Chris, 39, from Phoenix, AZ, graduated the nine-month Electro-Mechanical Technologies (EMT) program at RSI in 2012 and completed the Mechanical Maintenance Engineering degree program six months later.
Thanks for sharing your story, Chris. Did you have another career before RSI?
I’d been working in the field for about six months when I came to RSI, but before that I was a bartender for eight or nine years. I don’t know how much of a career it was; some people make a career out of it, I guess. It was just fun for me. But when I got to my late 20s, I wanted to get out of the service industry.
How did you discover HVAC?
My dad’s neighbor had his own mechanical company. He did facilities work and mechanical work. He was looking to hire somebody. He saw me wrenching on my truck—I grew up building cars and trucks with my dad—and e asked if I was mechanical? When I told him I was, he said he had a job opening if I was looking. I said, “Yeah, I’ll give it a shot!” So, believe it or not, just being mechanical by nature made it super easy for me to get into the air conditioning world.
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So, what made you come to RSI?
My boss, my dad’s neighbor, was an RSI graduate and, after six months, I’d become very interested in continuing in the field. He got me hooked up and set everything up. I started going to school while I was working, which was amazing.
Why do you say that?
It was a massive benefit to be able to work in the field and go to RSI at the same time. Work made school easy, and school made work easy. I was applying everything I was learning in school to my field work, and vice versa. A lot of stuff I learned in school was stuff I was learning in the field, but it started to make more sense. It was a great way to do it. If anybody has the opportunity to work in the field while going to school, it’s amazing.
That makes a lot of sense. What kind of work were you doing at that time?
I was just starting in air conditioning. I was working alongside guys that knew air conditioning very well, but I was mainly doing basic electrical, and facilities type work at that time.
Did you enroll in the associate degree program from the start?
I thought about it hard because my boss had the RSI associate degree. He told me the benefits of it and what I would learn. So, yes, I always had the intention to roll straight into it. I was in school mode at the time. I didn’t want to get out of school mode and then never go back to it. I decided to see it through.
What did you enjoy most about RSI?
I would say, overall, all my teachers; they were fantastic. The guys were really personable, and they brought real life experience into the classroom. They’re very knowledgeable, and if you wanted to talk to them about anything, you could. You’re talking about guys with twenty-plus years in the field. It was great to bounce ideas off them. Even when I was encountering problems during work, I could come to them with one of my issues and they’d help me solve it. The teachers were fantastic.
So, you stayed in that same job after graduating?
Absolutely, yes. I worked for him for a total of about four years. He decided to sell the business about 18 months after I graduated. I went to work as a building engineer at the Apple plant in East Mesa. A year later they closed their operation down and turned it into a data center. They let all the staff go. I had an amazing schedule while I worked there: 12-hour shifts, three days one week, four days the next. It was alternating, so it gave me quite a bit of free time. During that free time, I decided to start my own HVAC business. I went and got my ROC, started up, and did that on the side while working at Apple.
So, when Apple let you go, you worked full-time on your own business?
Yeah, I started doing it full time. But my daughter was born shortly after I left Apple in 2014. I wanted to buy a house because we now had a family. Unfortunately, I hadn’t owned my business long enough for anybody in the home loan business to consider me for a mortgage. They wanted to see a steady paycheck. That’s when I found about Honor Health, so I started with them as a building engineer in 2015.
Explain building engineer for a layman. Is it facilities management?
It’s more than just facilities. It’s like a power plant technician. Basically, I maintained all the power systems that run the hospital. The electrical systems, boilers, steam power plants, chillers, everything that keeps the building afloat. I did do some facilities work, but my main focus as a building engineer was the systems.
Bring us up to speed on what you do now.
Two years ago, the Facilities Engineering Supervisor decided he was going to retire so I stepped up and started doing the job for about a month and a half. Then they gave me an interview and I got the position. Then in March of this year, I became the Facilities Engineering Manager.
That’s two pretty good moves in six years. Do you still have your own business?
Yes, I still have my LLC, my personal business. We’ve got one contract. I take care of a building downtown.
What’s your career plan from here? Is Honor Health somewhere you could retire from?
Absolutely. I feel there are still places for me to move up. I work for a director and there are roles above director, such as assistant vice president or vice president. To move up to a director position, I’d probably have to get a four-year degree. That’s something I’ve actually looked into, to see what university would take my credits from RSI. The nationally accredited state schools won’t take the credits, so I’d have to go to somewhere like the University of Phoenix.
What do you enjoy most about this trade?
You get to meet a lot of great people. I love working with our contractors, the guys doing upgrades to the building, projects, buildouts, and all that kind of stuff. Being a manager now, I’m sort of like a project manager. I basically run all the projects that are going on around the hospital and I’m constantly dealing with contractors. They guys are great, they’re fun to deal with. I’ve got to do some babysitting to make sure they come through, do things up to code, all that good stuff, but it makes it interesting!
The Honor Health website says there are 142 locations. Do you work in a particular location?
I’ll break that down for you. We have six main hospitals. Those are the main buildings. The other 130 odd are small buildings, like clinics. In fact, we have three technicians that cover all those 130+ buildings around town. I’m at the Scottsdale Thompson Peak Medical Center, a 120-bed hospital. There’s one manager at each hospital.
Did you make some friends, connections during your time at TWS?
There were a couple of guys I stayed in touch with for three or four years after we graduated, but then life moved on. I had a family, they had families. But yeah, in those early days, there were people I could call up and say, “Can you help me with this?” There were even a couple of instructors that I would reach out to them every once in a while. They were amazing.
What advice do you have for new students just starting out at RSI?
Do your best to get a job in the field while you’re going to school, and also take it seriously. There were a lot of kids that just didn’t take it seriously. I can’t imagine they were successful afterwards. You see that too much today with kids in any school, they just don’t take it seriously. They get out and it’s like, did you learn anything? The piece of paper you may get doesn’t mean you’re qualified, so take it seriously.
If you’re an RSI graduate and would like to share your success story and be an inspiration to others, please email [email protected] to be considered for a Graduate Connection interview. Please include details such as your graduation date (month/year), and program.
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