Fellow wordpress blogger prarieflounder (who also has a great hobby in addition to a cool job) was kind enough to share with me what it’s like to control building systems for a college campus from a secret undisclosed location. If you are like me and wonder about what it would be like to do other jobs, please check out his post here that inspired me to ask him to be a contributor. Thanks, prarieflounder!
I am a control systems specialist for a community college in Colorado. I administrate, and operate the control system that manages all the heating, air conditioning, lighting, CCTV, and Card access systems on three campuses.
I love using computers to control real world things like pumps, motors, power, that effect people. It is really satisfying to create a program from nothing to efficiently operate an entire building. I also really enjoy the ability to diagnose problems simply by observing changes in behavior in a complex system.
There is a joke around campus among teachers, facility, and staff. “If it weren’t for students this place would be a fun place to work” For me the students are the easy ones to please. They are just visiting; it is the facility that is never satisfied. Having to cater to the needs of people who don’t really know what they want but are willing to stand in the way is probably the most frustrating part of the job.
I am sure there are easier ways to getting to where I am. I spent six years in civil engineering with the USAF bending sheet metal, welding, and working as a general mechanic on doors, gates, hangers, and other improbable gadgets. My hobbies included robotics, computers, and general gadgetry. I left the active duty military and joined the reserves where I learned control theory, boilers, chillers, refrigeration and electrical control systems. I worked for years with many companies including Hewlett Packard. Now I work for a Community College and go to school on the side to complete my education.
Shortly after 911 a HP engineer from India who was working in Colorado had a package shipped to him to work from his home in India. The package was full of coffee, sugar, creamer, nuts, and some ethnic candy of some kind. It was postmarked from Pakistan and was all ripped up and messed up looking. In fact it was leaking a white powder from the corner of the package. The package lay in the hallway for days before security noticed it and sounded the ‘anthrax’ alarm. I was contacted as part of the emergency response to stop the air handling equipment and assist with an orderly evacuation. After all the dust was settled and the package was soaked in water and analyzed it was determined that we just may have a hole in our security. My part was to create a control scheme for security to be able to shut down air handlers anywhere on the campus in an emergency. Thousands and thousands of dollars were invested in this effort. The system was used over a year later when someone left an orange in their desk drawer when they were laid off. It rotted and created a ‘chemical’ smell that evacuated the building.