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: James Hunt, Senior Mechanical Designer
Office: Columbia, MD
Years at Allen & Shariff: 3 years, 6 months
What’s the one skill that you would say is essential to being a great mechanical engineer?
An essential skill is being able to work under pressure.
What is the most innovative advancement you’ve seen in mechanical engineering since you first started your career? How has it affected the industry?
Variable Refrigerant Flow systems, the widespread use of inverter technology, and combining geothermal with water-cooled VRF to maximize energy efficiency. This technology is fairly new to the United States and is really taking off as energy codes require increasingly more energy-efficient systems.
Describe something from your past (school, work experience, a mentor) that most influenced you to become a mechanical engineer.
The thing that I would say influenced me to work in the mechanical engineering industry was my first job as a CAD operator. I was exposed to mechanical and plumbing design early, and I loved how logical and practical the design and function of these systems was. Having a direct effect on how buildings impact human comfort was very attractive to me.
Maryland weather: Love it or hate it?
Love it. I love season change.
What’s the corniest joke that you constantly hear in your field?
To the optimist, the glass is half full.
To the pessimist, the glass is half empty.
To the engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.
If someone asked you to describe your unique approach to problem solving, what would you say?
I would describe my approach to problem solving as systematic. First I identify the problem. Then I analyze the problem to try to pinpoint aspects that are contributing to the problem. Next, I create a plan to solve the problem, taking into account possible conflicts and issues with the solution. Finally, I implement the solution and check to make sure that the system is functioning as expected.
Allen & Shariff is about to celebrate its 25th anniversary. What do you think has given this organization its staying power?
Communicating with our clients to ensure they are receiving the level of professionalism they expect and making sure we deliver a quality product.
Was there ever a project where you felt monumentally stuck? Where you didn’t know how you were going to get it done? Tell us the story and how you got through it.
I think this happens to everyone in their career at one time or another. The situation had to do with limited resources and a very aggressive schedule. I was able to manage my responsibilities by creating a task list for my design, prioritizing the most critical items and working diligently to complete them. Sometimes things feel much more daunting until you have the full account of what needs to be done.
What’s the coolest Allen & Shariff project you’ve been part of?
I’ve been involved with many projects since joining A&S. I would say working on the Busboys and Poets Restaurant, located in Washington D.C., was the coolest. This project featured a full commercial kitchen, dining space, and bar. I designed both the mechanical and plumbing systems, so there was a variety of system types to coordinate with each other.
What’s the #1 “rookie mistake” you see in those just starting out their career in your field? Explain.
Thinking you know it all. School is great to get you started and teach you the fundamentals of our discipline, but there is a lot to learn once you get out in the field. Being humble and learning as much as you can from people with experience will benefit your career most.
What’s the single most important ingredient when it comes to a successful client relationship?
Transparent communication is the single most important ingredient for successful client relationships. Clients want to be assured that the team members designing a project are on task and meeting the owner’s requirements. Being responsive and open is key to building trust.
Do you have a personal hero? Someone that really inspires you in your professional or personal life?
Elon Musk is the person that inspires me the most in my professional and personal life. He is a brilliant engineer, scientist, and innovator who is striving to change the world as we know it.
How would you describe the company culture at Allen & Shariff?
I would describe the A&S culture as positive, with friendly employees who are all willing to help you in your time of need.
If Allen & Shariff were a car, what kind of car would it be and why?
A Tesla. This car best represents Allen & Shariff—forward thinking and backed by innovative minds.
What book(s) are on your nightstand right now?
I am a techie, so no books on my nightstand! I do have many science and technical books and publications on my iPad that I regularly peruse. I am not into fiction books. I like facts and real knowledge.