Meet the team: Mona Shahbandi

At RVA, we’re building a close-knit community where professionals are empowered to bring their best selves to work, lead at every level in their careers, and form connections that last a lifetime. None of this would be possible without our people. That’s why, as part of our Employee Spotlight series, we’re giving you a chance to learn about the dedicated individuals who make it all happen – their careers, day to day life, and the passions and philosophies that inspire them.

In this interview, we’re thrilled to introduce you to one of our exceptional teammates: Mona Shahbandi, our Electrical Designer in our Toronto office.

Born and raised in Iran, Mona joined RVA in 2019 to pursue her passion for lighting and electrical systems. With a background that’s one-part electrical, and one-part architectural, Mona brings a passion for process and believes that collaborating across disciplines ultimately leads to a better design and final product.

Here’s what Mona shared with us.

1. Tell us about a bit about yourself and your role at RVA.

I am an Electrical Designer at RVA, and I am working towards obtaining my professional engineering license through Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO). My role involves a wide range of responsibilities, including the creation of lighting and power designs, cost estimation, reviewing shop drawings, generating detailed analysis reports for facilities, and utilizing AGi32 software. Among my other duties, I prioritize maintaining effective communication with suppliers to stay current with the latest technological advancements, as well as the best quality lighting controls and fixtures on the market.

Usually, when I start a project, I try to collaborate with local hydro companies for new electrical service connections and upgrades. Thereafter, I prepare the layouts for power, lighting, and low current systems, including telephones, access controls, security, and data. As per client contract, I might also prepare fire alarm layouts and wire schematics for the project. I mainly use Revit software and AutoCAD for my design work, and all my information and documents – from 30%, 60%, 90%, and 100% design – go to the Senior Electrical Engineer for review and quality assurance. I also help make adjustments in case we have a change order or addendum. After tender, we usually review the shop drawings and take care of all Requests for Information (RFIs) from the contractors. Overall, we ensure that all the design work is conducted in accordance with industry codes and standards – such as the OESC (Ontario Electrical Safety Code), OBC (Ontario Building Code), and NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) – and other regulations from supervisory bodies, such as the CEC (Canadian Electrical Code).

2. How has your background prepared you for a career in electrical engineering?

I graduated in two different fields: one is electrical and the other architectural. I first earned an associate degree in electrical engineering and worked as an Electrical Designer, focusing mainly on communication and building management systems, from 2001 and 2007 in Iran. After that, I began working at an architecture and construction firm that focused on residential, commercial, and municipal developments. While I was working on a building management system (BMS) project, I found that an architectural background could help me a lot in understanding the scope of a project, the overall building design, and help me coordinate better with other disciplines. So, I decided to complete a bachelor’s degree in architectural applied science while working as a part-time Electrical Designer, and eventually graduated in 2010. After graduating, I found that I had an interest in lighting and electrical systems, so I began working as a Lighting Designer at the architectural firm for two years, before immigrating to Canada eleven years ago.

It was a new life and a new country, and I needed to make a decision on which field to focus on. I decided to continue my focus in lighting and electrical systems, and when I joined RVA, I found that it was exactly the kind of position I was looking for. I studied and familiarized myself with OBC and OESC, completed courses in Project Management, Architecture, and Building Science at Ryerson University, and decided to pursue my PEO designation. I also began my Master of Engineering program at the University of Waterloo this past year.

When I go to a site, based on the condition or old building documents, I’ve found that my knowledge and expertise in architecture and structure has helped me better understand the existing situation of the facility: the position, direction, design, and so on. I can then bring that understanding to my design and visualize it accurately in photos, renderings, and analyses for the client and translate it in the final construction document. It’s always a good feeling to see photos of your work being shared with different groups, knowing that you successfully realized the vision of the project, and to use that experience and information for other projects in the future.

3. What are some of the common challenges you face in your line of work, and how do you approach them?

Some of the projects we work on are old buildings that have outdated drawings or existing projects already in place, and the information they have is not always accessible, but we have to implement a new technology that the client wants to use. The challenging part is filling in the blanks by capturing all the existing information onsite and importing that information (in photos or videos) into clear and accurate drawings for the client. There can be a lot of detective work involved, so you have to make use of every resource you have, whether you are referring to the proposal document, or reaching out to the client or hydro for more information. Especially in huge facilities with multiple buildings, you also have to consider items that are not within our scope, and it can be a huge task to take a complete inventory of every line item. It’s a lot of work for one individual, so for myself, I like to collaborate with my colleagues to find and report all the discrepancies. We develop a plan to divide and conquer the site, compile our information, and review it all together so we can prepare the best new design for the client that encompasses all their needs.

4. What advice would you offer to new grads or young professionals entering your field?

For new grads (or even newcomers to Canada), I would say to focus on one field and familiarize yourself as much as you can with the industry – study all the standard abbreviations and terminology, research different designs from other projects, see how codes can apply to different situations, even read the newspaper – so when you start work, you have some background and knowledge that you can use for your projects. You can even ask for sample projects to learn about the design approach of your company, the variety of projects they have, and your team’s past experiences with different clients.

Also, coordination between disciplines is important, because every discipline has their own approach, and you should be prepared to understand them. When you begin working on projects, you’ll find very quickly that all the information is interrelated – you need to consider things like the budget and the needs of different stakeholders. Remember that you are not the only discipline involved in the success of the project, and approach it as a learning experience on how to deal with different types of industries.

Finally, always be prepared to answer questions from colleagues, your supervisor, and the client at any time. Especially when you are juggling multiple projects, you need to document everything. The goal is to keep an organized record of the story of the project so far: the different approaches used, the various viewpoints that need to be considered, the questions that still need to be followed up or answered. Everyone has their own way of looking at the project and organizing their thoughts, but all the information you have needs to be standardized and accessible to the rest of the group. Especially when you enter the drafting stage, the way you prepare the document for the client is very important. You should make sure that whatever you put down on paper is understandable and useful to the end-user. Always keep the audience for your work in mind.

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If you’re already feeling the excitement, why wait? Take the next step in your career with us! Explore our current openings on our Careers page and join a team that is as diverse as the challenges we solve every day.