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18 min read

SBA 282: The Mindset Behind a BAS Career

By Phil Zito on Sep 24, 2021 6:00:00 AM

Topics: Podcasts

In this episode we discuss how to approach starting and advancing a career in building automation. 

We also look at the mindset of investing in your employees and seeking growth experiences throughout your BAS career.

Click here to download or listen to this episode now.

Resources mentioned in this episode

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Phil Zito 0:00
This is the smart buildings Academy podcast with Phil Zito Episode 282. Hey folks, Phil Zito here and welcome to Episode 282 of the smart buildings Academy podcast. And in this episode, I'm going to be talking about building automation careers. Now we've covered this a couple times in past episodes, but we still continue to get questions on how people progress in their careers. And I'm going to do my best to address both. How do you get into the industry? as well as how do you, you know, continue to succeed in the industry? How

Phil Zito 0:42
do you continue to expand your career. So everything I discussed will be found at podcasts at smart buildings academy.com, forward slash 282. Once again, that's podcast, dot smart buildings academy.com, forward slash 282. And there'll be links to an article I did on careers, I think there will be links to a webinar that I vaguely remember doing on careers. And so who's the audience for this, if you're looking to get a career in building automation, then you're going to want to listen, if you are a manager, and you're looking to hire people, you're going to want to listen. And if you're looking to kind of grow in your career, and exceed in your career and you know, get more money, more challenging experiences, things like that, you'll want to listen. Alright, so first off, in order for us to discuss a career in building automation, we need to understand kind of where the roles exist. And I find that people will focus in, in my experience on one kind of role, and they'll miss all the other potential roles. So for example, people will say, hey, I want a technical role in building automation. And they'll think that they have to be an installer, where they have to be a technician, or they have to be a programmer. when in actuality, there are other technical roles, there's roles around energy analysis, there's roles, around facilities operations, there's roles around maybe you work for a mechanical, as an MEP coordinator, and you focus on the controls business, there's so many different things you can do in regards to controls. And really just figuring out kind of what you want to do, is got to be your first thing that you want to do. Now, I will say at the time of this recording, you're in a good environment for wanting a job in controls, because it's literally, there's so short staffed that I mean, a common joke that I hear from managers is if you can breathe and spell Bs, then they'll hire you. Because they need people to go and execute work. And I don't think that's always going to be the case, I think, like everything in life, things are going to ebb and flow. But if I were you, and I'm sitting there, either trying to hire people into building automation, or I am trying to get into building automation, first thing I would do is really identify like, what are the key things I want and need. So for the manager listening to this, I see so many job postings that are ridiculous. They have things in them that are not at all related. So you want an installer, but this installer also must be able to create control submittals. And this installer must also be able to do programming. What do you want an installer? Do you want a supertech? I mean, which one is it? If you want a supertech? Then call the supertech? If you want a programmer called a programmer, what do you want? What do you need? What is the most important like, if this person came on the job and could only do this, then they would be successful. That's what should be on the job descriptions, not you know, just a bucket list of things and you're hoping one of them sticks. And for the person who's looking for a job, don't be overwhelmed. I often rally. And this gets me blowback, but I often rally on Facebook about how I don't think you need to be a mechanic to get into controls. I also don't think you need to be an IT expert. I don't think you need to be an electrical expert. I think you need to have technical akyem to get into controls. And yeah, I'm not stupid, right? It would help if you have mechanical background, it would help if you have an IT background, it would help if you have electrical background. But the reality is, is that most of what we do at the end of the day is a series of processes. People you'll see people post on LinkedIn and on Facebook in response to a lot of my posts about what do you need to be a successful tech and they'll give you this long laundry list where if I'm honest with you, I feel like they're just tooting their own horn. I feel like there's a couple of them who I feel like are being genuine in their posts, but a lot of them I think it's like an ego stroke that they know as much as they do. And I find myself thinking, yeah, you probably know more than I do. But I don't need to know that information. It reminds me of a famous kind of story by Henry Ford. And the story was like, people were calling Henry Ford ignorant. And so Henry Ford was like, I'm not ignorant. And for some reason he went to trial or something, if I remember correctly, I could be telling the story all wrong. But basically, what he ended up saying to people was, Why do I need to know this when I can make a phone call and I can call and get, you know, five experts on the topic with PhDs in here to answer any question I have. And that's kind of the world we're in today. I'm not excusing ignorance, I think you should have technical akyem, as I've mentioned, multiple times. But the ability to research the ability to Google I know, people get all poo pooed on that, when I mentioned, like, why are you going to memorize something you can Google, and they look at that as a cop out. But if we look at where stuff gets really hosed up in our industry, you know, you ask anyone about back net integrations, and you're probably get a couple horror stories about back net integrations. And oftentimes, when I would have managers, and they would come alongside us as a company as a trading company, and they would talk about how their employees are struggling with an integration. And I would be like, well, what are they struggling with? And then they would say, well, it's this integration, and then I would sit down alongside them and be like, Okay, well, what did you do to handle what they're struggling? And they're like, well, we just answered the question, because I've done it before. And I'm like, well, you're just going to keep getting asked the question. And the reason you're getting asked the question is because you're not teaching the people how to go and actually research the answer to the question. And so there's one thing with knowing back net, knowing that you need BB MD is knowing that you need BDT is knowing that you have to have certain BTL profiles in order to have certain objects that come in. But there's another thing with just knowing that you should go and Google The part number for the back net card. And you should look up that BACnet card and find out its points list and find out if those points correspond with the sequence. Those are research tasks. They're not necessarily knowledge tasks, yeah, sure, you need to have a little bit of knowledge to be able to read a sequence, you need to have a little bit of knowledge to understand packnet. But you have to have the ability to go find information that is not included. And I really, when I look back at my experience in the military, I was in the US Navy, I was a missile technician. And I look at my experience, it was a lot of looking up information in tech pops. And so you learn to research and then I look at a lot of the military people who are successful in this industry. And it's because of that ability to go and research. And I'm seeing my kids being taught that in school. Nowadays, they're being taught to go research and create presentations, I think that's a great shift in learning. But when I was a kid, that type of learning didn't occur, that type of thinking didn't really occur, at least in the schools I

Phil Zito 8:29
was in. So when I think about what do you need in order to be a successful building automation technician? And I get this question probably once a month, at least, the first thing you really need to do is to research you need to go and find the companies around you that are hiring technicians. And that's not going to be hard if you do research. And then you need to figure out what skills they want that you don't have. And then you need to figure out how to close those skills, my hope is that you would turn to us and that we would train you and we would help you close those skills. But I mean, however you do that I use the Honeywell gray manual when I was starting off and controllers that I got off of job sites are stuff I got off of ebay to go and be able to learn controls. So whatever that looks like for you. That's what you should be doing. Right? That's what you should be doing to get into controls. So step one, research the jobs. Step two, identify the key tasks in those jobs. Step three, find out if those key tasks are things you would actually want to do. Maybe that looks like going and just doing a job walk with the company just saying hey, I'd like to shadow one of your technicians. So I could see if this is something I'm interested in. Step Four. Once you've identified those tasks, and you have indeed verified that this is something interesting to you Then you need to create a learning plan, you need to honestly assess where you're at, do you understand like it, for example, if it's a test that says, You need to be able to install and perform point to point on controllers, right, and they're associated IO. First off, do you know what a controller is? Do you know what an IO is? Do you understand what point to point is? Alright, that's that first level knowledge. Second off, do you understand the basics of mounting a controller, installing DIN rail? going and wiring things up using wire snips using wire strippers? Do you understand how to use the tools? And then the third, do you have a process? Do you have a process for going and actually performing point to point and this is something I'm on the fence about. So I've thought, I thought man, it would be cool to create a database of building automation processes and start sharing them on our website for learning. We have a list of processes in our courses. And I have to ask myself, is that something I should charge for, because that would take a fair bit of time on our side to really list out the processes, create a database of processes, checklists, and things like that. And, and I believe that something we can go in and make money on while helping people and I think we could price it reasonably. But I'm not sure on that. So I love your comments. You know, everyone wants something for free. But my experience, you give stuff away for free. People don't necessarily take and utilize it. But you've got to find some processes. And maybe this is as simple as going to a mentor or someone more senior than you in the industry and asking them, how do you do Point to Point Checkout, writing that down creating your own process, buying like an easy IO fw 08 off of the control co website or some similar website, or like 200 bucks, maybe acquiring some basic IO. And then once you've done that, getting a 24 volt transformer off of Amazon and build a little lab and do some basic point to point and just get that done. And then all the sudden you walk into that installation interview and you understand what a DI as you understand what an API is, you understand how you wire up milliamp versus how you go and wire up volts DC,

Phil Zito 12:33
you understand the difference between a triack? You understand, you know what relays are? What outputs are volt amperes, all this stuff because you start researching it. You have a curiosity as you're looking at a controller and its associated installation document and you notice that it's rated for so many vas or that it's rated for so many amps or that it requires so many videos. Rather, you start to get a curiosity say I don't know what VA means. And you start to look into that. And over time you go and you develop this curiosity for learning. And that my friends, brings us to how do you advance in this career. And this is where a lot of people get stuck in what I like to call the No Man's Land of control. So I don't know about you, but I do jujitsu. And I'll be honest, I am I took a little lol there over the summer for jujitsu. But I was really into them getting back into it. And I will tell you, because it has so few belts, and because it's so technical, you have this like burst of knowledge where you're like, Man, I'm learning so much I'm learning so much, I'm learning so much and then bam, you hit this plateau. And you're like learning nothing. Or you feel like you're learning nothing when in actuality you are learning stuff, but it just feels like you're learning nothing. And if you don't seek other experiences, if you don't go and roll which is grappling right you don't go and grapple with different people, you don't get different looks at different styles. You don't start off maybe in positions that you're weaker in instead of positions that you're strong in like for example, you know, I am good at stand up. So if I always start in stand up, I'm very hard to take down and I'm decent at taking down other people. So if I always start in stand up, instead of starting in open guard, which I am awful at. I'm not going to grow as much. So what you need to look at is when you are in that phase and how do you know when you're in that phase? You know when you're in that phase when stuff becomes repetitive when you like Have you ever driven somewhere and you're like, I have no idea how I got there. It was just memory. And you're like, I have no idea what I was just doing for the past 20 minutes. This is kind of scary. That is what you need to look out for in your career, you need to say to yourself, where am I in my career? Am I on autopilot? Am I just going in doing install? And I'm not really learning anything, or I'm programming and not really learning anything? And then you have to ask yourself, what is it? That could stretch me? For me personally, I was blessed by ignorance. I did not know that when I let my ego because I was really ego driven very early in my career, I was probably ego driven until, if I'm totally transparent and honest with you probably till last year, I was very ego driven. And this past year, I've just, I've, I've humbled more, but I will tell you, that ego was good and bad, right? It was bad. It got me in like, a lot of areas where if I had had self reflection, I would have learned more. But it worked out in some ways, in that I took on things that I should not have been taking on, you know, volunteering to do all sorts of integrations, volunteering to do API's, because I said, I read a book on API's, I could do API's, I read a book on cybersecurity, I got like, halfway through my Master's in cybersecurity, I could do cybersecurity, you know, I can do a cyber analysis, etc, etc. By going and volunteering for these situations I grew, I started to also as part of this growth, learn what I liked, and what I didn't like. And so it started to really exposed to me areas where I was like, okay, that absolutely sucked. I hated doing that, ooh, I did not like doing that. But I'm really good at it. And oh, I'm really good at that. And I like doing it. So once I understood where those areas were, then I could start to focus more on them, I could start to go and expand into those areas. And that naturally led me to promotions, that naturally led me to increases in responsibility. And I think one of the traps we get into in our career is that we think that in order for us to have increased responsibility, we need to have a promotion.

Phil Zito 17:34
In a lot of cases, there's nothing stopping the technician, other than the mindset of that's not my job, from going and learning how to do submittals from learning and going and doing some programming from learning and going and doing some integration, there's nothing stopping them. Oftentimes, it's either that's not my job, or there's this fear of, Hey, I don't know what I'm doing. But if you seek out those things I've yet to meet. And I know there are I know there are, but I've yet to meet personally a manager who their employee, wanted new experiences, wanted to learn things, and was willing to do this on their own time to learn things that wouldn't go and facilitate that learning that wouldn't go and come alongside them. Sure there are managers like that out there. But they tend to flush through the industry pretty quick, because this is a small industry. And you just don't tend to hold on to people if you don't breathe back into them if you don't invest back into them. So as a technician, as a installer, I know I'm focusing largely on technical tasks, but this could be sales related, right? This could be something where you're a salesperson, and all you've ever done this plan and spec work. And maybe you want to outside of your you're hitting your goals, you're filling your pipeline, maybe outside of that you want to go and work, a strategic account, maybe you want to try to influence a capital project, maybe

Phil Zito 19:05
you want to influence some capital plans, you want to stretch yourself a little bit. So you start to seek out these different experiences. As a manager, you should be asking yourself, what is it that gets my people fired up, and for some, it's going to be money. For some it's going to be time. So I have one person on my sales team who wants to be their best self. And I'm not saying the other people on my team don't want to be their best self. That's not what I'm saying. But this person holds themselves accountable. and is like, I need to produce tons of activity and wants to maximize their earning potential. I have another person who wants to go and have good quality of life. And then I have another person who's kind of a mix between the two. So I look at that. And that makes me think, you know, different people are motivated by different things, right? There are different things that are going to bring satisfaction to the people on your team. And you really need to go and understand this. And it's through conversations. And sometimes it's just simply asking, like, hey, what makes you tick? What motivates you? What makes you happy? What do you want to get out of this career? Why are you working here? What do you want to go and achieve. And by asking these questions, by understanding the motivations behind people, you can go and help them to grow in to their best selves to go. And I know, this seems like New Agey woowoo stuff. But you can help them to really like, maximize their job satisfaction, maximize what they're doing to develop themselves. And this is something that has to be intentional. And in my experience, it has to be something that you like, make a mental note to do. Like, I have to make a mental note, to ask my people how they're doing, I have to make sure that I am going, and really just fostering the environment to where they can go and say, This is what I want to achieve. This is what I want to build. This is where I feel most creative. And I know that you're like, hey, what does this have to do with building automation, as to do everything with building automation, and here's why people are gonna leave your company they are, they're gonna find something that is going to bring more value to them. And there's a point at which you can't pay them more, you know, either through company policy, you can't pay them more, or just simply due to the finances of the business, you can't pay them more. And so you have to ask yourself, what can I provide of value that isn't monetary, and breathing into people going and truly being invested in your people, understanding your people, understanding what they want to achieve, understanding what their vision is for their career, helping them create a vision for their career, that is going to build loyalty, that is going to build attachment. And if you want to protect and I hear this all the time, trust me, I hear this because as a training provider, one of the things we get told is, well, we're going to train our people, and then they're going to go and leave. And you know, yeah, there's that always that stupid responsively Oh, but what if you don't train them in their stay? But what if you invest in them? Not just monetarily, by buying training? But with time? What if you invest in them learn what's important to them contribute to their development? What do you think their response is going to be? When another company comes in offers them $1 more? And they ask, what's your policy on development? How are you going to foster my career? What is your plan? One of my things whenever an employee that I would do if I were you, if an employee was like, Hey, I, I'm considering leaving for another company? First off, I'd be like, hey, what is it that they are going to do for your career? What is their plan for your career? Because if it's just money,

Phil Zito 23:48
what is that going to do for you? Because if it's $1 an hour, and you're doing more, and you're doing the exact same thing you're doing here, and they have no plan for your career, then why are you leaving? Yeah, it's $1 more, right, an hour, whatever. But if you've went and painted a career path and a vision for them to advance, that ties to what they value, the likelihood that they're going to stay with you is pretty high. I know this has been kind of new agey, woo woo, kind of Let's all feel and sing Kumbaya, but I don't feel like this is discussed enough in our space. We're men and women in a construction trade that makes us quote unquote, tough by nature, right? you envision the construction trade, and you are not envisioning someone sitting in a therapy office, talking about feelings, and culture and stuff. And I feel like talking about culture and everything has gotten really a bad rap. Because it seems like whenever you talk about culture, diverse inclusion, any of those topics that are softer in nature, people use them to beat you over the head. They tell you, you're not diverse enough for a company, you're not inclusive enough, you don't have a good enough culture, you're not reflecting on the needs of your employees, etc. Instead of saying, Hey, yo, there's a benefit to having a diverse team, like my team, right to women. I have someone who's Hispanic, I have guy who's Caucasian, like myself, and they all have different life experiences. They all bring different thoughts, feelings, and approaches and ideas to the business. I wasn't intentional that I hired these kinds of people. It is just, that's what happened, right? And because of that, I get different thoughts, different viewpoints and different experiences brought to my business. If you go and you invest in your employees, and you spend the time to develop them, then you're going to get different perspectives, different ideas and different processes. One of my favorite exercises, when I was running a team was how fast can you do a VA v box? How fast can you wire up a v v box. And by watching people do that some people had electrical background, somebody needs fac background, some didn't have any background, you would get all sorts of different approaches, some people would pre stage things, some people would just take a, I'm going to go at it like a hammer and a nail. And because of that, you would learn different things that you wouldn't have seen otherwise. Now, for those of you who are still listening, and I didn't lose with this kind of pie in the sky culture stuff, what does this have to do for those of you who are looking for a job, I encourage you, if you are in the search for a company, and you are looking for a job, especially today, ask them what their plan is for you. Ask them how your career will develop with them. What is a career roadmap look like at their business? What does the career path look like? Is there mentorship? Is there guidance? How will you continue to get experiences where you can learn? Or is this just going to be the same repetitive work again and again and again, because you only have one life, and you want to live it the best you can and you want to grow and you want to get experiences, and you want to be your best self. So definitely consider those things as you go and you approach your learning experience. So I know this was different. Once again, kind of like Wednesday's podcast is a little different. I promise you. We're getting back to technical topics on Monday. But this is just another thing that was laid on my heart that I don't hear being addressed in our industry. I don't hear anyone talking about it. I don't read anyone talking about it. It does not seem to be something that is sexy and fascinating. But it is something that is pertinent, real and important. And I hope you will internalize this, both as a leader as well as a self executer who is out there doing the work. If you have any questions, anything here that you kind of are interested in, let me know. I am pretty good at responding to people who ask and feel free to reach out. Thanks a ton and take care

Phil Zito

Written by Phil Zito

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