Get to Know Engineering Manager: Jeff Yirak
Jeff is coming up on five years as an engineering manager at McKinstry. He is known as a leader within McKinstry who creates high-functioning teams and inspires “outside the box” thinking. Others would describe Jeff as a positive person who is solutions oriented.
In the Q&A below, you can learn more about Jeff’s career path in engineering, his most memorable moments as well as the leadership and positivity he brings to McKinstry every day.
Learn More About Jeff’s Experience
My relationship with McKinstry started about 10 years ago. I was working at my previous firm as a commissioning provider and one of our primary clients at the time brought on McKinstry to work with us on a project. Given that this was a large-scale project, my firm and McKinstry had weekly meetings for about two years, and I brought donuts to most of them until they asked me to stop. From these meetings, I met Justin Fallstrom who has been with McKinstry for quite some time, and he was telling me how folks at McKinstry really know what they are doing, and that they are awesome to work with. So fast forward to 2018 when I’m looking to get out of that firm and go someplace else, my wife found the job posting for a McKinstry engineering manager out of Spokane. I called Justin and asked if I should apply for the position, and without hesitation, he said yes, so I did.
I have been an engineering manager here at McKinstry for over four years. Being an engineering manager suits my needs and strengths as it is an all-encompassing position. In previous firms, I was a principal, and in that role, I felt like I was far away from the technical work. In my role now, I am right in the middle of working closely with production workers while also tying in marketing and business development.
Well, it depends on how far back we want to go. I graduated in mechanical engineering because I like machines. I like the smell of a machine shop and I like seeing the moving parts, that is really enjoyable for me. However, that is not the job I got settled on. When I was looking for work, it was right around 9/11 and the opportunities I had cooking up just disappeared, so I took what I could get which was a consultant position for a Seattle-based company that specialized in pharmaceutical startups. This was a great introduction to the consulting world because I wasn’t just doing duct work in schools, I was doing high-purity water systems and HEPA filtration systems and a lot of it was outside Washington, so I was a million-mile frequent flyer before I was 25. From this experience, I got my foot in the door with a pharmaceutical startup in Bothell and became a facilities manager there, however, that start-up soon went out of business and led me to my previous firm whom I was with for 10 years and was doing mechanical design, building commissioning and eventually became a principal. Fast forward to 2018, I was looking for a change and came on board McKinstry.
The way I see my career path today is continuing to grow as a professional and as a leader through experiences and training. As a leader, I strive to be proactive with feedback and keep everyone working to their strengths as well as develop teams that are high-functioning and supportive of one another. I love McKinstry’s Put People First philosophy and try to model that with my leadership. My mission is to drive our innovation and pursuit of expertise, championed and bolstered by our collective intelligence.
I have many memorable moments but this one certainly sticks out. Through the leadership training, “The Journey of Not Knowing” out of Seattle, there was a canned food drive in the office, and I was determined to win. I didn’t want to just get cans because if we were actually trying to help this institution, we needed more than just cans. We asked the steering committee if they would accept things like cash or vehicle donations and they responded by saying, yes, but it still technically needs to be in units of “cans”. I suggested coming up with the conversion rate for volunteer hours to the weight of canned food, and the committee gave the green flag, so off we went. Funny enough, we found a team member that had a car to donate so we figured out a way to mix that in the can drive. I also wrangled twenty others to join our team, so we got credit for their cans as well. We blew our competition out of the water, to say the least.
Personally, I like the fact that this industry is always changing. We don’t do work the way we did, 20, 40 or 60 years ago. It’s nuts to walk into a building that was built in the 1970s because it feels incredibly different. In my head, I am just thinking of how much energy it’s wasting, how inefficient it is and how the equipment is all outdated. All of these things we have learned from as we go along. I think it’s cool to see change happen in the industry, specifically at McKinstry too with our decarbonization and energy efficiency efforts.
There is a lot that I am proud of. The Spokane office is on the smaller side, so when a neat opportunity comes along, we do our best to make the most of it. One example of this was in the winter of 2019 (the start of COVID), we got awarded a contract for a net zero LEED Silver building in Spokane, which was amazing because that is the kind of work we want to do. We found out that others in town were fearful of this job since it only had a million-dollar budget, and they had doubts about whether it would be possible because whenever someone says “LEED” or “net zero” it sounds expensive. However, our McKinstry team charged into the project will full force. The mechanical team did the mechanical design and had great teamwork with the rest of the general contractor’s team. However, once COVID hit, everyone went home and the architect on the job fell off the face of the Earth. This resulted in great concern from the general contractor that we would not be able to go in for the LEED certification now that the architect was gone. However, I knew what to do, so I stepped up to the plate and led the LEED process and got a certified silver without additional cost or delay. That was an extremely proud moment for me.
I think others would describe me as a positive person who is solutions-oriented. I know this may sound trite, but I am not interested in creating any personal beef with anybody, I just don’t have time for that. If it is a casual interaction, then I am going to joke around and try to leave you with a good impression. If it is a professional interaction, then I want to be focused on the outcome and not stuck on how we got there. I also believe that others would say I am friendly and outgoing for an engineer and that I am humble. I certainly enjoy celebrating the accomplishments of the team and the people around me so I would much rather push them into the spotlight than try to soak it all up myself.
My family and I live on five acres so there is no end to house and yard projects. I have three different chainsaws and lots of trees that need to come down, however cutting down trees is not my strong suit, so often times you’ll find me practicing on other trees further away from the house. However, I would say most of my time these days is spent with family. My daughter is 15 and my son is 13, and they are pretty fun.
Pre-COVID, I was an avid duffer (“golfer” would be too strong a word) and I enjoyed kayaking on the Little Spokane River. I’m looking forward to resuming those activities with my workmates.