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Zweig Group Article: Advice to the CQV Career-Minded
You won’t hear playground voices echoing, “I want to be a CQV expert when I grow up.” And I wasn’t shouting that out over the doctor and firefighter votes in kindergarten either. But as the executive vice president of our commissioning, qualification, and validation practice, I can honestly say I couldn’t have picked a better career.
Taking a step back, CQV – a detailed and science-based service – is an essential part of the heavily regulated life sciences industry. It ensures that facilities, systems, and equipment are designed and installed as specified, function as intended, and work together to support the process of producing a biopharmaceutical or medical device product that is safe and effective.
In short, it’s a fulfilling role because you can see the value you provide – across a product lifecycle – come to life. For me, growing up, that passion for seeing things come to fruition started early with a love of art, planning, and design. That sparked my interests. Yet, rooted within a family that was heavily involved in the construction industry, I found that moving beyond plans and drawings to seeing design impacts and implications in a real-world scenario really fueled my passion.
In the CQV process, especially commissioning, you spend a lot of time at construction sites. In fact, it’s not unusual to work on multiple projects at multiple jobsite locations, all at the same time. Suffice to say, every day is different. It’s anything but boring. And when you’re onsite, especially during a project’s startup phase, you’ll find that many issues can arise. As commissioning agents, we’re there to identify and resolve those issues. If you’ve read this far, this may be a career for you to consider. Do you thrive in a fast-paced environment? Excel at managing a myriad of details? Enjoy investigating, recommending, and implementing ways to bring your projects to a timely and successful closure? Then read on.
Commissioning is the process of completing construction. Historically, it began as a shipbuilding term. A commissioned ship – like a commissioned building – is one that is deemed fit for service. It’s the last 10 percent of the project where everything comes together. From a career perspective, it’s where the rubber hits the road for honing your technical skill sets and adding value to a project. And in my opinion, there’s no better experience than that. Consider the complexity and interoperability of large-scale systems such as building automation systems, HVAC, packaging/fill, purified water, process/manufacturing, and compressed air. Now factor in a litany of features and functions for each of those systems. Lastly, twist that Rubik’s Cube once more and imagine yourself as a CQV expert who is evaluating, adjusting, and modifying those systems so they meet the owners’ requirements and operate effectively and efficiently. Challenging? Yes. Rewarding? Absolutely. Ensuring that everything functions the way it is supposed to is, quite simply, job satisfaction at its finest.
A desire to make a difference is critical to becoming a CQV engineer. You need to truly care about the end user and the end results. If that’s something that drives you, you’ll find this intriguing and fulfilling career path leads to new experiences, new opportunities, and new ways to expand your skills every day.
But what does it take to become a CQV professional? Here are a just a few qualities:
- A wide range of talents. Troubleshooting and problem-solving (especially for commissioning) are critical. But you must also be a great communicator who is methodical, proactive, and resourceful. You should be someone who does whatever it takes to get the job done.
- A background in engineering. Process, chemical, mechanical, or electrical for building commissioning, including technical trades such as those of an air balancer or controls technicians, and a very technical background – clean utilities, process equipment, lab equipment, and quality, etc. for QV are career prerequisites.
- A mentor is key. Training at the personal level goes a long way. My degree is in electrical engineering from Penn State, which has applicability, but quite honestly, there are no CQV schools and limited CQV training programs, so you need to learn from experience. In my first role as a controls technician for Voltec, Inc., I was mentored by Art Brower, P.E., who inspired me to think broadly and execute with precision. As my career progressed, I was fortunate to work with Joe O’Donnell of Genesis AEC who gave me the right exposure to the right projects, pushing me to stretch and sharpen my capabilities.
- A yearning to learn, continually. From your successes, of course, but also from your mistakes. Taking accountability is important, but taking the initiative to apply what you’ve learned is paramount.
- A motivation for quality and a desire to mitigate risk (especially for QV). An understanding of quality implications and risk, systems’ performance, repeatability, and regulatory frameworks are additional skill sets that can help position you for success.
- An interest in traveling. If you’re interested in working alongside clients in the field – versus being tied to an office or a desk – this may be the career for you. You can find yourself traveling across the U.S. or even internationally to client sites, troubleshooting and addressing their design impacts, while experiencing new locales, new cuisine, and potentially new vacation destinations.
Overall, if you’re someone who wants to be truly involved in the way things are built, constructed, and operated, you may want to explore this role further. And even if this specific career path is not on your radar as a permanent position, it’s beneficial for any engineer to spend some time in a commissioning role on a project basis to realize the real-world consequence of making a mistake on drawings or to understand what really works or conversely, doesn’t. That alone can solidify and strengthen your career.
- Building Automation System (BAS): A control system that automates various building systems (like HVAC, lighting, security systems, etc.) to improve comfort, reduce energy usage and operating costs, and improve the life cycle of utilities.
- Purified Water: Water that is mechanically filtered or processed to remove impurities. Often a critical component in biopharmaceutical or medical device production.
- Commissioning Agents: Professionals who oversee the commissioning process in a construction project, ensuring the design and installation of systems and components meet the operational requirements of the owner or final client.
This article was originally published in The Zweig Letter.