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Why We Created an Engineering Firm

It has been two years now since Atom Engineering, PLLC opened for business in November of 2012. One of the hardest things about my decision to create a company was letting go of the comforts that I had become accustomed to. I had a wonderful job working with some great people. I worked on some of the highest profile projects with the best clients imaginable and of course, I had a career that gave me a paycheck on a regular basis! So deciding to leave the company I had successfully worked for almost 10-years and go create a new company was equivalent to cutting off a limb. It was the most emotional, gut-wrenching and sleepless-night-inducing decision I had ever made. Making things worse were the nay-sayers. You cannot imagine how many people asked why in the world I would haphazardly leave a successful career, told me I was crazy, and warned me of certain failure. I could remain positive, but geez, it was almost impossible to stay away from the negative! Creating a new engineering firm was not about being comfortable, however… it was about righting a wrong.

I started my career in the electrical field as a helper and stepped on to the first of many high-rise structures that I would eventually work on at the age of 18. I wore a hard hat and carried tools, assisting the electricians, eventually becoming a superintendent. Only five years later would I ever even begin my college career in electrical engineering. However, my onsite field experience was some of the most valuable I could have asked for. My mom was an architect and my dad was a photographer, so I came from a family who’s background was in the “arts”. I had never been in an environment that was construction or engineering-based before. As an electrician, most of my supervisors in the field thought I was a little “off”, mostly because of my weird inclination to make everything artistic and creative. I was constantly trying to make my work look beautiful and more innovative than what the standards were. This meant anything from making the conduit in a ceiling curve perfectly to fit the contours of the building, being sure to place the couplings in a straight line with one another, to making custom labels at home with my printer to not only color code equipment but to use a nomenclature that told you everything about it, to using my personal version of CAD to show my bosses how we could lay things out more eloquently; all things which have become a standard now. I remember being inspired by mechanical pipe fitters with their pipe labels showing the direction of water flow in a system. So after I would install a run of electrical conduit, I would go to a print shop and make similar labels to put on the conduit, showing the direction of electrical current flow! Everyone in the industry thought it was crazy and frivolous at the time, but the owners and operators loved it. Since then even this has become a standard in some facilities.

Even as an electrician and throughout my career as Project Manager and Engineer, my goal has always been to right wrongs and to make things great for people. That was the essence of why I started an engineering firm: to right a wrong. Particularly within the building industry, I saw the engineering culture as fundamentally flawed both in its lack of innovation and its general position as an immovable monolith; driven only by codes, standards and regulations with little appetite for risk or change. The world of engineering had become likened to the world of a bad attorney: huge on cost, slow on movement and nothing insanely great to show for it. Most engineers I knew were stuck. Limiting themselves only to what they knew and to whatever their title was. If you were an electrical engineer then you only knew about electrical engineering, if you were a mechanical engineer then you only knew about mechanical engineering, and by no means would anyone ever get creative and actually design a product for the industry. After all, those who design buildings should know which products need to be developed for the future, right? In engineering school we learned a lot of different maths and sciences that taught us to use creativity and cleverness to solve a problem. Manipulating math techniques and physics to create something really cool was drilled into all students, at least in UNCC. Through college I became enlightened to engineering because I saw it as art rather than a rigid science. I mean, we created stuff from nothing all the time and invented new and unique things for the benefit of society. So how was there a difference in engineering and art? There wasn’t. But what I found while working in the industry was that most engineers had fallen victim to the “standards of the industry”. Collectively, the engineering culture had created an institution of risk aversion, codes, standards, and regulations rather than an artist soup of creativity and invention. Most engineers I knew (who were really bright people by the way) accepted what was considered “safe and standard” and eventually lost that child-like concept that anything was possible. A concept that has created more and greater things than simply playing it safe ever would have.

So it was with this observation that I decided to start a new engineering company. A company that would open the doors to creativity and artistry, who makes engineers inventors again, and who designs things not just to meet standards, but to create greatness. A company who sees that anything is possible, but we only just need to create it. A company that knows what the world needs before it knows what it needs. And finally, a company who makes the world a better place. That is why we do what we do.

-Ryan Kennedy, PE

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