August 16, 2023

Learning Beyond the Classroom: From Pool Tech to Tech Solutions Engineer with Matt Walters (DF#110)

Learning Beyond the Classroom: From Pool Tech to Tech Solutions Engineer with Matt Walters

How To Rise From The Trades

In this episode of Degree Free, get ready to be inspired by Matt Walters, a Technology Solutions Engineer who shares his “unconventional” path to success.

Join us as we go over his journey, starting from humble beginnings as a pool technician and HVAC technician, and ultimately becoming a 6-figure engineer.

Throughout our conversation, Matt shares invaluable insights into his career trajectory and the invaluable lessons he learned along the way.

Key Discussion Points:

- Breaking Through Boundaries: Matt Walters defied societal norms and traditional educational pathways to forge his unique career in technology solutions engineering, no degree needed.
- The Evolution of a Career: Learn about the challenges and opportunities Matt encountered during his transition from working on trades, as a hands-on technician to a high-paying engineering role.
- Learning and Unlearning: Discover the secrets behind Matt's success, and how he describes how being a good engineer means unlearning how you were taught to learn in school.
- Career Growth Strategies: Matt provides valuable tips for anyone aspiring to advance their careers and break into the tech industry without a formal degree.
- Overcoming Obstacles: Hear about the obstacles Matt faced and how he turned them into stepping stones towards achieving his professional goals.

Listen to Matt’s story, a testament to the power of determination and perseverance.

Don't miss this engaging conversation with a remarkable individual who proves that anything is possible with the right mindset and the courage to forge your own path.

Enjoy the episode!

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If you're someone aspiring to enter the world of tech but don't know where to start, this previous episode is a goldmine of actionable advice and motivation!

Links and Notes from the Episode

Episode Transcript
Please enjoy this transcript or our episode!

Please note the transcript may have a few errors. We're human. It can be hard to catch all the errors from a full length conversation. Enjoy!

Matt Walters [00:00:00]:

I want to impress upon people how desperate these industries are for people that can do anything. You know, I know plumbers, pipe fitters that make in excess of $200,000 a year. There's so much opportunity out here. There's more work right now than there are people to do it. Like in my city, Tampa, the biggest struggle that I face on a daily basis is not how complex this problem is. How am I gonna find the labor necessary to correct this

Ryan Maruyama [00:00:28]:

Aloha folks who welcome back to degree free, where we teach you how to get hired without a college degree, I'm your host Ryan Maruyama. Before we get into today's episode, if you are trying to change jobs and get into a different career and you don't know where to start, You can sign up for our free community where we have free courses like the 7 day get higher challenge and the 5 degree free pathways course that are going to teach you how to get hired all without a college degree. You can go to degreefree.coforward/ network and sign up for the degree free network and the two courses are in there. The best part about it all is that in the degree free network, you are gonna be able to net work with other like minded degree free people just like yourself that are trying to change their lives by changing their work. Once again, go to degree free.coforward/ network to sign up. And if you would like to sign up for a free weekly newsletter that has different degree free jobs, how to get hired without a college free and different things that Hannah and I are getting into, then go to degree free dotcoforward/newsletter and sign up for our free weekly newsletter. Now on to my guest today, I am having a conversation with Matt Walters, a technology solutions engineer. I am super excited for you to hear this episode. We go over his current job, what his current job looks like, and how he got to where he is by working his way up from pool technician, HVAC technician, all the way up to a 6 figure paid engineer. We talk about how to learn and how to unlearn the things that you were taught in school and so much more. If you would like to connect with Matt Walters and follow along on his career, then you can do so on LinkedIn. Links to his LinkedIn will be at degreefree.coforward/ podcast as well as links to everything else that we talk about on this episode. And without any further ado, please enjoy this conversation with Matt Walters. Although, folks, and welcome back to degree free. I am super excited to have on today's guest, Matt Walters. Matt, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. My pleasure. I am really looking forward to this conversation because I honestly have no idea what you do. It's not for lack of preparation. I have been on your LinkedIn. I have looked at the companies that you've worked for, and I've Googled every single title. that you've had. It's not for lack of preparation. It's just like I have no idea. And so I think I'm a pretty good proxy for the people that listen to this podcast, if I have no idea what you do, I think there's a really good chance that other people don't know about it as well. One of the things that I really wanted to key in, and hopefully we could start there, is your progression, at least on your LinkedIn. And I know that people people put on people's LinkedIn isn't the full story. There could be a couple of different jobs here and there, but I loved it because at the very beginning of your LinkedIn profile. The very first job that you have on there is a pool technician. I'm still I'm still there. Like, I care. I know what that is, or at least I think I know what that is. And then you have HVAC or HVAC tech 1 and 2 still still there. And then we start getting into, like, building engineer. I know what that is sort of without having to go to Google, but then from there, it pretty much lost me. And now you are a technology

Matt Walters [00:03:59]:

solutions engineer. I would really love to start

Ryan Maruyama [00:04:01]:

with

Matt Walters [00:04:03]:

What is a technology solutions engineer? Yeah. Actually, before that, I'd I'd like it if we can define that term engineer first. I think that's a good start. because if I say I'm a degree for engineer, depending on who you ask, a lot of people are gonna say, well, that's not possible. You're not a real engineer. I get that a lot. And, It doesn't really faze me at all, but basically where that where that comes from is mostly licensed engineers, professional engineers, PEs, is a certification. I think There might be 2 states in the US, but pretty much every state, you have to have an accredited university degree to achieve that threshold. And most PEs would say that you know, that is the threshold to be a real engineer. You know, the skills required to be an engineer change over time and with the exponential growth of technology in the world, you know, the the skill are changing rapidly. Just by the fact that the demand for engineers is so high, there are certain types of jobs and sectors where you don't need a degree, and I think it is appropriate to call yourself an engineer. even if that's really from your title and not your educational background. There's a hierarchy, of course, of of difficulty of roles. A physicist might look down on electrical who would look down on a mechanical engineer, who would look down on a stationary engineer, who would look down a building engineer. Right? So the next highest guy I have is gonna say, well, you know, like I said, an electrical engineer might look at a mechanical engineer and say, like, yeah. He's barely an engineer, you know, because my job's harder than he is. And that's not all of them, of course. It's just kind of the the generalization, the stigma. But in reality, society, we give this term engineers people who solve sufficiently complex problems and just find solutions to every industry that makes life easier. I look at it as more of a competence level and complexity thing than a

Ryan Maruyama [00:05:45]:

credential thing. I am very happy that we started here even though I that wasn't my plan. I actually had that question written down because You're the 1st degree free non software engineer that we've had on here. So I really wanted to define that term. So thank you for starting there. Defining terms again, what is the PE engineer? What is that? What is that license?

Matt Walters [00:06:09]:

Sure. So that's professional engineer. The qualification for what that is depends, it varies by state. So you get a professional engineer license for whatever state you're operating in, and then you may need multiple in some states. I think it depends. If one's more strict, you're probably gonna need the more strict one. There's varying degree experience requirement threshold. So if you like, if you have a a bachelor's degree in mechanical Engineering, the PE experience department is greater. If you have a master's PhD, it's less. So it's it's typically some level of degree followed by some years of experience working under a currently licensed professional engineer. and certain types of experience thresholds. Like, it might be design engineering, you know, whatever type of engineering that is, and then Once you get all that, you are then qualified to take the test. Prior to that, you can take an EIT test engineer in training after you have that. Once you surpass the threshold, you get your PE license, and then that needs to be maintained as well. So you're required to submit documented hours of certain types of learning. I can't remember the the term for the credits, but it's it's similar to college credits, and that could be gained through certain things like going to an engineering conference and listening to some conference papers or speakers or research papers or something like that. I would love to get your opinion on it. At what point do you call yourself an engineer, and can you hold your head up high? And to give some context behind that question,

Ryan Maruyama [00:07:34]:

offline, I was talking to a software engineer, and that is one of the number one things that he get and I think a lot of software engineers that that get that. Is that like, well, you're not an actual engineer. And then I thought about that. I was just like, well, what is the threshold for one to call themselves an engineer as a layperson as somebody that doesn't know anything about anything? It seems to me that engineers are people that solve problems. Right? They solve complex problems, and there's a lot of design and infrastructure that go into executing the solution to that problem. And so I don't really know what that threshold is. I would love to know what that threshold to call yourself and engineer is. Yeah. And it's a very difficult and somewhat subjective question. Right? because as I said, there's obviously thresholds. You know, somebody working on

Matt Walters [00:08:28]:

Elon's Starship at SpaceX as a mechanical engineer is potentially, depending on what exactly they're working on, significantly more qualified than someone, you know, just designing a mechanical system in, like, a commercial building. But they're both engineers. Right? Of course, there's a hierarchy within that. And as far as defining a minimum threshold, that's a pretty difficult thing. And as I progress in my career. In regards to my LinkedIn positions, those HVAC tech positions, the the technical job title at that place was HVAC engineer 1, because you know, just in within that sector, they call their staff engineers for whatever reason. And looking back, I didn't feel it was appropriate for that role I was playing to be called an engineer. But at the same time, two people can be in the same role, and one of them can take it vastly deeper and farther than than another person. So, like, I've met profession. I've not many because professional engineer is is generally a pretty good standard for competence, but I've met a handful that were quite frankly an embarrassment to the title. So, you know, it it's really it depends on the person. What I just find so interesting about the thing is that it's pretty much exactly what you were talking about. Right? That HVAC role that you had, it was a HVAC engineer 1.

Ryan Maruyama [00:09:40]:

I used to be a firefighter in a previous life. And when you get up to actually running the truck when you're the person that's driving it, at least in my department, they are engineers. We called them, like, you're my engineer. really, that just means you're a driver that means that you are in charge of pumping in the hydraulics of the truck. And and then if you're on a ladder operating all the hydraulics of that that those types of things. But does that really qualify you as an engineer? I'm not sure. But then, like, I have a really good friend who doesn't have a PE license who is working in manufacturing, who is chemical engineer by degree who is a process engineer by title now, but he does not have a PE So I find it interesting when there are positions that are gate kept and uncovering why we think those are gate kept by, you know, either the industry or by college or just by our own stigmas and our our own thoughts.

Matt Walters [00:10:42]:

Well, you know, something along those lines, I work with a lot of degree engineers. Most of the engineers I work with, are degree. And when I asked them, related to my specific industry. It's like because I'd like to know what, what class, what course in college do you take that is most useful to your job now. And the majority of the time, the answer is not a single one. Not a single one. Sometimes it's thermodynamics, like some base fundamentals course. They gave me, a head start. Again, as as technology exponentially grows, the roles that you do as an engineer get broader and sort of more diffuse, and there's more in a there's more to and we start getting more and more specialties. And education really can't keep up with all these specialties. It's just you can't if it's too specific, you'd have to have too many different courses. So really, at least in my industry, and I'm sure that for some industries, college is extremely I would imagine a computer science degree is hyperrelevant to what you're immediately doing out the gate. But for the industry that I'm in, a degree does not prepare you to be an engineer. It is merely a good indicator that you have the competence level to be 1. Yeah. Totally.

Ryan Maruyama [00:11:50]:

As far as What you do now and the technology solutions engineer, can we circle back and talk about what that role is?

Matt Walters [00:12:01]:

Sure. It is pretty heavy into software. I wouldn't call myself a software engineer because I'm not really coding per se, but it's sort of a a blend. Within my industry controls, engineers are sort of few and far between, especially those that have a background in operations and stationary engineering like I do. Essentially, what I do is I build and program control strategies for building mechanical systems on a commercial level. That can mean fire systems, that can mean lighting, that can mean HVAC, electrical plumbing. Basically, if you look at the building as a robot, it's basically robotics, but inside of a building. Like, I've got this little robot on here back on my desk. the same types of signals I would use to control something like that in a process machine factory or this exact same stuff I would use in a building are the exact same things I might use on a fighter jet to control the control surfaces that, you know, balance your pitch and roll. so it's it's really Sort of robotics, but for building mechanical level systems.

Ryan Maruyama [00:13:02]:

Is the application that you are specifically doing is that for buildings? Like, you were talking about things that were you're talking about a building. Hospitals,

Matt Walters [00:13:12]:

data centers, schools. I mean, really any For me, I I do commercial. I mean, it's barely starting to get into residential because it's the complexity is, you know, we can get there another time, but commercial buildings. I've done a lot of k through 12 schools, of course, higher ed has it too. I've done several hospitals. I've done a couple data centers with Microsoft. And all of those control strategies and type of equipment that we're controlling are are very different. And there's different levels of precision within there as well. Right? You know, I mentioned fighter jets earlier. Of course, that's gonna be a significantly higher level of precision than even what I'm doing. So, again, there's a hierarchy in there.

Ryan Maruyama [00:13:48]:

So robotic the application, like, let's talk about schools for a second, is that gonna be, like, controlling the alarm system. Is that gonna be turning the lights off at a certain time, like, automation,

Matt Walters [00:14:02]:

or, I mean, is that too general? No. No. That's it's it's automation. I mean, again, there's a hierarchy. If you imagine just your thermostat in your home and when your temperature gets above a certain set point, know, the thermostat's gonna switch over a relay, which calls for your fan and cooling system to run, that's even, like, at a very low level automation of some sort. it's it's this device that's programmed to perform a fur certain function based off of its process variables that it or whatever inputs it's reading from me and its environment. Got it. And I usually save this question for later, but I would love to know now. Like, what is it day to day of that look like? So it, you know, in my current role, it's it's a lot of putting out fires, so to speak. We're relatively new with the customer we're currently working with. It's a it's one of the largest school districts in the country down here in Florida. And we we are sort of trying to get them back to a state of consistent and smooth operation and maintenance of their entire infrastructure. you know, there's a huge lack of and we'll get more into this later, but a big lack of skilled labor in this country. And our infrastructure within the country is slowly becoming more dilapidated over time just because we're losing all these people that are retiring and, you know, kids these days really aren't being motivated to step in So we're sort of here to help this customer manage their infrastructure and get it to a place where it's operating as it should be, what we call retro commissioning. So let me explain retro commission for a minute. When a building is designed by an architect, mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, there's what we call design intent. There was a vision that that architect or mechanical or whatever engineer had in mind, of how this building should live and breathe. There's efficiency standards and energy codes and and different things that they're trying to achieve. And over time, you gotta think most of the sort of facility operators or technicians that are in that or sometimes it's literally just a facility manager, like, a a janitor sometimes, depending on what building that's in that building, they don't typically know even though what the freight design intent is. you have to imagine when a problem arises, something the system breaks, they're gonna do whatever they think is best to make it work for the space. And oftentimes, it's the wrong thing to do. It's not really it's maybe addressing a symptom and not the root cause. So over 20 years of just throwing different parts or locking things in certain positions or just manipulation by, a local operator of a system the system is completely out of balance and very inefficient and just barely working or not working at all. So retro commissioning is the state of looking at the existing system and taking it back to design intent. And, oftentimes, improving upon that design intent. you know, down here in Florida, a big part of my job is to make these existing systems more efficient because there's a big decarbonization, green renewable energy push throughout the whole country. And Florida is really relative to other states, very far behind with its energy, enforcement of energy efficiency standards. So There's a lot of low hanging fruit, and we're so not only do it bring back to design intent, but we improve upon that intent. So with retro commissioning and going back to the original design intent. You were talking about, let's just say this janitor

Ryan Maruyama [00:17:19]:

over 20 years and multiple people come in and fill this role, they had the original design intent, but then they found this workaround for for whatever it was. And then this next person came in and did this other workaround. and it got away from the original design intent so far. Is it part of your job? So, obviously, it's your job to get it back to design intent. But do you also look at the what those actions were that those people did and try to design a solution going forward so that people don't do that or to make maybe the system more intuitive or to make it easier to use?

Matt Walters [00:17:57]:

That's a great question. So in a in a new construction phase, it's a lot more on-site. And there's a lot to unpack there, so I'll hold off on that for a minute, but right now in retro commissioning, the existing systems are there, and I have access to all of the data that they're telling me. So basically, what I can do from my home is just look at a giant list of numbers. and that's temperatures, pressures, flows, etcetera. and it tells me how the system is behaving, how it's breathing, and living. And I sort of just look at that system and say, like, is this optimal? One, is it is it optimal for the people that are occupying the building? Is this gonna keep them comfortable? Is it gonna keep them healthy, good air quality, too, is is it optimal for the longevity of the equipment? I mean, some of these pieces of equipment were controlling costs 1,000,000 of dollars. And you know, shortening the life. If you cut the life of that, if it's operating properly, you can cut the life of that equipment significantly in half. sometimes down to 25% if it's bad enough. So isn't operating in a way that's efficient for the equipment itself and and optimal, and that isn't operating efficiently. Are we wasting energy by the way we're running the system as a whole? it's not just individual pieces of equipment. It's they're all part of a large system. So if this piece of equipment isn't optimal, then it's gonna make this piece and these downstream pieces also operate sub optimally. So I'm looking at all that data and interpreting that data to be a current operating state of the system then saying, Here's who I am. Where do I need to be? And then I'm looking at how can I get there? Now through that, investigation, I can typically determine where I might have a mechanical failure or a a physical issue with the system. and I'll do 2 things. Either I can diagnose exactly what's wrong, and I'll tell the customer, like, hey. You need to create a a work order for a certain vendor to go fix this physical deficiency. Sometimes there are deficiencies that cross the boundary of physical and controls, and it's a lot of finger pointing. controls guys don't understand mechanical systems. Mechanical system guys don't understand control systems. So there's there's some gap here. And, again, as technologies growing and more integration, things are becoming integrated into these systems. That that gap is getting wider. I mean, there's some issues where customers are having to call it 3 or 4 to fix a system because they all don't understand. They're all pointing fingers and nobody. So I'm kind of the guy that when I go out to site, it's because there's finger pointing, and I need to decide what what the actual problem is. In my current role, that's it's pretty rare. In my in my previous role when I was in Denver, I was almost exclusively on-site, maybe 10% if I was building a program for a system. So it seems like there is a lot of troubleshooting.

Ryan Maruyama [00:20:40]:

There's a lot of looking at data like you were saying. charts diagrams. I'm sure maybe databases like Excel Excel, I'm assuming. The what are some of the qualities that you would need to succeed in a career like this because majority of the audience that's listening to this are all of the instance listening to this. They are trying to vet different careers. They are in a career that's seemingly unrelated right now, whether or not They are serving tables or a cashier to supermarket.

Matt Walters [00:21:14]:

They're listening to this, and they're just like, well, That sounds good for me, but I don't know exactly what I would need to look like or what my qualities need to be to do that job. And I would love to get into what you think great qualities would be. Yeah. It it might be easier to start with with how I got here. I did do some college. I do have some college experience. After high school, my initial plan was to go to community because I have ADHD. I'm a heavy procrastinator. I was like, my I need to ease into this college thing. You know, I don't wanna get a big loan and just goof it up. But my father at the time who, you know, was graduate from Vanderbilt, you know, pretty big on college, and he's like, you don't go to university immediately, I'm not helping with any of your school payments, Saul Cycle. I guess I'm one of university. Well, as a procrastinator, I didn't like doing homework. And at the same time, my father was was sick. He had a Lou Gehairs Lou Gehairs disease. I don't know if you're familiar with Steven Hawking. It's the same the same illness there. Aimiotropic lateral sclerosis. So There was a frequent need. And luckily, my college was nearby. I was going to Dallas Baptist University, and there was a frequent need for me to be at home and help take care of my father as he was going into end of life and there's terminal disease. So there's, you know, there's an expectation that he was eventually gonna pass. Just didn't really know when. It wasn't an infrequent occurrence that I would get a a phone call at school in my mother would say, Hey, I think he's about to go. Like, you need to get home and say your advice or whatever, and that happened multiple times. So that kind of made school very difficult. and keeping up with with all of that. And, eventually, I was going in for, environmental science as my initial major, but my 3rd semester, I kicked out for academic probation because my grades are really bad. I honestly just thought, like, I was a total failure. You know, like, I had failed at life that I was just gonna be totally miserable. Like, school was so easy. Everybody else is doing it, and I just can't hack it. So I I plan to get a job to pay my way through community college and try to finish at least an associate's degree or something. So I got this job I was able to get was this job at the Gaylord Texan Resort And Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas as a pool technician, making $10 an hour. That job was It's the most fun job I've had to date. I just didn't quite pay enough for me to make a living, but essentially, the Gaylord is a really unique environment. I'm really appreciative that I was able to get that job because I don't know if you've ever been to a gamer resort, but they're these they have these some big resort convention center. This one's 5,000,000 square feet, so it's huge. They have these massive atriums that are just, you know, big indoor environmental plants grow. They've got these big rivers flowing through them. They've got fountains everywhere. They've got water parks. So as a pool tech, I was responsible for pretty much any nonprocess hydronic system. So that includes all the rivers, all the fountains, all of the water park equipment, And some of that can get pretty technical. And in some of the rivers, we even had, like, living fish, we would work on unique equipment like ozone generators or UV systems, And just some really interesting stuff. And through my time doing that, the person who managed the pools also managed the HVAC side of the house in the central utility plan. So I would sort of, in my spare time cross train, I would carry their tools. I would do all the worst jobs that they didn't wanna do to sort of just get my foot in there. Like, teach me what you know because I need to make more than $10 an hour. Right? So Eventually, I achieved this position HVAC tech 1 on on 3rd shift. So that was 11 PM to 7 AM. A resort is a 20 fourseven facility. like, things have to stay running. And 3rd shift is typically the place where either you send the upstarts or the, I don't wanna say the the rejects, but, like, You know, 3rd shift where the people that you don't really maybe wanna be around too often typically go or the people that are just less experienced. So it's all level 1 people. that are on 3rd shift. Nobody really knows that much more than anyone else. So there's really nobody to teach from, but you still have this big 8000 ton It's a metric of cooling, central utility plant, 100,000,000 plus BTU boiler plant with high pressure steam application. There's a laundry large laundry It's kind of scary as a person who'd ever seen it because, I mean, a lot of this equipment's like way bigger than I am. It's making loud noise. I mean, some of these pumps, when they could start, would shake the floor, just powerful stuff. And, you know, now I'm responsible for making sure this stuff does not shut down. And if it does, I have to take care of it. I have no idea what I'm doing. So the company I was working for at the time, it was Marriott Hotels who runs that business. And, thankfully, my main job was preventative maintenance of equipment. So, like, let's say an air handler needs maintenance, I would go in. I would I started out with just cleaning it, or if it was broken, I would maybe try to fix it in My company, when I was all caught up in my maintenance, allowed me the freedom to educate myself on the clock. So they said, Hey. If you're caught up on your work and you wanna teach yourself to be a better technician or teach yourself to be an engineer, As long as it's job relevant, we're gonna give you that time, which was amazing. And I mentioned before the the diversity and scale of equipment at a gaylord is very unusual at stuff you would normally find in critical environments, but with noncritical consequences. Cause in something like a hospital, for example, if like, you might have equipment feeding and operating room. And if it goes offline, like, That's a big deal. You know, you're getting woken up at 3 AM and you can better not go offline in the first place, but versus a hotel, like, somebody's uncomfortable. you know, not that big of a deal. I mean, you could lose a couple $1,000,000 of process cooling if it's like a walk in fridge and you have all these really expensive meats or something, but typically, it's you know, it's a big deal to me at the time. This is my job, but in retrospect, it's equipment that is is pretty complex. with little consequences. So you get the freedom to push buttons. You normally wouldn't get to push outside of that kind of environment. And the ability to couple practical applications of my work with, at the same time, getting that textbook education was just so invaluable. There's a program that MIT and Harvard have a joint run on called EDX. And I used to use take these EDX courses. It's basically it's the same like, thermodynamics, for example, is one of the ones I took. Of course, that you would get in the college, but your papers aren't graded. There's no one checking your work. There's no credential errors at the end of it. You they tell you what textbook you get if you wanna get it. You can watch all the lectures. You can do assignments, but there's just no checking up on it. So different learning resources like that, and Shatter Electric Energy University and several other things I would use to educate myself And even just walking around the central planner, the building, I would see these equipment. I'm like, I don't know what that thing is. I'm gonna spend the next 2 weeks learning everything I can about that until I know it like the back of my hand. And because I didn't want there to be anything that happened on that shift that I couldn't handle, after about a year and a half of doing that, I transitioned to 2nd shift as sort of like a lead tech overseeing all of the mechanical electrical plumbing systems for the building. That was a lot of running customer calls making sure the central plant was operating. And we were adding on an expansion to the Gaylord. I think it was 100,000 square feet of meeting space and 310 guest rooms or something. And during that process, when the owner hired a commissioning engineer to come and commission the new facility, And this guy is the most intelligent engineer I've ever worked with. And our director of engineering was so impressed with him that he paid him a substantial amount of money to stay back an extra 2 days every time you flew out here to teach us, how to recommission our existing building. And this might be just 2 days a week a month. So and he was such a good teacher. And so me and 1 or 2 other people would just follow him, and he would take us through these problems and show us how to utilize data. And it's it's so much simpler than it appears from the outside when you get to hang you just can't believe it could be that simple online. You just didn't see it. And there's really a a way of thinking as an engineer that you have to develop. And, honestly, it's fun learning the way you were taught to think in in school, because I think the K-twelve system without going too far down a rabbit hole is severely deficient in teaching kids to memorize things instead of how to properly think about a problem. I mean, I think largely humans are not at least in this country, not very good at thinking. So after spending all this time with this engineer, the Gaylord Rockies was gonna open up in 2018. And the Gaylord Rockies was a new Gaylord Hotel in Denver, Colorado. And it was, at the time, the largest construction project in the US, and they did not hire a commission team initially to commission that building. Listen, if you tell contractors that no one's gonna QAQC their work, they're gonna cut corners. And it's not out of maliciousness. It's just there's not enough people to do this work. They have deadline. They have to meet. And they probably even intend to go back and fix it after the deadline is met. So I knew that in my mind. And I said, that building is gonna potentially be a real piece of work, and I would love to be the guy that gets to work on it. So I put my name in the hat. I wanted to go up there. But even as a facility engineer, I didn't have many credentials because I was never really worried about it. I had an EPA certification for refrigerant. but I called the chief engineer who was gonna be in charge of that building. I was like, I'd love a job. And he's like, well, I don't really think you have I told him there's been a amount of money I needed to move. He's like, I don't think you have the experience or credentials necessary to take this job. And he's like, but I'll give you a position on 3rd shift. So I'm like, oh, great. Back to 3rd shift. Just jumping in here. What was that minimum amount of money for you to move was $26 an hour that I was looking for. And, that was the that was the starting for their level 3 building engineers. So I was like, okay. I understand. Respect. You don't know me. I gotta get my foot in the door. I respect that. So I took it, and I've I found an apartment that was really close by so that I could drive I could be there in 10 minutes if something bad happened. And as it turned out, I was one of the only people on that entire facility operations team who had really ever operated a building of that scale or equipment of that magnitude. So I was kind of the immediate subject matter expert, which to me was a scary thing. Even now, sometimes I'm like, I have no idea what I'm you know, like, who really knows what they're doing? But, you know, when you're forced to do everything, you figure out how to do everything. So there's a lot of trial by fire. And sure enough, that building had so many opportunities for improvement that it really allowed me to flex my skill and kudos to the management team there. they eventually recognized my abilities and and really gave me the freedom to adjust that and and sort of play with that building and try to improve it. They they really gave me the freedom to do that, which is very rare for a, like, a chief building engineer to allow a mechanic to really make adjustments to the existing state, especially a new system. And when I first got there, it wasn't even done being built. I mean, we didn't even have a control system in place, so I had to create SOPs for the entire team on how to operate the system enhanced. manually because the automation system wasn't in place. The first day we opened, January 1st, we had a boiler burst. 1 of our 20,000,000 BTs boilers burst. the plant. It was the only one we had working. And, you know, I walked in the plant. There's 4 inches of water gushing out of this water tube boiler. And I had a hot wire these other boilers to run because they weren't even started up yet, really. you know, just to keep the building heat going. And there's all these sort of issues you run into and design improvements that I would try to make, and I really use that facility as tool to teach myself to be, like, a next level of engineer. And I believe the complexity of the issues that I was working on was sufficient to call myself a title engineer, even if it was only a lower level. And it was really, really the same position. I just got moved to 1st shift, but it's, you know, stationary engineer, is a is a title that you give to people who operate equipment of a sufficient capacity. And it's a position that comes with a license in Denver. Typically, there's a 5 year experience threshold. There's a big test you have to take. You study for it to to give that license. You have to operate can't remember the exact specifications, but it's refrigerant equipment, hot water equipment, and high pressure steam equipment of a certain capacity for a certain amount of years, certain types of projects. and documented progressive over time. So and really the whole time I was kinda doing that role, but And and while I was trying to commission that building by myself as a facility operator, I ended up impressing some people at the automation company that installed that system. And they so they hired me. They said, hey. You know, we'd love to give you a job if you're if you're up for it. And I was game because I was really reaching a ceiling at Marriott. And I'm trying to constantly feed my curiosity. So, I got recruited by this this company to the automation and called Johnson Controls, and they're one of the 3 biggest names in the in building automation around the globe. So they're some of the best to ever do it. So I was really excited about that and a little out of my depth because I'd never done new construction. You know? And this is my first time as, like, what I thought was a real engineer. I was like, okay. This is my first job where I'm, like, actually an engineer and not just some facility. Well, to a 3, you know, this is kinda funny. That huge list of issues, commissioning issues I made for them to work on. They gave it back to me and said, go fix it all. as sort of I don't know if that was revenge or just like a trial or and to see if I could really hack it. So I worked on that for a while and after about 3 months of onboarding working with different health care facilities, I I got a sort of a a job as the primary engineer on UCHealth for their TRICIP medical center. the day I set foot on the site, we were, like, 6 months behind schedule. And then a few days later, code hits. And when as soon as COVID hit hospitals, like, we need these beds yesterday. Like, you need to be done now. And due to labor shortage, I was really just kinda thrown to the fire. And it's not just late. It's COVID too. There was a huge, you know, I can't really blame Johnson controls for all of this because COVID was just a hectic time for 1. And I was really thrown out there with very little support, no project manager, initially, just a handful of technicians to help me out and sort of figuring out a way I'd never done a really full construction project, so I wasn't really even sure how to know what I needed to do next. I just, you know, problem. I'm gonna solve a problem. I'm gonna solve a problem. I'm gonna without really big picture. So that was a huge, you know, trial by fire learning curve. I was working 70 to 90 hours a week for a year. trying to get that job done. I mean, it was exhausting. spare time, spare time on my weekends, help out with the Microsoft data centers in Wyoming, or, some K-twelve schools or other hospitals. And after about a year 8 months of that, I was just so exhausted and so that I can't, you know, I don't really wanna be in Denver anymore because, you know, you can't work 70, 90 hours a week forever. So I missed fishing too. Love fishing. And So I I told myself Hawaii, Texas, or Florida. And this company I'm at now, McKinsey called me up and said, we got position in Tampa, and I was like, sold. You know? And, it's kinda where I am today.

Ryan Maruyama [00:35:45]:

Perfect. Perfect. Thank you for sharing that story. That is amazing. One question before I get into some of the, like, picking a part of your story or at least highlighting some attributes or things about your story. the one thing that I wanted to double click on real quick, which was unlearning how you were taught to learn in school Can we talk a little bit more about that and what you meant by that?

Matt Walters [00:36:10]:

Sure. I always say that school really failed me of course, I have ADHD procrastinating our cancer still. And I'm it was a struggle for you to absorb medication. Now when I was younger, so my family's moved all around the country for my dad's work. But when I first moved to Florida, Fort Lauderdale, Miami area, I gotta roll to private school, Westminster Academy, and it was a much higher standard of what it needs to be educated. And I use math as a good example because you know, they were like, you know, in the real world, they didn't, of course, you'll never have a calculator in your pocket to be able to do math, or you won't have scrap paper. So you need to do all math in your head. So I'm like, that makes sense. So, you know, the education there was pretty good, and I got real good at that. And then we moved to California, and I go to California Public School System where doing math in your head is impossible for a human. You're obviously cheating. You know? Then it's like, if I could never show my work because just I'm always a very, like, see the problem. There's the answer. But then they kinda teach you that that's wrong and that you need to look approach things like this, and there's always a correct way to a If you don't use this correct method to get to this solution, your solution is invalid no matter how accurate or precise it may be. So going into the space and being a technician mechanic engineer, when things break, I'm always trying to find the exact method by which we're supposed to to fix this thing. When really, it's problem solution and in between is irrelevant. Like, how you get there doesn't matter. Now, of course, you need to get there ethically. And within reason, of course, you're not you're not gonna, like, duct tape everything. But, in a pinch, you know, you do what you gotta do, and and it took me a long time to get my brain oriented around. There's not a correct way to solve it. every problem. There might be there's multiple right answers, and they're in some circumstances might be a best answer, but oftentimes it's it's marginal. And even if you're looking at the research on a a specific method of control, for example, it's it's marginal. In certain circumstances, it's it's just really not clear. I love that because

Ryan Maruyama [00:38:16]:

I learned that really late in life. I had a very traditional quote, unquote, background. I'm Japanese. And so my all the stereotypes, all the, I don't know, whatever you call it, racist stuff against Japanese people about, like, oh, you're smart. Go to go to school, go to college, do math. That's all true. It's it's all true. And so that's very typical of how I was I was raised and how I grew up. you need it to be book smart. You need it to be school smart straight a's, get into college straight a's go make a lot of money. finance doctor or something like that. And so I obviously didn't take that path. And It wasn't until later, but I still held that belief that, like, school was the way to learn. And the way that they teach you to problem solve in school through textbooks and through what these things say through this structured, rigid methodology, and ideology, Like, that's the way to do it, but then it wasn't until I was exposed to other people with other backgrounds that I really understand. Like, I'm totally wrong. It wasn't until I became a firefighter where I was surrounded by all these people that weren't quote unquote book smarter, school smart. But, man, you put these guys on a pump panel and hydraulics just comes to them like that. They totally get it. Right? Like, they totally understand friction loss. They totally understand elevation. They they just they get it. They they talk you talk to them about you're pumping into this, you know, I'm getting too technical. Not technical for you, but technical for people listening to this. You know, you're pumping into a stand pipe, and then you gotta Like, how much are we gonna how much are we gonna pump? How much do I need in? Anyway, like, all of this stuff and all of this, I'm good at math. All this stuff is completely over my head. I'm like, I don't know what's going on here. But it wasn't until my exposure to these people and their way of thinking and their way of problem solving. Did I understand? Okay. There are different types of intelligence. around. And this sounds really pompous to say because I'm, like, 28 at the time. But, like, you know, 27 at the time, like, okay. There are different ways. And then you exactly what you were saying. There's a problem, and there's a solution here. How you get to the to that solution doesn't really matter. And firefighting, at least in our department, we had a saying or people would be like, we would ask, or as a new person, you would ask, is this how to do it? And somebody would just ask you the question back, look at you and say, did it work? Right? Like, that's pretty much it. Like, there's two questions. Was it safe? Are we still alive? You know what I mean? Like, are we still alive? 2nd, did it work? if you say yes to both of those things, well, then that's the answer to the problem. I mean, and you could have done that same solution, or you could we could have got to the desired outcome 17,000

Matt Walters [00:41:20]:

different ways. Is it but you did it this way? And that's okay. You know, you mentioned different types of intelligence. And one of the really, like, things that people like Raisin eyebrow at me that I used to do when I was was at the Gaylord Rockies, the new building. I wanted to know that system, that mechanical system like the back of my hand because I knew, like, anything that happened to that, I had to do crisis mitigation. I was responsible for it. And I used to lay underneath these huge machines, like, on 3rd shift and just put my hands on them and, like, imagine that I was, like, the water flowing through the system and through the pumps. Like, I wanted to know every turn, every bell. I wanted to know the sound of the system. What does it sound like under optimal operation? And and if you've ever seen, like, an operator break like a vapor lock on a pump. Just that intuitive like, he's spinning valves. He's listening for things. He's watching pressure gauges and just that intuitive knowledge of what's happening inside is just it's some other kind of skill that you can't really teach. Like, some of that stuff is just you have to really live and breathe alongside your system.

Ryan Maruyama [00:42:20]:

Totally. And it wasn't until that experience that I really because obviously, and I'll go back to, like, what I know about about the the pump on a fire truck. Like, there's a classroom portion of it. Like, you have to pass some sort of test. It's a standardized test. There's, you know, fill in the bubbles stuff. But just because you know those answers or you can do it in that environment, it's completely different in practice as well. Right? And and so even though I was very good. I'm very good at standardized tests. I'm very good at it. Like, I did it my whole life, and I aged it my whole life. But I couldn't do that, but it took me way longer than people who just intuitively, like, Yeah. That doesn't sound right. This thing is screaming right now. Like, what are, like, something's something's wrong, but for me, I would just I would just I would just look at it and be like, yeah. Precious right. Yeah. But your RPMs are like crazy. Like, what's going on? Shut it down. You know? Like, So, anyway, it just, I really, really ascribe to what you're saying there. I wanted to circle back to you know, how we got down your path and talking about your story, which was, you know, the different skills for people that are listening to this. And I love the fact that you gave your backstory, and I kinda wanted to summarize some of those things. And maybe you can tell me if I'm wrong. about the qualities that people might need. So I think number 1, what you're talking about is just that constant wanting to problem solve Just constantly be learning, constantly be curious. Those were some things that were highlighted for me about your past and how you got to where you were.

Matt Walters [00:44:10]:

Curiosity is is number 1, I'd say. For me, I've always been a kid who's been interested in science and how the world works. And, you know, like, back to defining an engineer, an engineer is typically someone who find solutions a problem using the tools of mathematics and science. So I've always been really interested in science and seeing some of these principles that I I had learned and we're familiar with just coming to play in the real world at such a massive scale was just fascinating to me. I wanted to learn everything in front of me works. Like, if that was the thing I didn't know what it was, like, I wanna know about it. so curiosity was was absolutely huge. And I, again, I sort of fell into this whole career by accident, you know, so that I got into Philadelphia College and eventually found a path that I said, I don't need a degree for this path, and I can make, you know, 6 figures without that piece of paper. Like I said, I thought I thought it was a failure out of school, and and it come to find out, like, I had a real knack for this. Sometimes you really just don't know until you try. So curiosity is huge. Of course, for work ethic. I took every minute of overtime I could get And I did all of the worst jobs that nobody else wanted to do just to learn from them because when you first start out, especially in skilled labor in in the trade industries, like, respect to something you must earn because these guys are are rough. You know, they're a really vulgar and just, you know, like, I had to walk uphill both ways type people. You know, there's there's 2 ways you get respect One is you have the knowledge and skill to back it up. And, 2, is you're, willing to put in the work. So, obviously, when you first start out, you don't have any knowledge or any skill. And so you show them that you're willing to put in the work. You're willing to do the dirtiest jobs that nobody else wants to do. They'll give you respect, and they'll teach you what they know. One of the things that I love about your story is it really highlights

Ryan Maruyama [00:45:55]:

the slow road, I'll say, not to say that it was slow that what you did. But, you know, if I'm remembering, right, I don't have your LinkedIn in front of me, but if I'm re remembering right, your pool tech was, like, 2014, that was your job at that time. And I think you became an engineer a few years later, and then now you weren't dealing with the automation stuff until a few years later than that, you know, and so I would like it if you could talk about the little bit of, you know, taking a slower path or I I'm not even sure if you consider it flower path, but I do, especially when speaking to people nowadays, everybody wants 6 figure paycheck in the fastest amount possible. I get it. I get it. But sometimes you do

Matt Walters [00:46:50]:

have to take a little bit of a solar panel where life takes you that way. Yeah. That's a that's a great point. Well, I mean, it was about since I started working, it was just about 4 years till I became like an engineer or close to, but maybe maybe 5 5 years about. So it was really not too much longer. And and, of course, I'm not in debt, which is, to me, I feel like the the whole financial literacy at 18 conversations kind of weird. student loan debt is definitely a problem, and that is a predatory system. Like, no doubt about it. But at the same time, I feel like my parents were did not teach me any financial literacy whatsoever growing up, and I instinctively knew, like, that's bad. That's a bad thing. So I don't want that. You know, so getting in there, I just promoted every, you know, 12 to 18 months. So I was, you know, moving pretty fast. the promotions. And every promotions, if I start at $10 now, you know, I'm getting 20%, 30%, 40% promotions, all on the way in. And every time I'm looking for a new role, like, how much do you make now? I'm using my money with overtime as that sort of leverage. Like, oh, this is my base. You know? So I'm I'm getting all these sort of big raises and, you know, again, once I became an engineer making 6 figures, you know, I I didn't have any debt. So I I had good foundation actually. I was really good at saving money. I lived at home with my mother for, I think, until I moved to Denver. So I really tried to save as much as I could. I had this rule that When I was a pool tech, any time I checking an account out over a $1000, pay off any credit card, and then whatever's left to 500 goes into savings. Eventually, that increased to, like, 1500 because my paychecks would be more than a $1000 an ounce. So and I was consistent with that rule until I left home. So I had a really good you know, my car would break down. I wasn't worried about it. I had, you know, I had to throw $6000 out of whatever. No big deal. I really prepared, and I think, I think I had a pretty good

Ryan Maruyama [00:48:35]:

Yeah. There is definitely a predatory system for student loans and debt. And then that's absolutely true. Or at least I that's my worldview. That is the system that keeps getting perpetuated, but there really is an outsized opportunity for young people to really get ahead if you don't take on that debt and you go to work instead. And that's one of the main arguments that Hannah and I make about going to work rather than going to college.

Matt Walters [00:49:08]:

1,

Ryan Maruyama [00:49:09]:

I mean, college will take your money at any time. I mean, they're a business. You can go back. Right right now, you could go back to school. Right now, I can go back to school right now. And they'll take my money. It's still good. It's still green. But then, the second part, if you're not going into debt when you're that young, your finances are literally going the opposite way because the alternative is you get a job. And, sure, the job can just be a pool tech. at a resort. Right? I mean, who would have thought 9 years ago that your pool tech job would lead you to where you are today? And the other thing I'll I'll highlight here is,

Matt Walters [00:49:48]:

and we've we've briefly touched on lay the labor shortage earlier in. I wanna impress upon people how desperate these industries are for people that can do anything. I mean, you know, I know plumbers, pipe fitters that make an excess of $200,000 a year. And to be frank. Some of them aren't very bright. So there's so much opportunity out here. There's more work right now than there are people to do like in my city, Tampa, the biggest struggle that I face on a daily basis is not how complex this problem, it's How am I gonna find somebody to fix it, or how am I gonna find the labor necessary to correct this thing? Because, like, I look at the system as a whole and I see all these massive list of, like, inefficiencies and problems. And I'm like, I have to, like, prioritize. Okay. Well, this is important, but I have to sacrifice my values here because I know there's no chance I'm gonna find somebody with enough skill to fix this problem, and I don't have the bandwidth to do it. And there's just such a need and not just for trades people, for engineers too. I I heard a statistic. Every year that China is graduating more engineer than the US actively has engineers. that's insane. If that's even half true, that's, like, that's kinda terrifying. The infrastructure in our country is is crumbling, and we're trying to electrify everything and these grids if if we meet these 2030 electrical vehicle goals, for example, that the government's trying to, like, push where our grid's gonna need to have twice the power draw that it has now. We're gonna have to have, like, 8 terawatts, and they can't handle that. It's not even close. I mean, we're we're on the threshold as it is. there's such a need for these people that you can make really good money, really fast, even if you feel like you're not too capable of a person, but I would also argue that, you know, when you're in school, sometimes it's the school's measuring a vicious ability to climb a tree, and you don't really know how competent you are until you get out there and try. You know, as far as

Ryan Maruyama [00:51:33]:

Not knowing how competent you are until you try. And as far as there being a labor shortage and even an engineering shortages you were talking about. So you are listening to this right now. You're listening to this podcast. Let's put ourselves in our listener shoes. Maybe you are graduating high school soon, or maybe you have a career already, like, like, we're talking about a cashier or working in a restaurant or something like that. How can we start to walk a similar path to what you were doing. Would you just do go and do exactly what you did before? which is go get, like, a career or a job in that sort of kind of adjacent industry and see where it takes you, or is there a more targeted approach?

Matt Walters [00:52:18]:

if I had to redo it, I'd probably shoot a little higher for the entry level position just because, you know, I I would I didn't have started $10 an hour. But, again, with curiosity, being such a big play, you know, I feel like if I had started as a janitor, I'd I'd have been a chemist, you know, just being constantly asking why and and looking at the reality situation and saying, how far can I take this situation that I'm in it? How can I I look at every job that I take as a tool to teach me something. I'm not there to make money. I'm there to teach myself a skill. I'm here to teach myself something new. And every environment you're in, there's typically somebody up in that hierarchy that may have an exposition that you're like. I think I'd want that. And you just look at the situation and there's minor skills that you can contribute that you wouldn't think are important, before you actually know what you're doing and if you look at, let's just say you're in an office and you're looking at the management structure and you're saying, what is this team lacking? it could be something as basic as good communication or organization, and you're like, I can put in the effort to fix this communication issue. I can talk to all these people and know what's going on and give a weekly report to this level manager who's the highest mission that I can see and And they might take that and say, like, oh, this guy is solving a problem that I have, and he's making my life easier. Then you're a standout and get selected for that career path. So it's it's really all about you know, a competence in IQ is a huge vector, but what I would say is that work ethic is the most controllable variable of success that you have. with one that's in your immediate control and the things that you can't control, I mean, it's really no use worrying about them. So look at your current situation and say, what is lacking? What can I do to best enhance the quality of life for those around me? and you will become valuable.

Ryan Maruyama [00:54:09]:

Love it. I am very privileged in that I get to have these conversations with amazing people like you. And recently, I have been trying to figure out, like, what are the main threads between successful people like you. Like, others and other successful, you know, degree of free people that have gone. I hate the term. I was just about to use it, but I actually hate the term, like, alternative route because I actually think that being degree free is actually, like, the route that you should take. I don't think that I actually think that it's the main and not the alternative, but people that have, you know, bucked against the norm or at least this aside pressure that you need a college degree in order to be successful in your life. And one of the biggest things that I've seen amongst many other things is that curiosity that we talked about before, but further down the line from that is when you take the job, you're taking the job to learn. obviously, you're doing it for the money. You you're not doing it for your health. Like, you wouldn't be there for not the money, but It's one of the biggest things that I have seen in, you know, other degree free people and yourself included. It's just like, Okay. Well, instead of thinking about what I can bring to the job, although that's important, especially when you're trying to get hired and things like that, you gotta sell yourself to the company. But when you're getting in there, like, what can I learn? What can I take away from this? What skills can I take away from this experience and then make myself more and more valuable going forward. Just an interesting thing that I've been really ruminating on recently Because like I said, I'm I'm very fortunate that I'm in this position that I have this platform to talk to amazing people. And I'm like, how can I take some of this and apply it to my own life. You know what I mean? Like, how can I take these things? And instead of just telling other people what to do, how can I take these, you know, learnings and internalize it and then live my life that way. And I I I love it. So thank you so much for taking the time.

Matt Walters [00:56:16]:

Yeah. What you're doing is providing value to other people's lives. And I think that's one of the surest path to success out there. a couple of questions before we go. 1, Matt,

Ryan Maruyama [00:56:27]:

if people wanna follow along with your career, they wanna say hi. What's the best way that I can set where is the best place I can send them? Yeah. I'd say probably,

Matt Walters [00:56:38]:

LinkedIn. The URL is it's LinkedIn. dotcom/n/vmatdewothers.

Ryan Maruyama [00:56:44]:

Perfect. Perfect. And for everybody listening, I will put that in the show notes, degreefree.co4/ podcast. lakes to that and everything that we talk about there. And my last question for you, Matt, is there any final thoughts that you would like to say? Any closing statement? anything that we haven't already discussed?

Matt Walters [00:57:02]:

Don't let anyone or even yourself tell you that just because you didn't do a thing that everyone else is doing that you failed at something. You'll be amazed at what you can really do if you're put in the right environment that that enlivens you and that is interesting to you. Amazing.

Ryan Maruyama [00:57:17]:

Matt, thank you so much for taking the time. I hope that you got a lot of value out of that episode with Matt Once again, if you would like to say hi to Matt, you can connect with him on LinkedIn. Links to his LinkedIn will be at degreefree.co forward slash podcast. And if you haven't already, I definitely suggest signing up for the free degree free network It is a community for degree free people to come together and help each other get the work they want. During there, you can go and sign up for 2 of the free courses that we have for you. the 7 day get hired challenge and the 5 degree free pathways course. Using those courses, you will be able to figure out how what you need to do to make that job change, to make that career change that you've always wanted to do. Also connect with me on LinkedIn I am Ryan Mariama. Once you connect, leave me a note. Let me know that you listened to the episode. Let me know what you like. Let me know what you don't like. And last but not least, if you would like to receive a short weekly email about different degree free jobs, about how to get hired without a college degree, then go to degreefree.coforward/newsletter, and sign up for our free weekly newsletter. And that's pretty much it for this week, guys. Along

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