Some of the more notable buildings and development projects in Seattle — from CenturyLink Field and Benaroya Hall to the Museum of Pop Culture and the city’s Central Library — have benefitted from the work of the engineering firm McKinstry.
Ash Awad started his career in the energy industry almost 20 years ago, and he’s spent the last 11 1/2 at McKinstry.
“I’m responsible for evolving McKinstry’s resource efficiency, energy generation, and facility services efforts while also providing the vision and leadership for a variety of related initiatives aimed at innovation in the built environment,” said Awad, our latest Geek of the Week.
Awad said he has always been curious. And it even translates into the boards he serves on in Seattle, including Pacific Science Center where he said he loves nurturing scientific curiosity for young kids.
It’s a lesson he learned as a young boy.
“When I traveled to the Middle East to visit my grandparents as a kid, I saw these solar panels that were making hot water on their roof,” Awad said. “I was just fascinated by how these things worked and I grew to love thermodynamics. I studied to be a mechanical engineer, and I initially wanted to be in the aerospace industry, but I thought about those solar panels and ended up following my passion into the energy world.”
Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Ash Awad:
What do you do, and why do you do it? “I’m an engineer and the chief market officer at McKinstry. Really, though, my role is to collaborate with our teams to find the best ways to: A.) Build efficient and sustainable buildings and B.) Take existing buildings and make them more efficient and sustainable. Everything at McKinstry points to reducing waste when it comes to constructing or operating buildings.
“In terms of the ‘why,’ one of our goals at McKinstry is to reduce half the waste being consumed by the built environment, and that’s a key part of helping to stop global climate change. We’re a company that’s trying to save the world one watt at a time, and if I can contribute to that effort while laying the groundwork for my kids and the next generation, that’s inspiring and important to me.”
What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “People should know that — in the U.S. alone — we have 80 billion square feet of non-residential buildings, which is the market sector McKinstry focuses on. Those buildings consume 75 percent of the electricity and nearly 50 percent of the total energy, while producing about 40 percent of the harmful gasses leading to global climate change.
“Our cars are a problem, our industrial plants are a problem, and our homes are a problem, but the energy consumed by non-residential buildings is having a direct and monumental impact on climate change — and it can easily be overlooked! You don’t always see a smokestack coming out of an office building or a school, but balancing the built environment with the natural environment is critical.”
Where do you find your inspiration? “My family. My grandparents gave my parents the opportunity to build a better life in the United States. My parents sacrificed for me, too — they gave me whatever they could so I could establish myself. My motivation is driven by what I’m doing to help my kids; guiding and nurturing them. I hope they’ll do the same for their kids.”
What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “My phone. Like most people, I stay connected and I like information. It’s a direct line to my family and my colleagues, and I love that I can access such a vast amount of information via one handheld device.”
What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “It’s not as organized as I’d like it to be, but I like to personalize my office with a lot of family photos and various knickknacks people have given me over the years.”
Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “My preferred workflow is to establish the high-priority items early on in my day and then focus on those. It’s also important to leave enough time to read and to catch up on things you wouldn’t normally encounter in your day-to-day work. It keeps your mind nimble and allows you to be expansive in your thinking.”
Mac, Windows or Linux? “Windows, but my phone is an iPhone. I was on a Windows Phone for a long time and refused to switch, but there were a few applications that I needed relative to my kids, and Windows just didn’t support those. I would say I’m a reluctant iPhone user.”
Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Picard. I think Patrick Stewart is fantastic, and I think Shatner is too full of himself.”
Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Time machine, of course. That’s such an easy one, I can’t believe people would pick anything else.”
If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “I would dream up a way to apply the McKinstry approach to the residential market. Or I would invent a time machine.”
I once waited in line for … “Mini donuts at Pike Place Market, and I’ve done it several times. I will absolutely wait for those donuts, but I will not wait in line for concert tickets or technology.”
Your role models: “My parents. We were a family of five, and my dad worked many different jobs to make ends meet, including working as a janitor at Burger King. They gave me my work ethic, and I could not imagine better role models.
“The other person I’d mention is McKinstry’s CEO, Dean Allen. He’s a visionary, and I’ve been blessed to have Dean as a mentor for many years.”
Greatest game in history: “Atari’s ‘Pitfall’! Hands down. It’s the greatest game ever made. I loved the adventure element — hopping over alligators and finding jewelry. It couldn’t have been cooler.”
Best gadget ever: “The HP-15C reverse-Polish calculator, back in the ’80s. It let me tackle advanced math with two thumbs. I still have a HP calculator (the 48SX) at my desk to this day.”
First computer: “The Commodore VIC-20. You could program in basic, it had a cassette hard drive, and it was an all-in-one computer and keyboard that you plugged into your TV. I credit that computer with teaching me how to program.”
Current phone: “iPhone 7. My iPhone 6 went into the hot tub.”
Favorite app: “WhatsApp. It lets me keep in touch with my international family and friends.”
Favorite cause: “The plight of the Palestinian people is at the top of my list. I do have a personal passion for keeping young women curious about STEM fields — especially my two daughters.”
Most important technology of 2016: “The evolution of drones. They’re going to change the way we transport, the way we do high-risk work, and the way we see the world.”
Most important technology of 2018: “Continued innovation with electric vehicles. I also think we’ll find some convergence between drones and electrification, particularly as it relates to George Jetson’s flying car. I’ve been waiting for it my whole life! Now is the first time I can honestly say I think we’ll have that car within my lifetime.”
Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “You don’t have to be an engineer or a scientist to be a geek. You just have to care deeply to the level where details matter. We need to get back to that — having people care deeply about all sorts of subjects. There’s so much information available nowadays, and I feel like everyone skims instead of getting into the details. Encourage your kids to be geeks and care deeply!
LinkedIn: Ash Awad