Hey folks, Phil Zito here and welcome back! In this post, we are going to be discussing what a BAS technician career path looks like. So, in the previous post, we talked about how to establish a career in BAS. Now we're going to be looking at the first kind of role in building automation, which is the BAS Technician. We're going to walk through what the role is, walk through the requirements for the role, talk about how to get the role, and then what a career path can look like.
So as things go, BAS Technician was the first role that I took when I left the military back in 2007. I came out and really didn't know what I was doing. I began as an installing technician. An installing technician, for those of you who don't know, really varies from job to job, and company to company. But essentially, you are either installing sensors, wiring up things yourself and connecting them to controllers, or you're supporting a subcontractor who is overseeing and executing that wiring and what is affectionately known as installation and potentially, startup of a control system.
So, imagine this. You go to a job site, you go through safety training, you get lined out by your senior technician or your project manager, and they say, “Hey, you have all these VAV boxes. I need you to make sure that you're reading the appropriate temperatures, that when we command the actuators, they actually go the correct direction. I need you to make sure that when we come in, the fan is on on these VAV boxes, if they're fan powered that they turn on, and that we get status. That's what you're doing as a BAS Technician.
Now, depending on the company, you may have the title BAS Technician, but you may be doing designer, programmer, electrical, balancing, all sorts of different work. I found myself running around with a balancing hood and having to balance VAV boxes and diffusers, even though I wasn't a test and balance person, but because the contractor that I worked for in the bid won the balancing. So there I was, doing test and balance even though I had no clue what I was doing.
But you know, that's what the internet's for. I know a lot of you frown when I say to Google things or learn through the internet. I get a lot of pushback on that, but these same people who are pushing back quite often are the same ones who, when they can't get a BACnet card from a rooftop unit to work, or they can't figure out how to get some sort of LON interface to work are going to HVAC talk forums, or they’re even going to Google, themselves.
So, don't ever feel bad if you decide to search for what are deemed low level or obvious skills. Just realize that the people who may be giving you a hard time are doing the exact same thing when it comes to complex topics. So, just be aware of that.
For those of you who are brand new technicians, I don't want you to think that you have to hit your head against a wall to the point where you're frustrated with your work. There's a reason why tech support exists at your OEMs. You need to take advantage of that. I knew all the tech support people and I would contact them because why bash my head against a wall when someone already has the answer and can teach me the answer.
As a technician, your basic skills are typically going to be understanding basic electric circuits, basic electric terminology, basic BAS fundamentals. Most of this, you'll learn on the job, if you're not going through some form of formal training program. At the end of the day, it's either a series or parallel circuit. You have contacts, you have resistive, you have voltage, you have amperage, you have transformers, you have controllers, you have mounting, you have point to point check out, you have a meter. With those things that I just named out, that's pretty much the life of the technician.
What I actually found to be one of the best skills for a technician is being able to read documentation. I think that's kind of what carried me when I left the military and went into my first technician role. The military was really, really big on reading. Technical publications, reading documentation, you had to figure out a lot of things through reading documentation.
So, if you really want to get good, learning how to digest technical publications, learning how to identify what is the technical publication I need? How do I find it? How do I go to my OEM’s website? (OEM is Original Equipment Manufacturer, the person who makes the controls that you're working on) How do I go to their website? How do I find the installation sheet or the installation guidelines? Then, how do I interpret that and apply it to the current project I'm working on?
Oftentimes in your submittal sets, and submittals are the design of the system, how the system should be implemented, and how the system should be put out into the field and installed. So oftentimes, your submittal set is going to tell you, you need to install these relays, or you need to install these thermostats, or you need to wire up these contacts. It's NOT going to give you the technical details and being able to go to the technical publications to pull that information is going to be critical.
So, up to this point, we've seen what the job looks like. You're going to be on construction projects, you're going to be under someone, you're going to be executing either the installation or the point to point check out of the systems out in the field. You may be overseeing electrical subcontractors; you may not be.
Now, what does this entail for you as far as the skills required? I kind of went over that, understanding basic electrical knowledge, AC DC, electrical theory, Ohms law, understanding circuits, understanding relays, understanding safety circuits. These are things that are very easy to learn, either through courses or even through YouTube.
So that is one thing. The other is basic HVAC. Understanding basic things like, “airflow has to have a place to go.” Remember, airflow has to have a place to go. So, if you have a damper that is shut on the back of an air handler, and a damper is basically a louver. It actually seals ductwork and keeps airflow from flowing through it. So, if the damper’s closed on the intake, then that air is going to get in from somewhere and the fan is going to suck in the ductwork. Now, if the discharge dampers are shot, that air needs somewhere to go and it's going to blow out the ductwork because that air needs a place to go.
So, remember that and understand basic things like, “our flow needs a place to go.” Your isolation valves, your valve should be open if you're going to turn on pumps. Realizing that things that do heat exchange like chillers, or boilers, those need waterflow. Otherwise, you're going to sub cool or superheat your water, or whatever medium you are actually transferring or absorbing heat from. You're going to affect that, and if you don't have flow, then you can't bring new water in, or whatever the medium is.
So, you start to understand these basic concepts. Then there's basic computer knowledge. How do you turn on a computer? How do you set IP addresses? How do you work with a computer? These are things that quite honestly, if you are under 30 years old, the majority of you know how to work with computers. You grew up with computers. So, this shouldn't be terribly difficult for you. It may be a couple new concepts such as, how do I set an IP address? How do I check my IP address? How do I do things like ping? How do I trace out networks, stuff like that.
Like I said, the biggest thing for you to learn is how to read technical publications, mechanical plans, submittal sets. If you understand how to read those, you're going to find yourself in a very good place.
So, continuing along, we've talked about the skills. Now let's talk about how you get into this role. This role, in my opinion, can be the most difficult role to get into, or the easiest role to get into. It all depends on your approach. If you approach this from the traditional angle of going to a website, applying to a job board, and you have no experience, you're going to find that it is very difficult to get into this role. It just is. You're going to get HR screened, they're going to see you don't have the experience, and they're going to reject you before you even get to the hiring manager.
So, here is my recommendation if you want this job, you want to be a BAS Technician, and want to know how you get the job:
- Find out what office this job is out of.
- Next, once you find out what office this job is out of, you go on LinkedIn and you find the manager for the operations group for that office. Reach out to that manager via LinkedIn, and you should have your own LinkedIn profile. If you want to be a professional and actually make money, then do what professionals do, which is to have a LinkedIn profile with a professional picture and details about yourself. So, reach out to the operations manager, bypass HR screening. Tell them why you're passionate. Tell them what you've done to learn and prepare for this role, and tell them why you would be a good hire.
I guarantee you, even though I've been giving the same advice for years now, people don't do it. Now the people who do do it, reach back out to me and say, “Hey, Phil, I followed your advice and I got hired!” Recently, I got this really cool one about this guy who recently became a citizen of the United States. He had been applying for citizenship and finally got it. He followed my advice, and even went through our courses. Then he reached out to a manager and actually got hired by a company, just for doing that! He was so excited. He was like, “I'm so excited to be here in the United States and have an opportunity to work on stuff I love!”
But even if you're a natural citizen of the United States, it doesn't really matter. The thing is, the steps still work. The steps are:
- Identify the branch office that has the job.
- Reach out to the manager who serves that branch office and tell them why you're passionate. Tell them what you've done to learn and study and tell them how you would contribute to the team.
You do that, you will stand out amongst applicants, and I guarantee you, you will get a job. Maybe not the first time, but you will definitely, within the first three tries, get a job as a BAS Technician. This shows that you're proactive, it shows that you are professional, it shows that you want to do this job, you are able to learn, and you are a self-starter.
This is everything I personally, back when I was an Ops manager, would be looking for in people I'd be hiring. It's easy to train people, but it is difficult to put motivation in people. Discipline and motivation are very difficult to develop. People either have it or they don't.
Unfortunately, the civilian world is not the military world. So, I can't force you to be disciplined. I can't force you to be motivated. Yeah, I learned that the hard way, but I will tell you, if you have discipline and motivation, and you reach out and demonstrate that, people will hire you.
Okay, so that is the BAS Technician role. Our next post will be about the BAS Designer and then the BAS Programmer.
Thanks a ton and take care.