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Hey folks, Phil Zito here and welcome back! In this post, we're going to be talking about establishing a career in building automation and my goal with this series is to describe what a building automation career is and then take you through each individual role. So, future posts will be on each individual role.  

Why do I think you should have a career in building automation systems? Well, one, it pays good. I'll be straight up with you, the pay is awesome. The cost of training has dropped significantly. All these people who tell you it takes 7-9 years to learn how to do building automation are wrong. The reality is, most of you, will be doing VAV boxes, air handlers, air cooled chillers, centrifugal chillers and pumps, mixing valves, etc.  


Now, every time I say this, I get emails asking, “Phil, what about heat pump chillers,” or “What 
about that one incident where I had to go and do this super custom thing and it took me decades to learn how to do that?” Key words here “super custom”. The reality is, what is required for building automation is not that difficult to learn. I mean, we have to learn some HVAC theory, we have to learn some electrical, some IT, and then some BAS stuff. Then we pretty much can guarantee ourselves a six-figure paycheck for the rest of our lives.  


I'm telling you folks, this is the most, in my opinion, underutilized career path for those who like to work with their hands, but yet also like technology, and like to see really cool places. I mean, some of the most fun times I've had in my life have been from my career in building automation. Have you been inside Federal Reserve and seen how they print money? I have. Have you been to Bill Gates' house and seen mechanics put on scuba gear to scrub his coils that are in the lake for his water-sourced heat pump systems? I have. Have you gone to a billionaire’s two-story apartment, which was like the size of four of my house? Yeah, I've done that too.  


I mean, the list goes on and on. Airports, data centers, hospitals, I’ve gotten to see some of the coolest places in the world, got to work on them, develop them and get their systems running. A lot of fun, and I got paid really well to do it.  


Which brings us up to working. The job availability in building automation is nuts. I have literally heard multiple times these past couple weeks, that if you are breathing, and can spell BAS, we will hire you. Now, I don't know if that's true and I don't think I would want to hire someone just because they can breathe and say three letters, but the key point is there is such a talent glut.  


There is such an exodus of experienced folks in building automation and so much demand for building automation, that depending on projections, this is going to continue for the next five to seven years. There is going to be an excess of job openings and a lack of people, and what does that mean? Look at the housing market, and you know what that means? It means that there is an opportunity to make good pay. There's an opportunity to have good work, to work for good companies, to grow a career.  


I'm telling you, building automation is one of the most underappreciated career fields. Where else do you get to work with electricity, HVAC systems, IT systems, computers, programming, etc? You get to work on complex projects, financials, all sorts of fun stuff. It's not backbreaking, though, and that's a key point. I have had folks in my career tell me, you need to be a mechanic, or you need to have been a mechanic to be in BAS, and that's not true. You don't need to have been a mechanic, or an electrician, or an IT person. You just need to have aptitude to learn the concepts.  


Now, would being one of those things help? Yeah, of course it would. That's why I see a lot of mechanics who are tired of carrying around compressors, who are tired of being out on the roof and just doing miserable labor. They're tired of the back-breaking work and the over-the-top wear and tear on their body. So, my hope is that by the end of this post, you're fired up, you want to learn more about each individual role, and you’lI want to pick one of those and move into this field.  


My hope for those of you who are already in this field, is you're reading this and you're sharing this with potential folks who want to get into this field. There's so much you can do. If you like graphics or graphical art, you can work on graphics. If you like engineering and designing, you can be a designer. If you like going out there and fiddling with things or working with your hands, you can be a installing technician. If you like doing computer stuff, you can go be a programmer. If you like operations and management and being in charge of multiple projects at the same time, you can be a project manager. If you like selling, you can be in sales. 


Do you get what I’m saying? There are so many things you can do. Literally, there are openings for every single role I just described, at probably every company within your city that you're sitting in right now. Unless you're in the middle of Antarctica, then there might not be job opening.  


Future Proof. This is a huge one. I got into an uncomfortable conversation with family. I told them that I think, in the future, truck drivers are going to be replaced by robots. I think fast food workers are going to be replaced by robots. I mean, there's only so long you can increase wages before it hits a tipping point at which it is cheaper for these companies to employ robots than it is for them to pay people. I know no one likes to talk about that, and it seems sci-fi-ish, but I'm telling you, those days are coming. I went to my local Walmart the other day, and they put in almost 30 self-checkouts. 30 self-checkouts because they are gradually replacing cashiers. So, we're going to see jobs that are low skill being replaced.  


The thing about it, at some point, building automation jobs will be automated by robots. I mean, at some point, construction work will be automated by robots. I do not think it's going to be in my lifetime. There's just too much dexterity and hand-eye coordination requirements that I don't foresee it happening. Although, I did see a robot that literally shot drives the job site and pre drills all of the holes for the electrical and piping. It was pretty crazy, pretty interesting.  


So, our career field is future proof, at least for my lifetime, and that is really important. That is something I would sincerely think about. If you don't want to go to college, but you want to make some really good income, then this is something you should think about.  


Alright, now you’re like, I'm all fired up, I want to do this, it sounds interesting, or at least I want to learn more. Well, to learn more, be sure to check out our BAS Career Resources where you can read about the career, find other blogs, or even check out our podcasts.  


Now, if you actually want to learn, I'm not going to start off by talking about our training services, because I feel like that would be pretty biased. So, I'm going to point out other training services, and then I'll talk about ours. Let’s start with college. There are some building automation college programs and these are four-year programs. In my opinion, I think that it is way too long and not needed. I don't think you need a degree for our field, and I think taking four years to learn our field has a huge opportunity cost that won’t return on your investment.  


There are also trade schools and these are hit and miss. Some trade schools are really good, some are not really good. Some of them are really fast and some of them are multiple years. If you are planning to go to a trade school, ask them these four questions: 

  1. What is your placement rate with companies? 
  2. What is the age of the equipment that we will be using at the trade school?  
  3. What is the experience of the instructor? Who is teaching at the trade school?  
  4. What level of hands-on exercising theory experience are we going to get? What's the curriculum like?  


The third option is OJT, or on-the-job-training. You just dive right in. You get hired as a helper, maybe you start in the warehouse, maybe you start as just someone carrying tools around. Then you gradually work your way up.  


This is how I did it. Back in the day when I was first starting off, there really weren't trade schools and there were no college programs. So, I got hired straight out of the military and it was literally trial by fire. I got handed Honeywell Gray Manual and was told to go program things. I had no idea what I was doing. It was a lot of reading, a lot of studying, a lot of breaking things, and not really knowing what I was doing, but was able to figure it out.  


Fortunately, a lot of companies have a more disciplined OJT process now. Still, nonetheless, with OJT, you are at the mercy of whomever you're paired up with. Hopefully, they have a process and a program. Hopefully, this person knows how to teach and actually cares about teaching. So, your mileage may vary.  


Then of course, there's us, Smart Buildings Academy. We have a history now of over 9,000 students going through our programs and advancing in their careers. Some of these folks are already in building automation and are taking training so that they can get a new position. Others have just been hired by building automation companies and are training as part of their onboarding process. Still others are just taking this out of their own pocket, paying themselves. These folks are going through our training programs, and then connecting with us and our companies that we serve so that they can get hired into the field. We do not share our students’ info if they are currently employed at a building automation company, but if they are not employed in the field, we are more than happy to connect them with potential companies that could find them employment. 
So what roles exist? Well, there's technicians, installers, designers, programmers, project managers, salespeople, integrators, and the list goes on and on. Service roles, construction roles, and on and on, and we're going to be diving into each role. We are going to look at each role, see how the role works. We're going to talk about the requirements for the role, what a day in the life of that role looks like, and then how do you get into that role.  


So, we're going to go through technician, designer, programmer, project manager, service tech and sales over the next several posts. If at any time you have any questions, please hit us up in the comments section below.  


Thanks a ton, and take care! 

Phil Zito

Written by Phil Zito

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