The Keeping it Real series is your chance to hear from Allen & Shariff staff on life, lessons, and leadership, straight from the trenches. Sometimes literally.
Name and Title: Thomas J. Taylor, CET, CPD
Office location: Pittsburgh, PA
Years at Allen & Shariff: Over 12 years
What’s the one skill that you would say is essential to being a great plumbing and fire protection designer?
Plumbing and Fire Protection design is both a science and an art. One needs to be able to first step back and see the big-picture view of the project, then be able to zoom in and focus on the minute details of how the piping will fit into the building. And doing so with the artistic flair of meeting code, intertwining with other disciplines, and being efficient with the piping runs.
What certifications are required for plumbing and fire protection, and what does it take to earn them? Are there important differences between these and other design areas?
There currently is no “required” certification for plumbing design. However, it is highly recommended and widely followed that the Certified in Plumbing Design (CPD) accreditation offered by the American Society of Plumbing Engineers be achieved. It takes a minimum of two years of college and four years of on-the-job training followed by a daylong test. Likewise for fire sprinkler design—NICET offers four levels of certification testing in Fire Protection Engineering Technology – Water Based Systems. Level 1 is basic certification. Level 2 is Associate Engineering Technician, Level 3 is Certified Engineering Technician, and Level 4 is Senior Engineering Technician. Having these elective certifications helps with winning new projects for our office.
What is the most innovative advancement you’ve seen since you first started your career? How has it affected the industry?
You are asking this of someone who started in an engineering office in May 1979 – that’s 40 years in the engineering business! By Far it is CADD drafting/computers. There were no PCs when I started. Everything was hand drawn and the speed of projects was much slower and more methodical. Now computers and CADD have speeded things up by quantum leaps! What used to take years to design now only takes months.
Describe something from your past (school, work experience, a mentor) that most influenced you to pursue the career path you’ve followed.
When I was just a draftsman, my first engineering boss Mr. Fred Gumpf came to me after firing his plumbing designer. He said, “I want you to take over the plumbing design” and handed me a plumbing code book and a plumbing design book. He said he would be available to answer any questions – but only after I first looked for the answers myself. So, Fred taught me to be resourceful and how to do my own research and code study.
If someone asked you to describe your unique approach to problem solving, what would you say?
Start with a big picture approach to understand the overall problem. Work on developing a strategy that includes two or three solutions. Then sleep on it overnight and pick your best solution in the morning with a clear mind.
What’s the coolest Allen & Shariff project you’ve been part of?
In 2008 I got to be part of the design team for the 700,000 square foot Dick’s Sporting Goods Headquarters office complex here in Pittsburgh, PA. It was an early LEED project with a storm water collection system that fed a display water fountain which then drained to a natural stream. The project also had other unique features like an indoor basketball court, large workout gym, full cafeteria, and even an airplane hangar as it is located on the Pittsburgh Airport campus. Talk about speed of projects – we did this design in six months!
What’s the #1 “rookie mistake” you see in those just starting out their career in your field? Explain.
Not understanding that the lines being drafted on the drawings are really building components that not only take up the space they occupy, but require even more space for installation and future maintenance. I see some rookies not providing the space needed for the building systems. It would be ideal if rookies spent a year or so in the field helping to install the systems we design.
Do you have a personal hero? Someone that really inspires you in your professional or personal life?
My personal hero is my father. He taught me a great work ethic. I saw him work at the family clothing store in Beaver Falls, PA at all hours of the day and night and still find time to do volunteer work with trade organizations. He also survived being in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. He was a 1st Lt. Forward Observer in the 276th Armored Field Artillery.
How would you describe the company culture at Allen & Shariff?
I can talk about our Pittsburgh office, which is low-key, down-to-earth, friendly, and everyone has a good work ethic.
Favorite sports team?
Let’s say teams. I am a true hometown sports fan. I follow the Pirates in the summer, the Steelers in the fall, and the Penguins in the winter.