Despite an Invisible Disability Diagnosis, Childhood Dreams Meet Reality

Assistant Building Engineer, Casandra, tells us how she overcame a childhood diagnosis to turn her dream into reality.

October 27, 2022 3 Minute Read

I was a very energetic child who wanted to travel. My first-ever dream job was to become a pilot. But I have astigmatism so that immediately was not feasible. The second one was to become a photographer for National Geographic because of again, travel, but starting out as a freelance photographer can be a difficult way to make a living.  I realized as I got older, I did want to travel, but I also wanted to be very independent. It was important to find a job that would be able to support that.  

I did not take a straight professional path to get here. I was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when I was five. In the ‘90s it was completely different than being diagnosed today. Back then, doctors just prescribed medications and that was it. So, my professional journey was one with so many different directions and pitfalls trying to find the right career. Thankfully, I also experienced all sorts of fun things and lived in different places, so that's the best part! 

Before I became a building engineer, I was doing admin work at a data center, and I was bored out of my gourd! My personality needs something that is physically and mentally engaging. At the time, I knew someone who was a cement mason who told me about a program called ANEW (Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Employment for Women) based in the Seattle, Washington area. It’s geared towards getting women into the Trades fields. CBRE was my first position fresh out of the program.  

When I was 29, almost 30, a friend of mine at the time worked for CBRE. She asked me if I had considered becoming a building engineer. At that point I didn't know what that was, so I did my research and thought ‘this sounds like it’s for me.’ I applied and here we are! I am an assistant building engineer in the Seattle, Washington market and I do amazing things with amazing people. 

You’re very forthcoming about your diagnosis. Does it pose some difficulties with your role? 

When I started with CBRE, I realized I really needed to get a handle on my ADHD. There were days when telling me something once was really hard because my brain just didn't want to process. When I was 31, I went to a psychiatrist and told him what was going on with me. This time, even though I was diagnosed twice, the difference was they confirmed I had ADHD and came up with a plan to help me manage it.  

I wanted to be open about it because I was new to the team, new to the industry and I had a lot to learn. Now, I have it under control – I know when I have a day that's good and a day that's bad. On those days, I let my team know that this will not affect my work, but when they tell me something it might affect how I process it, but I will do my best. They've all been very understanding. I'm also open about it because I want to bring more ADHD awareness in the workplace. It doesn't mean that I'm going to be a bad employee, it just means that some days I have to do things a little bit differently, but it does not affect my work. 

You mentioned your team being supportive of your diagnosis. Can you speak to being in a traditionally male-dominated role? 

My experience, thankfully, has been so positive. I've worked at two different buildings and both of the teams have been very supportive, open and welcoming. When I first started with CBRE, I was mentally preparing myself for some potential microaggressions and tokenism. I’m a 34-year-old Black woman with dreadlocks and ear gauges, so I was preparing for some ostracization or criticism. I can thankfully say I haven't faced anything like that. I was so surprised because I work with older white men. When I did have minor issues, I honestly felt like it came from a place of ignorance and not hatred or judgment. I found that in a lot of cases if I just say something, it was received positively rather than them getting defensive, which is a huge thing!


What do you do in your role as a building engineer? 

As a building engineer, you're the first responder if anything goes wrong—even if the building has tenants that have their own facilities management—you're the first one to show up and assess the problem. You need to know HVAC, electrical, plumbing—and at my site, painting. There's a lot of moving around and it’s very physical. That's one of the reasons why I love building engineering. There's always a new project that needs to be done. No two days are the same. Even if the same thing breaks, there's more than one way to fix it.  There are so many different things that keep me engaged.  

There’s one thing I’d like to emphasize about this profession – you don't have to have prior experience to be successful. There are things I’m still learning, but I quickly got the certifications I needed. I have my electrical apprenticeship license, refrigeration license, and refrigerant handling license.  That's all within the span of about 2 1/2 years – it'll be 3 years December 2022. CBRE also paid for my certifications. And because CBRE is international, I can take this job and potentially move it to another country, which is my future goal—to move it to Germany. I've been working towards it since I started with CBRE back in 2019. 

It seems young Casandra’s childhood dreams are coming to fruition. Why Germany?

I visited this year and loved it! I made a big circuit and looked at regions where I wanted to live and what the cost of living would be. I didn’t want to be too limited in my choices, so I visited the cities where CBRE has a strong presence and potential job openings—Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Cologne.  

It’s a country that ticks the boxes - diversity and inclusion, a place that has a stable economy and fairly good government structure.  Also, there are train stations that connect to everywhere. I could be in Vienna in 4 hours! The list goes on, but that's why Germany finally was the place that seemed like it would be the best for me.


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