During National Engineers Week 2019, Matt Dolan, Associate Principal Engineer at Southland Industries, discussed a number of topics with The Big Room, including lessons learned and advice for the next generation.
When did you know you wanted to become an engineer and what path did you take to make it happen?
I have wanted to be a mechanical engineer since I was in eighth grade. My grandfather was an electrical engineer at the aerospace corporation back in the 1960s and I wanted to design custom or concept cars back when I was a kid. I took the necessary classes in high school and entered UC Davis as a mechanical engineering major. During college, I specialized more in manufacturing and not HVAC or building engineering. It wasn’t until I moved out to Las Vegas and applied to work at JBA Consulting Engineers that I learned about HVAC engineering. From that point, I found out how much more interesting building engineering was than designing cars. I can have a much larger impact on the whole building rather than design a small piece of a standard car.
What is your passion — what drives you — as an engineer and what is the most gratifying thing about the work you do every day?
I enjoy calculations and solving problems as well as teaching others about mechanical engineering and different building types and code requirements. The more difficult and complicated a building design is the more interesting it is for me to complete. That is why I have always liked designing casinos. They have so many different elements within the same building and require a high-level understanding of codes, psychometrics, pressure relationships, system types, stack effects, and highly coordinated, interior design-driven spaces.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned and how has it proven invaluable?
Keep emotion out of work writing. Anything in writing can be used to your benefit or detriment and the clearer and more factual you are with your writing, the better you can convey your message and avoid causing issues on a team or between companies.
Always be polite, but only state the facts and what is required to be understood for the project or issue and leave your emotions for another time.
What advice would you give to students who are considering a career in engineering?
Take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam as soon as you are able, either during college or just afterwards. Some careers do not require it to advance, but it is necessary to become a professional engineer and highly advantageous in our field of work.
What is a mechanical engineer and what does your typical day look like?
A mechanical engineer in this field is a registered professional engineer who designs, reviews, and stamps/signs HVAC and plumbing drawings for permit and construction. We design heating/cooling and plumbing systems for buildings of all sizes and types to meet the code and building use/location requirements.
During the day, I have both projects and tasks that I am responsible to complete, but I also find myself answering questions from many people in the office and company (from the other engineers in the office, to project managers, and even other divisions). I have a somewhat unique skills set with the quantity of high-rise buildings I have designed in different parts of the US and abroad that I have become a resource for smoke control components and life safety dampers, and high-rise tower designs.
What do you wish you’d known before you became an engineer?
I would have liked to know the various career opportunities available in mechanical engineering. The field is so broad that it is difficult to find the specific parts that are most interesting to you. I went down one path that I thought would provide fulfillment, but found that HVAC engineering was far more rewarding. The college I attended did not have a program for HVAC design, but they could have made the students aware of the discipline while we were taking classes such as heat transfer and thermodynamics.
What has been your most exciting or rewarding project and why?
Wynn Palace in Macau, China. I completed the full tower mechanical (HVAC) design from the initial mockup rooms through the completion of construction. I even moved to Macau in January 2015 through September 2017 to be present on the site during construction. This project allowed me to calculate and design every aspect of the HVAC and smoke control systems for the guestroom tower. My time living in Asia was also very rewarding and helped me further develop my engineering skills with SI units and different system designs and products available.