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Reflections on Changing Career Paths Midstream

November 4, 2022 by Nicole Mason

Reflections on Changing Career Paths Midstream

by Chuck Doan

“Be the captain of your professional development.” That is a saying I have heard more than once in my career. The first time I heard it, I worked for an engineer in a small water system years ago. He would tell me the importance of overseeing your career path, saying, “what you learn here is just a foundation for greater learning opportunities in developing your career.” He was always professional; he was a mentor and a teacher. I always look back with fondness and appreciation for the lessons I learned from him. Through the years, he mentored many people. Some outgrew their positions and moved on to the next stage of their careers. I do not know if he shared what he told me with them, but his words and encouragement always resonated with me.

Looking back, he was a champion of professional development for others. He would take the time to develop people, and if they outgrew their position working for him, which was the case for some, he was happy to see them move on to better themselves. Others stayed and kept working for the same organization and are still there today. Although he moved on many years ago, his legacy of mentoring and helping people understand the importance of taking responsibility for their career development lives on with those he encouraged. These individuals now use the same philosophy to pursue professional development and become the next generation of mentors and teachers.

As an advocate of professional development, I have held several required certifications throughout my career. I recognize the importance of testing to a standard that holds those in positions of trust and public safety accountable.

When I decided to change careers, I started looking into jobs that would complement my experience in building construction and commercial building maintenance. I considered a career in construction management and commercial/residential building maintenance management, and I explored the possibility of becoming a construction superintendent, plans examiner, building code inspector, and certified building official. All these positions had specific professional development paths and required national certifications.

Because of my background in residential and commercial construction and maintenance, the more I investigated building safety and code enforcement, the more I realized how they aligned perfectly with my experience. I noticed that most job openings for building inspectors, plans examiners, and certified building officials required or preferred expertise in construction, construction management, or being a construction superintendent. That matched well with my experience and passion for building safety and using a commonsense approach to construction.

Nearly all the jobs posted for building inspectors, plan examiners, permit techs, and building officials required International Code Council (ICC) certifications. In researching the ICC career development path and the credentials needed for those positions, I soon realized that I would need to commit to purchasing the books, study guides, and courses that were required to prepare for the ICC certification exams.

In November 2021, I set a goal of obtaining ICC certifications as a certified building official, commercial/residential plans examiner, and commercial/residential inspector. When I started, I decided to devote as much time to my training as possible, treating it like a full-time job with unlimited overtime. I spent hundreds of hours researching and navigating code books, taking courses, testing, and reading.   When I encountered a subject that needed clarification, I found resources and training that helped me grasp how the building code is applied to meet reasonable safety and construction standards.

Study habits are essential. For me, this required studying with a purpose, looking up unfamiliar terms, researching construction methods, and reviewing them from the perspective of constructability. This helped me to understand how to apply the building code and standards.

After seven months, I received seventeen certifications from ICC. There is much to be said about meeting this standard and the job opportunities it opens.

You commit to being a lifelong learner when you choose a career path that requires testing to a standard and ongoing professional development.

Was it easy? No. I had doubts, and a couple of times I questioned my decision. But when this happened, I went back to my process of deciding what career path was right for me, and there was no doubt that I was headed in the right direction.

Being the best starts with challenging yourself. Do not let complacency grip you, do not let failures or setbacks discourage you. Invest in yourself, step up, dig deeper, and study more meaningfully, research areas you are weak in to understand them better, and reach out to mentors and teachers who will help you. In the code enforcement world, mentors and teachers are willing to help you along the way.

Many professional careers require certifications and ongoing professional development. By putting in the hard work, study, and training, we earn our certification and show that we meet the industry standards of professionalism and dedication to our work through knowledge, skill, and abilities. And continuing our professional development after we have received certification is one avenue that helps us stay up to date on trends and relevant in the careers we have chosen.


Chuck Doan currently serves as the Building Official for the City of Richland, Washington. Chuck has worked for Local Government, Yakima Educational District 7, and the Private sector for over 25 years; his experience includes Construction Superintendent/Manager, Director of Maintenance/Operations and Capital Projects, and Water Distribution Manager.

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