Nor-Cal's success wouldn't be possible without the experience, passion and dedication of our talented engineers. We sat down with our own Nate Kelleher to discuss a day in the life of an Automation Engineer.
What is your position title and what does it mean to you?
At Nor-Cal we have three tiers of engineers based on experience and abilities. I'm an Automation Engineer II, which is the middle tier. I'm also what we call an Engineering Mentor, so I am the main point of contact and technical resource for a team of less experienced engineers under me. I work with my team to educate, problem solve, and provide expertise during customer interactions.
I'm very happy with my position and enjoy being in a mentorship role. Our department is transitioning to a model that would relieve most project management responsibilities from the mentors so that we can dedicate more of our efforts towards education and process improvement. I love teaching and problem-solving and am very excited for the next chapter as my role evolves.
What does a typical day for you look like?
It looks like a lot of different things!
Most days involve interaction with customers, such as project coordination calls for either my or one of my mentee's projects. Of course there are development tasks, like getting systems ready for Factory Acceptance Testing, performing commissioning tasks, and fielding support calls for our product. This involves logging in and investigating, getting answers as to why something happened, and proposing updates that might prevent it from happening in the future.
The typical day also involves a lot of internal coordination, whether it's going to one of our more senior engineers for help with a problem, answering questions from more junior engineers, or coordinating with our project management team.
Who do you typically work with (internal people, clients, etc.)?
When it comes to structured interactions like meetings, the vast majority of those are with customers. But in terms of total time, I work more with our internal teams. At some point I work with almost every team we have, including the fabrication team, network engineering team, and business development team.
What is the coolest part about your day-to-day?
The coolest part is that we get to do so many different things. There's always something new to learn. I thrive on variety and enjoy being able to use a range of skills to solve problems.
Before I came to Nor-Cal I did troubleshooting and maintenance repairs on automated systems, and I still really enjoy putting those skills to work. If we get a troubleshooting call about a plant acting oddly, I can go online with it and comb through the logic to figure out what's going on. When there's a problem that's enigmatic and I'm able to not only get to the root cause but to propose and implement a solution—that's a lot of fun for me.
Can you tell us about the project you're most proud of working on?
I have a project I'm working on right now that will start commissioning next month. It's a pair of sites that are right next to each other, and they're a combined 450 megawatts—huge if you're a power nerd. The project features multiple substations and a complex communication system.
Typically we provide one centralized rack, but this project requires multiple network communication racks and two SCADA racks. It's been a fun challenge and I'm really proud of how it's come together. We've been able to provide a turnkey solution for our customer; they didn't have to bring in a third party contractor to handle all the networking. We've been able to do that all in house. I’ve been the lead engineer on it all the way through, so I'm definitely proud of that.
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