How Did You Come to Your Job?

Editor-In-Chief Walt Boyes says he came to his automation career through the back door - and so did I. Unlike other professions such as law and medicine, engineers in general and automation folks in particular often come to their jobs via circuitous routes. How do you find your way to a job in automation?

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  • I was trying to pay my college tuition, working as a telecommunications technician at a water utility during the day, going to college at night. While I was taking my last classes, I looked around and noticed that of the 250 some classmates we started with, only 50 or 60 graduated. The cold war was over, the lucrative defense contracts had dried up and blown away. And with them, so had many of the students.

    I wanted to get in to aerospace something or other, but then I realized that the engineers in that business had very little job security. I also realized that I had a lot of cool toys to play with, an unusual job, and, gosh, as long as the city existed, there would be a need for people to flush their toilets. So I stayed.

    I have never looked back.

    Today, I can count the number of 20-somethings I know in our organization of 1400 on my fingers. There are no students working their way through college. The tuition benefits we offer are a joke (of course, they were a joke when I went to college too --it paid for half of my textbook bill, as I recall). And now, we're scavenging from other utilities to find "uber-qualified" people who can go straight in to senior positions.

    Anyone see anything wrong with this picture?

    Sigh.

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  • I worked as a real-time job shopper programmer on NASA and USAF avionics stuff until NASA folded up after the moon landings. My software still flies in the F16, Skylab and Shuttle. My first job out of NASA was in NYC, where I wrote software for the Flavors & Fragrances process control system (on an IBM 1800), then to Ohmart, writing the software for a nuclear gage, and finally to Process Control Inc, a systems integrator in Columbus, Ohio, where I programmed an appliance test system for Westinghouse, automated lines at Ranco, developed an event recorder, wrote fuzzy logic software for a graft polyol control system at BASF, and wrote the compiler for the first high-level process control language (CRISP). I then moved to InTech as an editor. I'd probably still be a real-time programmer if it wasn't so deadly boring. Writing about our industry is much more interesting.

    Always a freelancer, I wrote an HMI manual for Copeland & Roland with the able assistance of Steve Rubin (later to form Intellution), when he was just an app engineer at C&R. Gawd, that was a long time ago. Steve's a zillionaire now, and I still scratch out a living by freelancing. Oddly enough, even after 30 years, I'm still working with Steve. 

     

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  • I don't think any of us promote our own industry to young people, including ISA. Check the next issue of Control magazine, where there will be a very cool article about a control engineer/drag racer who used his control skills to set records. If we could convince the street racers--who know more about sensors  and control systems than you think--that they could use their skills to control industrial processes, we might get more of them into the profession. I wrote a column about that once:

    http://www.controlglobal.com/articles/2003/232.html

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