you prove to them with physical action that you can do the task. And I will tell you that based on a lot of managers, because we service over 500 plus companies and over 8000 plus students, you will very likely get hired doing that for a multitude of different roles. So if I'm advising you, what do you do? The first thing you do, right? Figure out what role you want. There's so much promise in building automation. Technicians kind of have a medium salary limit service a little bit higher designer a little bit higher graphics kind of medium programmer, very high integrator, very high project manager kind of in the middle and sales, unlimited salary potential. So there's a lot of money. There's a lot of challenge, there's a lot of change, and a lot of variables to your projects, you're going to have a lot of fun. And it's not as physically taxing as maybe doing some trade labor where you're hauling compressors up ladder and things like that.

Phil Zito 24:17
So what do you do? You follow the eight steps, right? you analyze the role you want. You identify the key skills, you train and develop those skills. You connect with companies with that role. You directly message the managers, you can find them on LinkedIn. You explain that you have what it takes you understand what they're trying to do, and you've trained yourself to do it. You challenge them to bring you in to prove that you know what you're talking about. And then you get hired. I mean, that's it. So my friends, I hope this episode has really helped you out. I've seen this question so many times from so many people. And I really, you know, there's a reason here. It's smart. Buildings Academy, we put out so much content because I really love this role. I love this field, I feel like it has given me a quality of life that I couldn't have had any other way. And I've seen so many people, you know, earning six figure incomes. Within a couple years in this role. It's it's an amazing place to be with a lot of upward mobility, a lot of challenge. And it's really keeps you thinking. So if that's something that's interesting to you, then I encourage you to consider a role in building automation. So how do you do it? If you go to podcast that smart buildings Academy comm forward slash 243, I encourage you to check out our technician path. That path has singularly been responsible for putting dozens of people who had no experience into building automation roles, they went through it with no experience, they came out getting hired into building automation roles. So if that's interesting to you, then definitely check that out. It's the exact same training that companies like albireo energy train, climate tech, sunbelt am core and many more are using to train their people right now. So it is quality online training that you can definitely take advantage of go to podcast smart buildings Academy calm for slash 243 to learn more. And definitely pay attention because April 1 to April 15. We're going to be running our Tax Day Sale, and all courses and paths will be 20% off. Thanks a ton. As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out. I would love to answer those questions for you. We'd love to kind of guide you along your building automation career path. If you're like how do I do this? What should I do? Is this the right path? Feel free to ask the comments wherever you're listening to this and ask away. Thanks a ton. I look forward to talking to you all again next week. Take care

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Phil Zito

Written by Phil Zito

Want to be a guest on the Podcast?