Keeping It Real with Aaron DeSantis

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: Aaron DeSantis, Mechanical Designer
Office location: Zelienople
Years at Allen & Shariff: 2 years


What’s the one skill that you would say is essential to being a great mechanical designer?
Attention to detail is essential because one little mistake can cost the owners of the facilities we work in a lot of money. This can in turn damage to the relationship we have with them, as they may start giving other firms work we would have received.

What is the most innovative advancement you’ve seen since you first started your career? How has it affected the industry?
While I haven’t been doing this long, it seems that refrigerants are constantly changing to keep up with government regulations. As a designer, we need to stay current on what refrigerants are available to us and if the refrigerant will be available down the road or if it will be phased out.

Describe something from your past (school, work experience, a mentor) that most influenced you to become a mechanical designer?
My grandfather was a mechanical engineer and I remember going to his office when he worked for Rockwell in New Castle, PA and seeing the machine components he was designing. While I’m not designing machine components, the line of work we do is just as interesting if not more.

What’s the coolest Allen & Shariff project you’ve been part of?
Right now, we are renovating a 5,000-ton chilled water plant and increasing it in size to a 15,000-ton plant. It’s cool because of the magnitude and the detail in the design.

What’s the #1 “rookie mistake” you see in those just starting out their career in your field? Explain.
Not asking enough questions. When I started I really knew nothing about healthcare design. Out of all of the people I’ve talked to, Ric Bowser and Russ Sullivan are two of the best in the field. Asking them questions and then thinking about their answers as it pertains to the task at hand, as well as the big picture, has helped me the most.

What’s the single most important ingredient when it comes to a successful client relationship?
Communication. The clients we work for know that what we do is an intricate and detail-oriented process. Sometimes we encounter problems with existing building systems that we do not know about that can cause delays on a project. They appreciate it when we call them or send them an email telling them about the problem and what the possible solutions are.

If Allen & Shariff were a car, what kind of car would it be and why?
2017 Chevrolet Colorado with a 2.4L Duramax diesel engine. A 2017 model because just like Allen and Shariff, the 2017 model will have a few miles on it (A&S has been around for 25 years) but a diesel engine is built for the long haul, just like Allen and Shariff. Also, the Colorado isn’t a full-size truck just like Allen and Shariff isn’t a large corporation. That gives us the freedom to appeal to individual owners and fit in niche markets.

What book(s) are on your nightstand right now?
1. Operation Red Wings: The Rescue Story Behind Lone Survivor by Peter Nealen
2. Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins

We hear you’re into hunting. Bow or rifle?
Bow. There are many variables that go into archery hunting and shooting a bow effectively. Just a little bit of side torque in your grip on the bow riser, if the fletching of the arrow touches your face in any way, or if you punch the trigger instead of gently pulling the trigger with your back muscles, all lead to an errant shot. If you don’t have control over all of those variables and many more then you will not be effective with a bow.

Keeping It Real with Tom Taylor

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: 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.

Keeping It Real with Joseph Klapheke

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: Joe Klapheke, Senior Mechanical Engineer
Office location: Pittsburgh North
Years at Allen & Shariff: 4 years


What’s the one skill that you would say is essential to being a great designer?
Being able to think in 3-D over time.  After all, there’s only so much room in the plenum.

What is the most innovative advancement you’ve seen in mechanical design since you first started your career? How has it affected the industry?
For better or worse, high speed internet.  The remarkable amount of information that can be sent and received instantaneously has transformed this and, I would imagine, most industries in ways that have accelerated the design and coordination of buildings and for that matter, entire campuses.

Describe something from your past (school, work experience, a mentor) that most influenced you to become a designer.
I’m a 3rd generation engineer.  I can safely say that my lineage is a tremendous part of why I am a mechanical engineer.  Even when I was little I liked to draw buildings and put things together.

Favorite sports team?
Hands down, Penn State Football.  WE ARE!!!!

If someone asked you to describe your unique approach to problem solving, what would you say?
I like to make a list of tasks that need to be achieved, put them in order, and then finish them as thoroughly as possible.  Then, fill in the holes that inevitably show up as the problem evolves until it’s solved.

What’s the #1 “rookie mistake” you see in those just starting out their career in your field? Explain.
At the beginning of my career, I would often be responsible for giving presentations to clients.  Typically, we would perform PowerPoint presentations using the client’s own computers from a CD that we would make prior to the presentation.  I made the unfortunate mistake of forgetting to make sure that the disk that was supposed to have the presentation on it was, in fact, ready to go.  It was blank.  I didn’t live that one down for a while.  With that in mind, I would say that not back checking your work, even when it is a simple thing, is a very common “rookie mistake”.

What’s the single most important ingredient when it comes to a successful client relationship?
Trust.  It takes a long time to be earned and is even more difficult to get once lost.

How would you describe the company culture at Allen & Shariff?
It is a culture where a lot of different personalities can come together to make something bigger than any one individual could do.

If Allen & Shariff were a car, what kind of car would it be and why?
A well-used truck.  It might have some dents and scratches, but it gets everyone where they need to go carrying whatever needs to be taken.

What book(s) are on your nightstand right now?
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I can’t help myself.

Keeping It Real with Chuck Booze


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: Chuck Booze – Senior Electrical Designer
Office: Salisbury
Years at Allen & Shariff: 2 years


What’s the one skill that you would say is essential to be a great designer?
Thoroughness.

What is the most innovative advancement you’ve seen in electrical engineering design since you first started your career? How has it affected the industry?
I would say most recently it is the application of energy codes. These codes have sparked many advancements, such as lighting controls and load management. Trying to design using these controls as economically as possible is challenging.

Describe something from your past (school, work experience, a mentor) that most influenced you to become a designer.
Coming into design from the contracting side, I would say that it was my extensive use of engineered drawings to complete work. I was electrical, but more often than not, I had full sets of MEP’s and ARCH’s. I also did HVAC control install. I had the opportunity to see drawings from numerous architects and engineers, and gained a lot of experience dealing with the other trades.

Maryland: Eastern shore or mainland?
Eastern Shore. I was born and grew up in Cambridge. I currently reside in Salisbury.

If someone asked you to describe your unique approach to problem solving, what would you say?
I don’t think my approach is unique. When I was in my apprenticeship class, we had a very good teacher. When we had a question, our teacher would almost always say, “You have a code book, look it up.”

Allen & Shariff is celebrating its 25th anniversary. What do you think has given this organization its staying power?
A commitment to doing the job right!

What’s the coolest Allen & Shariff project you’ve been part of?
I would have to say the electrical service mapping project at Wallops Island. The Blue Angels use Wallops as a staging/practice area during the Ocean City air show. Doing a site survey and listening to the roar of an F-18 Hornet just outside, and going out and watching them take off from about 400 feet away is a memorable experience.

What’s the #1 “rookie mistake” you see in those just starting out their career in your field? Explain.
My design career has only been 16 months long, so I feel that I fall into the “rookie” category. For me, it is QC. Back checking myself and getting others to back check my work. Even at my age, 53, I had to “get over” the feelings that I don’t have to be perfect.

Do you have a personal hero? Someone that really inspires you in your professional or personal life?
As a kid, it was Brooks Robinson. I loved baseball and I read multiple books about him. He was a great player who has always been described as a better person. As an adult, it falls back to my father. He is where I received my work ethic and moral compass.

How would you describe the company culture at Allen & Shariff?
Simple: It’s a team. Different players have different talents that can be put on the field to move the ball forward.

If Allen & Shariff were a car, what kind of car would it be and why?
Probably a 1993 (25 years old) model – that part doesn’t matter, but it has been customized, accessorized, had body work done, repainted a couple of times, has had multiple sets of new tires, re-alignments, and oil changes. Still on the road and running!