Have bacon, will engineer

Bill Ammons, PE, LEED AP, has been involved in base building system retrofits, the design of cleanrooms, and believes bacon is the one food he could not live without.


Who: Bill Ammons, PE, LEED AP

What: Mechanical engineer/project manager, McGuire Engineers

Where: Chicago

About: During his career at McGuire, Bill has been involved in projects that include design of commercial tenant installation, base building system retrofit, cleanrooms/laboratories, and data centers. He has an ongoing involvement in the Illinois chapter of ASHRAE, and is the chapter president this year.

Q. What did you want to be when you were little?

A. The first thing I remember wanting to be was a scuba diver. The TV show “Sea Hunt” was big in my childhood. Not really learning to swim until I was 21 years old and not living near the ocean put an early end to that.

Q. Describe the path you took to get where you are today professionally.

A. My work history is pretty varied. For my last year of high school, I attended Georgia Tech, taking the core-curriculum engineering courses that would also satisfy my high school course requirements. At that time, I was not interested in engineering as a profession; I was just trying to go somewhere besides my high school. I moved on to a school for fine arts the next year and ended up with a master in fine arts degree. A fine arts degree is not a qualification for any job other than teaching, so after I graduated, I chose to be a cook, worked up to chef, changed to waiter, then I bought into a restaurant partnership so I could do both and wash dishes, too. After spending 15 years in the restaurant business, I decided it was time for a change. I was 35 years old at the time. I decided to pursue an engineering degree, partially because I had some background and ability related to it, but also because I was interested in working at a job solving problems and I liked mathematics; the two seemed to go together with engineering. I went back to school and earned my BSME and got my first engineering job at McGuire Engineers through contacts I had in the restaurant business. I am still at McGuire after 14 years.

Q. What is working well in the engineering profession?

A. Energy conservation and sustainability are getting everyone’s attention. Energy conservation codes and design guidelines are being updated and are headed toward zero net energy. Designing for U.S. Green Building Council LEED certification has become a prominent consideration. Most projects for which we are asked to submit a proposal involve LEED in some way. LEED certification and the groundswell interest in it is surprising to me since there does not seem to be any direct commercial advantage. There is even some controversy about the performance of LEED-certified buildings. Regardless of that or any other supposed flaws, LEED is at least well-intentioned and has headed more projects in the direction of sustainability than there would be otherwise.

Q. What is not working well in the engineering profession?

A. It does seem sometimes that deadlines are getting shorter and competition is greater. To a point, competition improves the breed. After that point, projects can get less engineering than they should. Shorter deadlines can have the same effect.

Q. What advice would you give to someone considering a career change to engineering?

A. Rest up. Engineering is ultimately very satisfying, but no one will argue that it is not stressful. Not in the adrenaline-rush kind of stress; more of the better-perform-well-under-pressure kind of stress. It can take a toll.

Q. How would your coworkers or clients describe you?

A. Even-tempered.

Q. What life adventure is still on your list?

A. Cuba. When I was in the restaurant business I would tell people that I intended to retire to Cuba and open a small hotel. Cuba used to be like a combination of paradise and Las Vegas. What you hear about it now makes it seem like it is frozen in time, minus the Las Vegas part. It is the closest and biggest Caribbean island, just 90 miles away with more coastline than Florida (2320 miles versus 1980 miles). If our government ever allows travel there, it will be flooded with American tourists. It will probably be a good place to open an HVAC MEP consulting office, or a restaurant/dive shop.

Q. What one word best describes you?

A. Droll.

Q. What makes you laugh?

A. When my son cheats at cards.

Q. What do you wonder about?

A. What’s next, will there be a unifying theory, and what’s life like on other planets, Cleveland, etc.

Q. What one food do you have to have, and why?

A. Bacon is pretty up there. My neighbor says it isn’t breakfast if there is no bacon. I have a vegan friend who is very tempted by bacon. It goes with everything, including chocolate. BLTs are not as good without it.

Q. If you weren’t an engineer, what would you be?

A. If I could choose something not based on my actual ability, I would be a writer.

Q. What’s your favorite city to do engineering work in, and why?

A. I have never practiced engineering anywhere other than Chicago, except for the occasional project nearby. Chicago might be my favorite anyway, but I bet it would be fun in Rio or Paris.

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