Meet BIM/CAD designer and assistant design coordinator Justin Riddle, based in our Tampa office. Justin has been with Freese and Nichols since September 2020, and not only has he taken on leadership and mentorship roles within his field, but he also leads the diversity, equity and inclusion initiative for Florida. Justin helps put together plans and 3D models for projects like utility pipelines, dams/levees, and treatment plants. He has been able to merge some of his lifelong passions with his job at Freese and Nichols, all while still having time for exploring other favorite interests outside of work in the sunny state of Florida.
When Justin first learned of the job opening at Freese and Nichols, he was attracted to the opportunity to help the firm integrate their newer Florida and Georgia BIM/CAD team with our long-established Texas teams. He ensures that drawings are produced properly, all applicable standards are followed, and that we deliver high-quality designs for our clients. He was also given the opportunity to mentor other team members in best practices for developing designs that are constructible, cost-effective and exceed client expectations.
“It’s my favorite part of my job,” Justin said, “mentoring, making sure that we are all on the same page, making sure things are done the right way the first time around.”
What drew you to the engineering field?
In high school, I took three years of CAD courses where I learned AutoCAD, Revit, manual drafting, and 3D printing. Growing up, I was always obsessed with floorplans. At the grocery store, I would pick up the free new housing magazines, then go home to recreate the elevation views and design their imagined floorplans with a drawing board and T-square. In Revit, I modeled homes, buildings, and shopping centers. I liked that they were giant puzzles that I could put together and make them work. I went on to get my first job in engineering consulting six months after graduating high school. I was 17 at the time! At 27, I find that the more chances I take with design and my career, the more I fall in love with it.
When I joined Freese and Nichols about 8 years later, I had not used Revit since the class. FNI was always willing to invest in putting me through training and using Revit again as a critical tool within an engineering consulting environment. Working for a company like FNI is no comparison to firms I have worked for in the past. Freese and Nichols really fosters professional and personal growth, trying new things, and truly have fun doing it.
One of Justin’s Revit projects from high school, modeling the house he grew up in:
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
First, it’s sharing knowledge with others who may aspire to get where you are in your career. Secondly, when people ask me what I do and I mention sewer pipelines, wastewater treatment plants – they might scrunch their face a little. Wastewater might not be the most glorious topic to talk about, but at the end of the day, it’s something much bigger than what we see in our day-to-day lives, and bigger than meeting your deadlines. We help protect the planet that we and future generations will all share.
What does “Deliver Quality” mean to you in your role at FNI?
If we have a deliverable, and it’s the first big submittal to a new client, I take it upon myself to reach out to the project engineer and offer to review the set for drafting standards, spelling mistakes, text sizing, fonts, and overall BIM/CAD graphics on the sheet. Other times, I like to make sure our CAD files are being maintained properly, so I will flip through and make sure things are looking okay.
With FNI heavily investing in delivering quality, our new firmwide QC guidelines have us utilizing Bluebeam more intimately – and what a powerful tool it really is. I recently was part of a Continuous Improvement presentation on CAD Deliverables using Bluebeam, demonstrating to our Florida team the revamped workflow of how we review our design drawings. I know how busy our engineers are, so any chance I have I let people know about new processes so we can work better together. If we all are on the same page, we can get it done right the first time.
What’s your advice for young professionals trying to get into the industry?
The biggest thing I have learned is to not be intimidated by new things. There have been times I’ve been thrown into something I was completely unfamiliar with at work, and when I was younger and worked for a firm that wasn’t as influential on individual growth as FNI is, I would become overwhelmed and would want to stay in my small box of expertise. But each seemingly daunting experience only made me a better and more valuable designer to our engineers and clients. Find your “home” working with professionals that value your expertise and time, and the job won’t feel like work.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
I’m a native Marylander, and I parked my U-Haul in Tampa on New Year’s Day, 2017. People might also be surprised to know that I’m a musician – my friends know me as a walking music library. I’d rather blast my favorite music than watch TV. Ever since I could talk I’ve always had a habit of fidgeting with my hands, banging out beats on any flat surface. I’m a drummer, and taught myself guitar and piano in high school when I worked at a small music store. I also enjoy singing, writing songs, and make remixes and beats with recording software.
We have multiple musicians in our Florida team, too. Still waiting for the chance to flex some karaoke skills with them!
What do you like to do for fun?
Other than music, I love video games. I play Nintendo Switch and have a VR headset. I enjoy the great outdoors whether it be camping, beaching, hammocking, kayaking, or just taking a walk. I’m a big Washington Capitals hockey fan and love going to NHL games regardless of who is playing. The best games are Washington Capitals v. Tampa Bay Lightning games!
What are some of your favorite times spent with your colleagues?
We have a good time here in Florida. Any time we are out after work, everyone is always thrilled to be in each other’s presence. We can be found volunteering at local food pantries or humane societies cleaning out cages and walking dogs. It’s the best definition of work/life balance. We mean business when we are here but don’t allow “shop talk” when we’re hanging out. “Family” is the only word to describe it.
I’ve also enjoyed being a part of our DEI program. I volunteered to lead when the opportunity presented itself. Everyone has a right to feel that they are accepted and valued at work. Our team is very diverse — people from all over the world work here. It’s important to have conversations about it. I also know that our corporate management appreciates our DEI program and fully supports me building it up locally in FL.
I’ve found that our team appreciates the comradery and the small tidbits of education we provide. We recently hosted a potluck where team members were asked to contribute a dish native to their culture or upbringing. Each dish had a menu-style printout with a description of the dish and who contributed it, along with the country/countries the dish hails from. We had a spread of food native to countries including Hungary, Trinidad, Sri Lanka, Italy, and Vietnam, among others. After work, we held a DEI Social themed after a German Bierhalle. We put a lot into that event, and it was great to see everyone having a blast sharing meals and laughs together. The folks that were there still talk about it to this day. I’ve discovered that I have a knack for event planning, and I am thankful for FNI giving me a chance to make a difference in the lives of my colleagues.
Justin has enjoyed participating in and organizing several events for FNI, including several as the Florida DEI leader: