When you're working for someone else you're only as good as they say you are. When you are on your own you're only as good as your customers think you are.
Knowledge, experience and being able to think and work your way through anything that you run up against comes with time. The benchmark you should be looking to achieve is when you can go out to work on something you've never seen before and can take your knowledge and experience and teach yourself the new equipment while you work on it. THEN you go home at the end of the day and dig for every bit of information on it you can find and back up your "ideas" with the facts.
Everyone here I'd guess will agree that in this industry you never stop learning. If you worked today and didn't learn something new then you weren't paying attention.
Use the biggest hammer you like, pounding a square peg into a round hole does not equal a proper fit.
When I first started doing electro-mechanical work in the 1970s, I found that the onus was on ME to get better at what I was doing. Things that helped me:
Living on a farm for a few years in my youth
building electronic kits
being a hot rodder
working for a plumber
working for an electrician
taking a couple of semesters of formal electronics training
going back to school for more algebra
becoming a flight instructor (thinking on your feet, problem solving)
That's just a short list, but they ALL gave me an edge in diagnosing and repairing most things.
For me, the five year point of competency happened much sooner, because in reality, I had five years with most of the concepts many years ago.
The person best able to evaluate where you stand is someone you work with, who has seen what mistakes you made, and whose mistakes you may have seen, in turn.
You really have to love to find out what's wrong and make it right. If you have that inner drive, nothing can stop you in this business.
[Avatar photo from a Florida training accident. Everyone walked away.]
2 Tim 3:16-17
RSES CMS, HVAC Electrical Specialist
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As a 1.5 year tech I would generally agree with the 5 year philosophy for all around competency in matters of airflow, familiarity with the extremely diverse groups of systems out there and just basic tech savvy. And safety - especially durung the heating season.
That said; I'd guess 75% of what I encounter requires only the most basic knowledge to diagnose and correct. A switch is just a switch, a board just a board...ignitors, caps, fuses, charging, etc. It's the "why" that takes time to develop, I'm finding. Why did the limit wear out and stay open? Did the H/O fess up to a badly restricted filter (9 out of 10 times there is a brand new filter by the time you get there)? Motor and cap OK? Coil? Kid's clothes laying all over multiple supply vents? Blocked return? Do I need to take a good look at the heat exchanger?
And a fair amount times it is nothing at all - just cheap parts. The board has power to it and is not passing it when it should, no short marks, water stains etc. Just a board that failed after eight, ten or twelve years. Or two months.
I was blessed and cursed with being thrust out there solo within two weeks. Rewarded with an extremely fast and growing competence; plagued by the occasional botched call and difficulty falling asleep sometimes. And just when I'm feeling good, competent and actually happy to catch a no heat instead of another boring PM; I round the corner in the basement only to be confronted with an old Mueller Climatrol low boy (oh crap...wtf!?). If it ain't got a whole mess of wires going everywhere to safeties, motors, ignitors and what all; I quickly get lost and intimidated in the simplicity of it all. God forbid a two transformer system - have to pull out my phone and look at the picture of a diagram a senior tech scrawled on a piece of cardboard. Fan/limit switch? "Dude...time for a new furnace - did you know about the the new 90% mandate coming in May"?
And then there's always the low voltage weirdness (14 volts...what the hell? I expect to see about 24 or nothing so I know which way to go).
So yeah...I have about 3 1/2 years to go...
In five years you may find yourself able to fix the problems at hand but then you have to learn and see future problems and real safety issues. Once you start to see the whole picture your on the right track, I have 5 years in but like timebuilder said I was a certified mechanic in high school and always fixing things so it came easier.
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I think at 4-5 years you are just getting over being cocky about thinking you know everything then you realize you know nothing and start to learn something and that's what makes a good tech.
I don't know much about the business end of what experience companies expect but I disagree with most of the guys here.
I'll take a rookie who can think over experience any day of the week. A good thinker with a good teacher shouldn't need more than 5 months let alone 5 years to be a decent tech. What we do is not rocket science no matter how you slice it & we have a huge margin of error too. We might cause someone to be inconvenienced for a few days at worst but we're not going to kill anyone or give them a disability for life. I enjoy learning about our trade because there is so much to learn but beer can cold will still usually get the system cooling. Probably half the experienced techs out there are still charging equipment like that today without call backs. Experience is always a plus but it doesn't help when you run across something you've never experienced before. Know the basics of how the system works & how to think it through & you can fix anything.
An engineer designs what he would never work on.
A technician works on what he would never design.
Right on, Gary.
It also depends on how much you have to do, how much you have to know, how good you have to be.
If you start at a large company, there is always the more experienced guy to ask, the boss always has someone better. In other words you always have a crutch.
Then some guys start at a small company and maybe the lead tech, the guy with all the experience leaves. Now the new guy is the only go to service tech and it is sink or swim for him. This is what happened to me. I had to learn to fix everything, and I only had 3 years before I was technically the senior service technician! I was about 7 years from being ready for that!!! No senior tech to ride along to those problem units, no senior tech to call for help! So I had to learn how to fix stuff, there was no other choice. It took a lot of studying everything I could get my hands on I would devour. Now at 7 years experience, I feel confident that I can fix anything I get called to, residential, commercial refer (but no racks yet), commercial up to 50 tons, boilers, etc.
So it entirely depends on you!!!!!!! How much can you learn, can you apply the knowledge you have to real world problems? If you are dedicated to becoming the best service tech in the world and focus on achieving that 5 years is plenty of time to become a world class technician!
Wow chuck that's my exact position lol lead installer and lead tech by default lol.
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+1, having similar experience in other fields can help a LOT. Understanding electrical/electronics goes a LONG way in troubleshooting today's systems. Appliance repair and HVAC are closely related, having experience doing appliances is a nice boost to learning HVAC. A lot of the knowledge "transfers over". Same for electronics, A/V techs tend to have good experience hooking things up and understanding wiring diagrams. Understanding inputs/outputs on circuit boards is essential to being a good HVAC tech IMHO.
Originally Posted by timebuilder
Yip beer can cold!
Thats how i charge everything!
Dont even own gauges or a scale.
Just bring the bottle and a lil blue hose.
Dont even need a meter just one of those lil glowing things.
And clearly nobody can get killed in this field.
Originally Posted by garyed
Meter? Gauges? Scale? I thought when there broke you just install new equipment, yes people never die in this field, I think I get paid to much for this!
Originally Posted by supertek65
I am selling all that stuff tomorrow!
Clear that useless crap out of your van and slide in a goodman 120k furnace, that will cover your heating calls, and a condenser and evap, done!
Originally Posted by supertek65