Jason Phipps, PE, is an electrical engineer in Coffman’s Raleigh office. He sat down with us and shared his personal and professional career journey and his insights on work/life balance.
How did you decide on your career in engineering?
In my early schooling, I enjoyed math and science and was fortunate to have role models in my family. My dad went to North Carolina (NC) State University and is an electrical engineer focusing on computer engineering, and my mom went to the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. So, you could say the engineering career path was “drafted” and presented as a natural choice. In the footsteps of my parents, I was fond of both NC State and Carolina, and I chose to pursue my engineering degree at NC State University.
Is there a memorable point in college that impacted your career journey?
Living in The Engineering Village at NC State was particularly memorable, and it gave me a unique opportunity to connect with other likeminded students and make great friends, especially during my electrical courses. We helped each other foster academic excellence.
Did you always know electrical engineering was your path?
To be honest, no. After my freshman year, I considered electrical as my first choice for my major, but I also applied for mechanical engineering. I was unsure which department I would be accepted into, so I attended both electrical and mechanical classes for the upcoming semester. I actually got higher grades for mechanical classes that semester!
Some of the entry electrical courses were geared towards software and coding, which was less appealing to the young engineer in the making, but I dove into the electrical courses and realized how much I enjoyed working with power. One of my professors also played a major role in challenging and motivating me in this field. You could say the discipline chose me in some ways, and after working as an electrical engineer, I can happily say I’m glad I made that decision.
How did you gain experience as a student?
During college, I had an internship and two co-op opportunities in the first few years, which allowed me to witness the ins and outs of the electrical design field. The internship helped me experience the real-life application of a consulting career and how it differs from electrical engineers who pursue a career in research and development. Going on site visits and seeing panels, transformers, and backup generators gave me a different perspective on consulting engineering.
A third, full time co-op that spanned a year focused on medium voltage and substations experience. During my senior year, I focused on my design project, which was sponsored by NAVAIR and located in Cherry Point. I had the opportunity to go on a site visit and see the aircraft that I was designing a component for as a prototype.
How did you land at Coffman Engineers?
My journey to Coffman started before I graduated in May 2019. During my final semester of school, I attended a renewable energy power course. My professor knew James Chen, PE, RCDD, who at the time was starting Coffman’s Raleigh office. James came to the class and gave a short presentation on the A/E and construction design field and an overview about Coffman. After that, I introduced myself, provided a resume, and you can say the rest is history. I joined Coffman shortly after and was one of the first new hires for Coffman’s Raleigh office.
What was it like being a new engineer starting out in consulting?
I enjoyed it. It’s been an adventure with many hands-on learning opportunities on the job. Right out of school, I had the opportunity to work on F-22 Maintenance Hangars, which was my first government/DoD project. At the same time, under the guidance of a certified lighting professional, Lars Iverson, LC, I began learning and enjoying lighting design and working on projects in AutoCAD and Revit. I also learned to write and edit specs, an important skill as a consulting engineer. I was also exposed to different aspects of electrical engineering and learned telecom design while working on the USCG Port Aransas and Mariner Skills Training Center projects. Joe Chang, PE, RCDD, and Latrice Celio, PE, RCDD, are highly skilled in telecom design and were excellent mentors throughout the process. I have gained so much knowledge since the day I started.
You also got your PE around the same time in record time! Tell us about that.
I was able to receive my PE after only three years of engineering consulting. I had planned for this during my college years by gaining experience in the co-op program. I was able to meet the four-year requirement for North Carolina with one year of co-op experience together with my three years of experience at Coffman.
It wasn’t easy, but the three years of hands-on experience at Coffman really got me ahead of the curve. I was determined to study and work hard at the same time, and I learned a lot from great mentors and colleagues.
I’m grateful I met James Chen when I did. He played a major role in supporting me and encourages everyone on our team to grow professionally and achieve new credentials. James gave me the confidence boost I needed to pursue my PE early in my career.
You’ve had some exciting personal milestones. Would you share about that?
Yes. The last couple of years has been exciting! I got engaged to my wife, Katie, in Spring 2021, we moved in together a few weeks later, got married in May 2022, traveled to Italy for our honeymoon, and we got a golden retriever puppy in the same year! It’s been incredible.
Tell us a little about work/life balance.
I personally don’t feel that my work and personal life compete for my time and attention. It’s quite the opposite, and I’m enjoying both sides of life. When things get tough at work, I know I can go home and relax; when we get busy at home with different projects or challenges, work can feel like a space to refocus my energy. Coffman has a great focus on employee wellness and work/life balance, and wherever they can, they love to include family. The Raleigh office is like an extended family where I feel my wife (and dog) are always considered. I think it’s important to find a career and place of work that allows for a fulfilling balance.
Do you have a word of advice for an engineering student or engineer early in their career?
Pursue your FE and PE early in your career journey. The FE exam should be taken early, even during your last year in college, as this covers a broader, more technical knowledge that we learn in school. My work experience helped me substantially on the PE exam with a focus on code compliance, construction administration, and the financial life cycle of a project. It’s ideal if you can find a company that has mentors and diverse projects that allow you to broaden your knowledge early.
Also, you will make some missteps at every point in your career but let them be learning opportunities. During my first internship, I had a wakeup call when I was let go after one semester. I experienced my first taste of not meeting expectations, but I used this moment as an opportunity to improve.
The NC State University motto really resonates with me, and I try to incorporate it into my life: “Think and Do.” I make learning a priority and put this motto into practice daily.