AEC Groundbreaking Growth

Turning Your Passion into an AEC Career Path

March 25, 2024 Stambaugh Ness Season 1 Episode 17
Turning Your Passion into an AEC Career Path
AEC Groundbreaking Growth
More Info
AEC Groundbreaking Growth
Turning Your Passion into an AEC Career Path
Mar 25, 2024 Season 1 Episode 17
Stambaugh Ness

Do you have a passion you'd love to turn into a career? In this episode of AEC Groundbreaking Growth, SN’s Emily Lawrence and Jen Knox welcome Matt Nichols, Principal of Acoustics at Jaffe Holden. Matt discusses his unique career path, which began with a passion for music and led him to the world of acoustics. He shares how his background in music has helped him excel in his current role and offers valuable advice for emerging leaders and young people who are looking to turn their passions into careers.

🔔 Don't miss out! Subscribe to Groundbreaking Growth on your favorite podcast platform. Let's ignite growth, shape the future of the AEC industry, and redefine what's possible. Are you ready for some groundbreaking growth? Let's dive in! 🚀💼

Show Notes Transcript

Do you have a passion you'd love to turn into a career? In this episode of AEC Groundbreaking Growth, SN’s Emily Lawrence and Jen Knox welcome Matt Nichols, Principal of Acoustics at Jaffe Holden. Matt discusses his unique career path, which began with a passion for music and led him to the world of acoustics. He shares how his background in music has helped him excel in his current role and offers valuable advice for emerging leaders and young people who are looking to turn their passions into careers.

🔔 Don't miss out! Subscribe to Groundbreaking Growth on your favorite podcast platform. Let's ignite growth, shape the future of the AEC industry, and redefine what's possible. Are you ready for some groundbreaking growth? Let's dive in! 🚀💼

Emily Lawrence: Welcome to the AEC Groundbreaking Growth Podcast.

Jen Knox: Hosted by Stambaugh Ness.

[Opening Credits]

Emily Lawrence: Welcome, everyone, to Groundbreaking Growth. I'm Emily, your host here with co-host Jen Knox.

Jen Knox: And we want to welcome our next guest, Matt Nichols. He is, Principal of Acoustics at Jaffe Holden, and he's been with the firm for about ten years and has an interesting background and progression. So, Matt, I wonder if you can give us a little bit of background on Jaffe Holden, your role, and the path you've taken to get there?

Matt Nichols: Right. Well, again, thanks for having me on this exciting podcast. You know, it's very good that you folks are doing this. It's very helpful in the community. At Jaffe Holden, we've been around for over 50 years and have a long history of the acoustical products that are in the industry that are being used right now.

We focus mainly on performing arts but also do some museum cultural work and higher education. We have about 17 to 18 consultants in our Norwalk and remote offices across the country. I've been there since 2010 and have had various roles with the company, but I managed the acoustics department. Now, I'm also involved in the marketing side of things and overseeing some management aspects of the company.

So it's a lot of diverse and very exciting projects.

Jen Knox: Yeah. Regarding your background specifically, I know you have a big passion for music, the built environment, and how those two interact. Can you give us a little bit of background about how you got to live your passion and your day-to-day?

Matt Nichols: Sure. I started as a musician at a young age; in fifth grade, I got my first guitar and piano lessons. And so I was always involved in the music programs through school and even through high school. And I always wanted to do something in the music industry and with sound. I have always been passionate about sound and music. I started working in recording studios in high school at a professional studio in Chicago as an intern. I did a lot of internship-type tasks to learn the business. I was passionate about it and had a great experience working with professionals and hearing really good sound in a great acoustic environment in a calibrated recording studio. It was like nothing I've ever heard in my life. It was eye-opening, an ear-opening in a way. I remember the exact feeling I had when I went to that space and similar feelings to great music halls, to experience good acoustics; it just has an emotional connection and a physical feeling when you get into that space and a reaction.

So, through that, I ended up going to college to pursue a career in recording engineering. I felt that I didn't want to do that as a career but more of a hobby. I was introduced to acoustics by a professor at Columbia College in Chicago, where I grew up. He exposed me to the acoustics program there. I had no idea about acoustics. I knew it was related to everything I loved or was passionate about, and I love a challenge. So, I decided to join the program, get a degree in acoustics, and pursue a career in acoustics.

So, the acoustics field is a career that ties everything together, from playing guitar and piano to performing in spaces in high school and competitions, performing in musicals, we do a lot of theater work, so all that experience really ties into everything that I do, and that we do a Jaffe Holden on a day-to-day basis.

Emily Lawrence: And you mentioned the different roles that you've had a Jaffe Holden and how you've started in the technical positions and then also pivoted to more marketing and business development and being in that client-facing role, but throughout your career, that art of communication is something you've talked about and how being able to speak the language because of your passion and because of your background in music, being able to speak the language of your clients is so hugely helpful throughout your career.

Matt Nichols: Yeah, exactly. From a musical terminology standpoint, speaking to musicians we work with at the end of a performing arts center project, we have a critical tuning process. So we physically work with the orchestras and ensembles and work with their positioning on the stage,

listen to them rehearse, have them go over different sections, listen to other areas in the audience, and make suggestions based on the acoustic elements in the room.

We communicate that and ask questions based on our experience and my experience, and my experience in particular, about what they're hearing and how they're hearing things, and using music terminology so that you can speak their language and they and they have mutual respect. If you're communicating in their language instead of from an outside perspective, they know we've had firsthand experience. We found that it helps with communication, both on-site and in performances or when talking with the orchestra, which is very valuable.

Jen Knox: And I think that end process that you just described, turning over the space to them and working with them to optimize it - I think back to more of a technical engineering background, and when you're turning a mechanical facility over to a maintenance team or a facility team, going through that extra detail in that turnover process and make sure they truly understand it, and it's working the way they want it to work. That's a consultative mindset. We're elevating ourselves beyond just engineering a building or a space and making sure the performance of the space is what the client needs. So I love that end turnover example you just gave. I think, that's great!

Matt Nichols: Yeah. We do the turnover with the technical measurements of, okay, is this performing to the spec we designed? That's part of it, but then there's the human element: everyone's ears are different, and everyone has different minds and different opinions about things. And, getting into the room with all these musicians, we're sometimes very opinionated about their sound in the space, which is great, but we appreciate that. That turns the scientific element of what we do to the human nature aspect, where communications are important. That's where the project comes to life when you have live musicians in the space, not just acoustical touchstones, and that's the most exciting part of the projects from my perspective.

Jen Knox: Yeah, and I know, Matt, you had mentioned a little bit earlier about having that mentor, and that professor early on said, "Hey, I know you have this passion for music, and recording may not be the specific thing you want to do, but hey, what about acoustics?" I think about the importance of having mentors. But you know, in our early education and throughout our careers how, they can help guide us and ensure our eyes are open to possibilities. In my career, having diverse exposure to different project types and different possibilities really benefited me in honing what I was passionate about. Do you feel like that's something that's true to your pathway as well?

Matt Nichols: Yeah, definitely. Again, I was being exposed to something I knew about but didn't know much about. He was also trying to sell me on the program because he wanted to expand that program. There were only a few students; there were only 14 students in the program because acoustics differs from an architect. Acoustics is a small field, so the department and the graduating classes of acoustics are very small. So, he's looking for the right people in the department to showcase the college and eventually succeed in a career. Obviously, it makes the college look better, but he helped show me the interesting things about it and how it could relate to my passion. That was important; he helped guide me through the process. The professor at Columbia College was a consultant. He had his own business, and a lot of the professors at Columbia are also in the industry. So, they are exposed to practices and consulting; they know what they're talking about because they live it. It was useful to get not just textbook knowledge

about something, but yes, this is what I did here, and showed examples of what he did in the different projects and situations. So, as a mentor, that helped make it more real and not so theoretical all the time.

Emily Lawrence: I'm in art school for graphic design and working full time doing consulting. One of the cool things about my art school, too, is that the professors have to have some kind of employment currently within the field. I get this feeling from the professors, and then I can translate it into my work as I do Outsourced Marketing, staying current in the industry. Because you're passionate about your work, you translate that into continuous learning in your industry, staying current on the trends, especially in architecture, engineering, and construction.

Anything you use, whether a digital tool or software, to produce your projects requires staying current. Matt, you talked a little bit about that and how your passion keeps you current and learning within the industry.

Matt Nichols: Yeah, part of my goal when transitioning to acoustics was to still be active in music, recording, and composing. So that turned into a hobby for me, and I still do a lot of hobby work with recording and music composition. So, I'm keeping my skills sharp as I do my full-time consulting career, but I'm also up on the latest technologies and software for recording and composing. So when we do a lot of music schools and a lot of times or in meetings and we're talking with the professors and what they want in their programs, and they have a space labeled composition space, let's say, for a music program and having the background, I really understand what those spaces need to be. And, it changes a lot. As you mentioned, digital technology software is always just updated. You have to stay on the latest and greatest because for composing, for example, back in the day, composers had a piano and a notepad. They would write out a composition on paper and then do a whole score and send it to the musicians, and they plan and record it.

Nowadays, 90% of it is on the computer, where you have access to vast sample libraries of recordings of different instruments. The composer has a keyboard, but he's accessing recordings of a violin or a timpani and a cello and playing them on the keyboard, sounding very realistic. That type of composing and sample recording is often used in television productions and video game music. So you don't have to have a $50,000 budget to hire an orchestra to perform something for some media. It could be produced from their basement recording studio, doing something for Game of Thrones and using that. So that's what's related to some of our projects where they have these music programs and composition spaces.

It's designed differently for that type of usage versus something that may have been done in the past. Understanding that and staying up to date on the latest technology is helpful in that regard.

Jen Knox: I'm sure, with your passion, you're testing things out yourself, like right at home or on the side, what technology you like, what technology you don't like, and what you would recommend to your client. From a space design standpoint, what new materials are out there, and whatnot. That potentially gives you a leg up on competitors who aren't as involved or truly living and breathing it even outside of work.

Matt Nichols: Right. Every time my wife and I go out, I listen and look at things. We were at Disney World last year, and I was looking at the treatment of one of the ride lines, and she was shaking her head and was like, you can't turn it off.

Jen Knox: Yeah, they say a contractor, architect, or engineer will drive by a building they had, a very small part in, and they're like, there's my building. It's not it's not something you turn off when you leave the office; I love that.

Matt Nichols: Which is good because it shows that you're on the right track. And if you're not thinking about it all the time, then maybe it's something that's not right for you. But I find that living in and breathing it every day, even after hours, and being able to experiment and look at different types of products and evaluate them, even installing some of those products in my house. We go to trade shows a lot and conferences. So we know what the latest and greatest is. I'm going to a conference in Seattle in a couple of weeks where they have a lot of theater technology and acoustical products. I'll be saying, what's the newest product? Talk to the manufacturers about some ideas because we often collaborate with manufacturers to optimize their products based on what we see in the field or what we think could be a better use of it or an improved version of it. We've been doing that for years. That's how we stay current with the newest technology and products.

Emily Lawrence: That even comes full circle. Being able to speak your client's language, show them new things, and open their minds to what might be able to optimize their space better than they ever imagined. And be that trusted advisor. One of the things we talk a lot about is being a trusted advisor and connecting with our clients. People hire people that they like and that they trust. Speaking their language is underestimated within careers, especially as a young person. You might not feel like you have anything to say. Still, being passionate about what you're doing and bringing that to the forefront of connecting with your clients—it sounds like that's benefited you, Matt, in your career tenfold, just being able to make those connections.

Matt Nichols: Yeah. We're talking about communication and relevance in the project with musicians on the stage. But it really starts before that; when the building is under construction, you have to communicate with the contractor and the design team to make sure that it's built correctly. We're on site all the time. We have our own Jaffe Holden construction vest that we bring to the site, and we're there getting dirty and looking, crawling through small spaces, making sure things are constructed properly. You have to understand the contractor's language regarding how things are built and what terminology you should use when describing something. You often have to come up with different ways of addressing issues on-site and come up with a sketch. You know, I've done a lot of sketches on site where I'm drawing stud walls and connections, and that's how you communicate with them to make sure that everyone understands each other and that if I provide is very valuable, too. So, there are multiple levels of communication between different groups and trades. It's all important throughout the process and even in someone's career to have relationships with architects, engineers, and the end users that you work with early on in projects. Having maintained those relationships is really important, and that's something that I've learned. You don't focus on that when you're starting your career; yes, I've worked with someone on this project, it was fun, but then, now getting into more business development roles, you realize that having good connections, one-on-one connections, and staying in touch with those folks over time are important, leading to different projects

eventually and a better relationship. And sometimes, you don't think about that when you first started off. But I've learned throughout my career the importance of that connection.

Jen Knox: Yeah, I love that. And when you said about tailoring your communication for your audience, that's a skill we learn as we progress in our careers. Because, to your point, Matt, each audience member, each stakeholder in a project, has a different lens. They're looking at it through a different understanding and perspective. And if we as project managers, principals, or project executives understand that and can communicate it in a way that they best receive, we're only getting an even better product in the end. And those connection points, if you maintain them long term, are a great network to leverage for overall business success in the future and in that business development. So I love that.

Matt Nichols: Yeah. Everyone on the design team has different goals and focus points. From a client standpoint, let's say you're working on a music school project. You have meetings with the theater, music, and visual arts departments, and then you have facilities and a project manager who oversees things; each one is focused on something different, "Okay, make sure the project is on budget," "Make sure that the facilities folks, that everything is easy to use and maintenance is considered for some of these systems" and the music folks are concerned about their music spaces. So everyone has priorities, and navigating that in a meeting, understanding their priorities, and being able to communicate to each one individually, but also be aware that the sensitivity sometimes of the dynamic group has to have a strike of balance.

And then, you know, the performance of the space that you're trying to achieve acoustically and audiovisually is really important. So it's a balancing act, but understanding where everyone stands for and what their priorities are and how to communicate to those different groups effectively is also a really valuable skill and important on a project.

Emily Lawrence: Well, Matt, it sounds like you have been able to take this passion that you've had for music at a very young age and connect the dots, weave it through your career, stay open to new possibilities or a path that you never even thought of in your career, and maintain that passion, continuing your music and love for that, bring it to your career, and have it benefit you in so many ways.

As we close here, do you have any advice for emerging leaders or young people in their careers as they're setting up and looking at the different paths they can take in their passions and figuring out where they can go next in their career and long term?

Matt Nichols: Keep an open mind about things. And you may discover something you didn't know, you didn't know about. One day, it could come across as something you're already doing, and you see something that's very interesting, and you're like, this is great. You should explore something like that. But to me, it stems from, you know, how it makes you feel and how it motivates you, not just on paper and just a stable career, but how does it affect you or your gut and gut feeling and your passion and how you how motivated you are to work on these projects?

If you're getting up in the morning and dreading going through your day, maybe you're not in the right career, and that's a good indication that you should look elsewhere and keep exploring. But when you wake up, and you're excited to work on your projects that you're working on and the

people that you're working with, that just, to me, tells you that you're on the right path. And that's what I suggest as signs of whether you're on the right or wrong path. But keep an open mind because you never know where it could come from. And I again, I didn't know until I was just started college. Some some some folks are in high school and think that they know their full career path. But it may diverge and change, which is fine as part of life's experience and the journey you're on. So don't close any doors you may want to open in the future, and keep your options open.

Emily Lawrence: That's great advice. Thank you so much, Matt. We really appreciate you being here. This is such a wonderful conversation, and hopefully helpful for emerging leaders. As an emerging leader, this is an amazing conversation. Thank you so much for being here.

Matt Nichols: Thank you for inviting me.