Mike McIlraith, former mechanical engineer, retired in 2017. Having been with the company since 1993, he had a huge impact on everyone at Baird, Hampton & Brown, as well as the numerous projects he worked on during his 33+ years at the firm. As a farewell, we asked Mike to leave us with his thoughts and parting advice for younger engineers. Here is what he had to say:
What I learned:
The number one item I learned is that our business is all about communication. When I trundled off to the South Plains to major in mechanical engineering at Texas Tech, all I wanted to do when I graduated was sit in a room somewhere and work with numbers and maybe generate some drawings. I had hoped that I wouldn’t have to deal with people. By the time December 2017 rolled around, I realized that I was spending about 95 percent of my time dealing with people. Perfect! Just like I planned.
Of course, my original concept of the hermit engineer wasn’t very realistic, ideal maybe, but not realistic. As consulting engineers, the drawings, specifications, and other documents we produce are a communication of ideas, concepts, and standards we want to meet for a particular project or issue.
During a design, we need to communicate with the owner, the architects, other members of the design team, and possibly with the AHJ. Mechanically, we communicate with several manufacturer’s reps and factory folks regarding equipment, options, and sizes. We communicate coordination items regarding mechanical rooms (yes, we know we want too much space), ceiling heights (yes, we know our ducts won’t fit), louvers, roof penetrations, equipment supports, and the list goes on.
Then during construction, the communication continues – city plan reviews, bidding questions, construction submittals and RFIs, inspector’s comments, punch lists, etc. Communication, communication, and more communication.
As important as communication is, it’s how we communicate. Sometimes the desire is just to create a quick response and get this thing off our desks. Occasionally that is okay and appropriate, but often the quick and snappy answer generates more questions and so we get the opportunity to communicate even more.
From working with so many great folks, I learned that how we communicate is even more important than making sure we communicate in a timely manner. As we each progress in our careers, we get the chance to work with many different people. Some are aggressive and blunt, some are thoughtful and slower to react, and many are in the middle. Learning to read and understand people is a skill that cannot be underestimated.
And of course, engineers come to this field with the best people skills around. So, to any younger engineer who might read this, please work on your people skills—you will be glad that you did! Speak in front of groups of people, starting with a small group of people you know then working your way up. Work on your written communication skills. As it turns out, spelling, grammar and sentence structure weren’t just annoying parts of English classes throughout all your schooling—they can be applied in the real world! When you don’t apply them, it shows. Trust me on this.
First, thank you to Bill Baird, Merlin Hampton and Les Brown for hiring me on at BHB in 1993. Your moment of weakness has meant the world to Terri and me.
Having known these three gentlemen since 1984 has been a blessing for me. Each has taught me so much about the consulting business in their own way.
From watching Bill, I learned much about the people side of the business. To this day, I maintain that Bill cannot walk into any room in Tarrant County and not know at least one person. And he remembers their name and something about them. It is amazing to see.
From attending so many different meetings with Merlin, I learned how to identify and adjust to different situations – from meetings that were good, to surprises, and upset folks, Merlin handles each with grace and aplomb.
Finally, Les taught me everything about the mechanical side of the business and how to juggle multiple items with style and without complaint. Les, I hope I was not the cause of too many of those highlights in your hair…
To all those in the mechanical group, thank you for all your hard work and for putting up with me. You were, are, and will continue to be great!
To everyone at BHB, thank you for making it a joy to come to work each day. I truly was glad to be there every day, and you all made it fun.