At HVAC Comfortech 2010, North American Technician Excellence (NATE) recognized six "Top Techs" who hold multiple NATE certifications. This month, Contracting Business.com is pleased to introduce you to Robert Allen, service manager for the Beltsville, MD branch of Cropp-Metcalfe.

Everyone takes a different path to the top. Robert Allens's started in the summer of 10th grade with a dream of cutting grass.

"I lived near the University of Maryland, and they had these huge grass tractors that all of us 15-year-olds wanted to drive," Allen says. "There were about 30 applicants, and the university's representative came out, and went down the line, pointing at us and saying, 'plumbing,' 'refrigeration,' 'groundskeeping,' and so on. I was one of the refrigeration guys."

Allen returned to the university in the summer after 11th grade, and in 12th grade took part in a work/study program. The University of Maryland also started Allen in the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society's (RSES's) Refrigeration and Air Conditioning courses. Many years later, Allen holds NATE certifications in gas furnace service and installation, oil furnace service and installation, heat pump service and installation, air conditioning service and installation, hydronics (oil) service and installation and hydronics (gas) service and installation, and air distribution service and installation.

"My dad was a mechanical engineer for the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, and I think I get a lot of my mechanical savvy from him," he says. "I was also fortunate, during my first course of refrigeration and air conditioning with RSES, to be taught by Carl Briner. I really learned a lot from him."

Prior to working at Cropp-Metcalfe, Allen did residential, commercial, and clean room work. He even ended up working as a subcontractor at the National Security Agency, on test equipment that incorporated cascade refrigeration and an oven, which was used in testing how to protect circuit boards from the extreme heat and cold of outer space.

Allen is happy to leave space behind, however, for his current work as a residential service manager and technician. "If you like people and you like working with your hands, it's a perfect job," he says. "It's a good salary if you don't mind working the hours, and I love making people happy and doing more."