Keeping It Real with Alpha Sallah

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: Alpha Sallah, Mechanical Designer
Office location: Columbia Headquarters
Years at Allen & Shariff: 1 year

What’s the one skill that you would say is essential to being a great designer?
Empathy. Not the sunshine and rainbows connotation of empathy, but the ability to step back and look at a problem from various perspectives in order to solve it in a wholistic manner. For one, this centers the design around the building occupant. The designer should assess how every decision will affect the health, comfort, and mental well-being of those who will spend time in the building. Two, empathy helps team relations because the designer will keep an open mind to suggestions and compromise. This cooperation allows a team to flourish and maximizes productivity.

What is the most innovative advancement you’ve seen in mechanical design since you first started your career? How has it affected the industry?
Computer Aided Drawing (CAD) programs, such as Revit and AutoCAD, are relatively new and extremely prevalent in this field. I have only been in the field for a year, but the hand-drafting stories I hear from some of the veterans seem bizarre to me.

Describe something from your past (school, work experience, a mentor) that most influenced you to become a designer.
When I was in middle school, I lost about 4 pages of work on a class essay by kicking the power chord underneath the desk. I was so devastated that I began to throw a huge fit with loud and ugly crying. After about 30 minutes of this tantrum, I turned the computer on to find that the document autosaved. I was so happy that I ran to tell my parents in the other room. To my surprise, my dad disappointedly said something like this:

“Your mom and I just listened to you cry like a baby for a half an hour. Instead of trying to solve the problem or asking for help, you sat there pathetically feeling sorry for yourself. I don’t ever want to see you do that again.”

That lesson, although embarrassing to bring up, completely changed my mentality and approach to problem solving.

Maryland weather: Love it or hate it?
I like the fact that you get the full spectrum of seasons. But, it forces me to buy a lot of different types of clothes.

Allen & Shariff is celebrating its 25th anniversary. What do you think has given this organization its staying power?
The organization is very well rounded with a lot of experience across all branches. The leadership is also very interested in each and every individual growing in their respective fields, which reduces complacently.

What’s the #1 “rookie mistake” you see in those just starting out their career in your field? Explain.
The number one rookie mistake, that I made since I am still a rookie, was trying too hard to “already know things.” Meaning, I was embarrassed to stop and ask someone if I did not know something. I realized that doing this is only limiting the opportunity to learn from the experienced designers around me.

What’s the single most important ingredient when it comes to a successful client relationship?
Being available and responsive. The most important thing is not having a flawless design the first attempt; the key is being quick and cooperative in mediating any conflicts or coordination issues.

How would you describe the company culture at Allen & Shariff?
Allen & Shariff has an environment that encourages individual growth first and foremost. We are a group of individuals who are intrinsically motivated, and we know that we can feed off one another to put together a great team.

If Allen & Shariff were a car, what kind of car would it be and why?
A Honda Accord. It is reliable and easy to work with.

What book(s) are on your nightstand right now?
The Beginning of Guidance – Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali
Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self- Deception – Daniel Goleman

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