Stephen Brandt is an IT and Control Specialist working at Archer Daniels Midland Cocoa, one of the world’s largest processors and suppliers of cocoa.
Stephen has 5+ years’ experience working as an Automation Specialist and 4+ years’ work experience with the U.S. Air Force as an Electromechanical Technician. Stephen is passionate about videos games, cars, and Bears football. You can find Stephen on Linkedin here.
1. Most job postings cite “X” years of relevant work experience and specific education criteria as requirements to be considered for the position. With this in mind, what prior work experiences and degrees/certifications/training helped prepare you for your current role?
My prior work experience includes my time in the U.S. Air Force, during which I was an Electro Mechanical Technician on the ICBM Minute Man III and Peacekeeper Weapons system. After my career in the Air Force I did a short stint as an Elevator Repairman. This is the first time I was exposed to Programmable Logic Controllers. I then worked short term as a power supply tester at a company that made medical surgical equipment.
1B. What (if any) additional knowledge or skills that you don’t currently have would make you even better at your job?
Being in the field of controls, I see that all IO is going away from the typical/standard communication of MODBUS/Profibus/DH+ and going towards Ethernet Network communication or TCP/IP. Thus, I believe additional development in networking would further my advancement in this field.
2. Some jobs require the incumbent to be very analytical. Others require one to be a strong communicator, and others still require traits like patience, the ability to multitask, self-directedness, comfort with ambiguity, and exceptional attention to detail. Are there any behaviors and/or attributes that you would say are essential to performing the work that you do?
My position often requires me to take initiative without any direction to stay productive. Multitasking, customer service and patience are all essential parts of my job:
I can be working on one thing and then get a call from someone who is having a computer problem or controls problem. These sorts of situations have caused me to learn to prioritize issues and take a hard look at what needs to be done first.
Patience with the customer is a big plus in my job because I have to interact with people every day while fixing their computer or programming issues.
Additionally, paying attention to detail is critical as I’m programming controls systems that can cause injuries if the appropriate measures are not taken when troubleshooting. These are live systems – not just some computer program – as a result we have to be extremely careful. Also, I want to make sure the program, wires, and equipment are all labeled correctly. When troubleshooting this improves efficiency.
Summarizing, I would have to say the attributes that are essential to my job are multitasking, self-directedness, paying attention to detail, and customer service.
3. Jobs guru Lou Adler says there are only 4 job types of jobs in the world (producers, improvers, builders, and thinkers). Which type of job are you in?
My job is part improver (people in my role constantly have to update and debug programs), part builder (I engineer or update new controls and networking systems), and part thinker (in my job I have to look at the whole picture, monitoring both cost and efficiency). If I had to pick just one type I would pick thinker. The thinker role encompasses elements of the builder and improver job, which is a core part of what I do.
4. Does your job involve either directly or indirectly supervising or managing people? If so, how many direct (or indirect) reports do you have?
I have to indirectly influence others by encouraging teamwork. I don’t have any direct reports, but sometimes I have to guide site electricians/instrumentation colleagues on how to configure a certain sensor or program.
5. How does what you do impact the business? Think complexity (different types of impacts) and scale (degree of impact). Put another way: Who and what would be impacted if your job wasn’t being done well, and why would it matter that they were impacted?
If I wasn’t doing my job well the system either:
A. Wouldn’t be running
B. Wouldn’t be running efficiently
As everything in the plant is being controlled daily by the automation and networking system, I have to make sure these systems are up to date and running. If they aren’t this can impact either the quantity and/or quality of our products. It can also effect communication between the business and customers.
6. Is your job safe? Rate its safety on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being “seated all day in an air conditioned vault” and 10 being “I’m an astronaut going into space”. If your job isn’t safe, what working conditions (specifically) make it hazardous?
I consider my job safe. On a scale of 1-10, I’d rate it a 3. Not doing my job well can also effect other’s safety, though. Communication is critical in my job.
7. Is there anything I missed that people should know about your job? Is there anything else you want to say about what you do?
Not a lot of people are familiar with the Automation Control or IT field. It is programming, but it isn’t “normal” programming; there are multiple systems involved. With “regular” programming you just learn the language and program, but in the Automation Control field there are many different types of control systems and ways of programming. Additionally, when you program in Automation Controls you have to take into account field equipment and how it is being affected.
On another note, programming in Automation is a bit easier than some other fields as you are dealing more with logical controls instead of application programming (which deals more so with users controlling data). Fortunately, I started out as an Instrumentation Specialist so I understand not only field equipment but also any programs and equipment associated with the control system itself.
The control field is a unique field that many are unfamiliar with; as a result there is a shortage of qualified people in our field. If we can raise awareness of the importance of the field perhaps more people will become involved with it.
As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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