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Old September 11th, 2019, 09:10 AM   #1
EastSideSquirrel
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Career Advice for a Technologist

Good day everyone. Looking for a bit of perspective here,and from lurking these forms I know many of you have years of wisdom.

I知 late out of school, graduated in a automation related technology program. I did co-ops at smaller integrators, where my experience was primarily mechanical design. I知 comfortable with a few drafting softwares. I also have done robot programming with denso & fanuc. I can do basic plc programs, and give me enough time I can write something that will work. I enjoy working with my hands and slapping things together, ie. setting up sensors &* troubleshooting. In my current role, I am making schematics & designs for panels (an area which I previously lacked).

My issue is that I feel kind of mediocre at everything (except interpersonal skills). I feel like my skill set is suited to a smaller integrator shop like I have worked previously, where I can do various tasks instead of just one role.*

Looking towards the future, I know I don't want to travel far for work. I'm more family*oriented. This job I currently have is great on paper, but I feel like my development would be accelerated elsewhere. I don't want to rob my future self of opportunities because I took the easy route earlier on in my career. The only other negative aspect is*sitting all day makes me kind of crazy.*

I get that if I went to a smaller place, I would likely invoke more stress and get paid less in the short term. The grass will always be greener on the other side.

I understand no job will ever tick all of the boxes, I just want to do the best thing for future me and family. From your experience, what would you do in my position?
Thanks gentlemen.
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Old September 11th, 2019, 09:19 AM   #2
Ken Moore
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In my area of the world, no travel would be a major issue. None of the local integrators or machine builders have jobs with no travel.
The only positions without travel are at production facilities. You would be on staff and would be expected to support production by correcting issues, and perhaps process improvements. Typically non travel jobs like this pay less, but you are home most nights.
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Old September 11th, 2019, 09:19 AM   #3
Rson
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EastSideSquirrel View Post
Good day everyone. Looking for a bit of perspective here,and from lurking these forms I know many of you have years of wisdom.

I知 late out of school, graduated in a automation related technology program. I did co-ops at smaller integrators, where my experience was primarily mechanical design. I知 comfortable with a few drafting softwares. I also have done robot programming with denso & fanuc. I can do basic plc programs, and give me enough time I can write something that will work. I enjoy working with my hands and slapping things together, ie. setting up sensors &* troubleshooting. In my current role, I am making schematics & designs for panels (an area which I previously lacked).

My issue is that I feel kind of mediocre at everything (except interpersonal skills). I feel like my skill set is suited to a smaller integrator shop like I have worked previously, where I can do various tasks instead of just one role.*

Looking towards the future, I know I don't want to travel far for work. I'm more family*oriented. This job I currently have is great on paper, but I feel like my development would be accelerated elsewhere. I don't want to rob my future self of opportunities because I took the easy route earlier on in my career. The only other negative aspect is*sitting all day makes me kind of crazy.*

I get that if I went to a smaller place, I would likely invoke more stress and get paid less in the short term. The grass will always be greener on the other side.

I understand no job will ever tick all of the boxes, I just want to do the best thing for future me and family. From your experience, what would you do in my position?
Thanks gentlemen.
The travel aspect is the one negative to this field for me as well. It sounds like I have a similar background.

From people I've talked to, the only jobs in PLCs/etc that don't require the travel are likely those in the factories doing maintenance. I've talked to two people who made this switch, one loves it the other hates it for the same reason: you get really good learning the same stuff (same PLCs, sensors, etc) because that is all you use.

The big money in this industry (from what I can tell) is after you have 5 years or so in and are wiling to travel.
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Old September 11th, 2019, 09:23 AM   #4
EastSideSquirrel
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Moore View Post
In my area of the world, no travel would be a major issue.
I should clarify, I wouldn't mind travelling, but not to the extent that a lot of positions require. I know some are 30-60% travel, where in an ideal world I would like to limit that to 15% or somewhere around there.
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Old September 11th, 2019, 10:21 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EastSideSquirrel View Post
I would like to limit that to 15% or somewhere around there.
IMPO - you might have picked the wrong career.

I have seen travel in this industry as high as 80%, and no less than 33% I would say.
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Old September 11th, 2019, 10:36 AM   #6
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My current position (with a machine builder) is just enough travel for me. A few trips a year, usually up to a few days, once every two or three years something like a two week trip comes along. I estimate my travel time around 5%. The job mostly ticks the right boxes for me. I might just be lucky.


I have colleagues who travel way more than I do, to be expected at a machine builder. However most of their work is mechanical. Smaller part of their job is connecting the electrics. They do not do software at all. These days many of the software things can be done remotely. Wherever there is internet, I can do my thing from behind my desk at the office. It does help me to see things out in the field every now and then and I quite enjoy the occasional trips. But I don't have to travel to each and every machine that we deliver. Thank goodness.
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Old September 11th, 2019, 10:50 AM   #7
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I don't travel much anymore. It's all day trips since I support multiple plants within 1-4 hour driving distance. However, at the beginning of career in the automation field, frequent travel tend to be the norm. It was fun when I was younger but it's also a lonely existence.

You can get a position in a local factory somewhere but as you probably already know, your learning potential tend to be limited. There are always exception to that, of course.

If you are in a decent place right now, maybe ask to be cross training in other areas.
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Old September 11th, 2019, 03:16 PM   #8
celichi
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EastSideSquirrel View Post
Good day everyone. Looking for a bit of perspective here,and from lurking these forms I know many of you have years of wisdom.

I知 late out of school, graduated in a automation related technology program. I did co-ops at smaller integrators, where my experience was primarily mechanical design. I知 comfortable with a few drafting softwares. I also have done robot programming with denso & fanuc. I can do basic plc programs, and give me enough time I can write something that will work. I enjoy working with my hands and slapping things together, ie. setting up sensors &* troubleshooting. In my current role, I am making schematics & designs for panels (an area which I previously lacked).

My issue is that I feel kind of mediocre at everything (except interpersonal skills). I feel like my skill set is suited to a smaller integrator shop like I have worked previously, where I can do various tasks instead of just one role.*

Looking towards the future, I know I don't want to travel far for work. I'm more family*oriented. This job I currently have is great on paper, but I feel like my development would be accelerated elsewhere. I don't want to rob my future self of opportunities because I took the easy route earlier on in my career. The only other negative aspect is*sitting all day makes me kind of crazy.*

I get that if I went to a smaller place, I would likely invoke more stress and get paid less in the short term. The grass will always be greener on the other side.

I understand no job will ever tick all of the boxes, I just want to do the best thing for future me and family. From your experience, what would you do in my position?
Thanks gentlemen.
If you can get into an OEM with a Service Department, then Travel is minimal.
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Old September 11th, 2019, 04:30 PM   #9
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I have several customers that I have remote access set up on. This way I only need to travel initially to set up the system. Sometimes I don't even have to do that, if I can initially get internet access to the system they are using to troubleshoot with..

I do remote work on the HMI system (computer maintenance, backups and HMI edits) and the PLC system.
NOTE: You have to know the control system VERY well before you start doing remote PLC troubleshooting, and I always have someone local next to the machine to stop if an issue develops.
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Last edited by NetNathan; September 11th, 2019 at 04:45 PM.
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Old September 11th, 2019, 08:09 PM   #10
damica1
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What kind of money are you wanting/expecting to make?

Almost all of our local production facilities around here are paying their maintenance staff anywhere from $27.00 to $32.00 per hour, and they work 8 hours of overtime almost every week.

Job consists of working with hands, programming, design layout, R&D, drawing schematics, wiring diagrams!

Home every night, Sundays Off, great benefits, several paid holidays?

So what exactly do you want/expect?
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Old September 11th, 2019, 08:43 PM   #11
bill4807
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EastSideSquirrel View Post
Good day everyone. Looking for a bit of perspective here,and from lurking these forms I know many of you have years of wisdom.

I’m late out of school, graduated in a automation related technology program. I did co-ops at smaller integrators, where my experience was primarily mechanical design. I’m comfortable with a few drafting softwares. I also have done robot programming with denso & fanuc. I can do basic plc programs, and give me enough time I can write something that will work. I enjoy working with my hands and slapping things together, ie. setting up sensors &* troubleshooting. In my current role, I am making schematics & designs for panels (an area which I previously lacked).

My issue is that I feel kind of mediocre at everything (except interpersonal skills). I feel like my skill set is suited to a smaller integrator shop like I have worked previously, where I can do various tasks instead of just one role.*

Looking towards the future, I know I don't want to travel far for work. I'm more family*oriented. This job I currently have is great on paper, but I feel like my development would be accelerated elsewhere. I don't want to rob my future self of opportunities because I took the easy route earlier on in my career. The only other negative aspect is*sitting all day makes me kind of crazy.*

I get that if I went to a smaller place, I would likely invoke more stress and get paid less in the short term. The grass will always be greener on the other side.

I understand no job will ever tick all of the boxes, I just want to do the best thing for future me and family. From your experience, what would you do in my position?
Thanks gentlemen.
I honestly don't think there is any way around it in this industry, unless you make a move to a factory or have a service department with owner that will let the service department do startups and training. But mainly our service department does just that..service. they may do a small integration here or there else they are making repairs.

I am in the same boat as you, I work for an OEM/Dealer. I really enjoy everything about it - even quoting, but the travel is the one thing that always gets me down. I am in michigan and non of the jobs we do are in michigan.

Dont get me wrong i have no problem with 3-4 installs a year, which are mostly 1-1.5 weeks long international and domestic. But then are the presales meetings, post sales meetings, 4-5 (3) day install travels. When you add it together it turns out to be pretty significant. Most places i see, or at least anywhere i'd prefer to work has 15-30% travel posted. Remember 20% is just under 1 week a month if you look at it that way.
So if you find a position that makes you travel 2-3 times a year you are in a great spot for the industry standard.
I have been inclined to switch over and do the traveling but it seem like these places insist on paying almost the same wage as an in house hardware designer, to me at that point its not worth it, and i see they struggle to hold good employees i just dont get it.

Last edited by bill4807; September 11th, 2019 at 08:53 PM.
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Old September 12th, 2019, 01:47 AM   #12
sparkie
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Don't say you are mediocre at everything. You are adequate at many things. Never underestimate the power of being an expert at being multi-disciplinary. It is seriously a major skill in-and-of itself.
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Old September 12th, 2019, 02:14 AM   #13
parky
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I understand the feeling you have, I spent 30 years working for a system builder, loved the job due to the variation & getting to know many types of control systems. However it can be a bit taxing as you are often thrown into the deep end like a System you have no knowledge of and a very short completion date, however the buzz you get is something else, never bored always on the edge. The downside is obvious the travel, I lived most of those 30 years out of a suitcase. After this time I was made redundant due to the company going into liquidation, at 50 it was hard convincing similar companies to take you on believe it or not so I did a bit of contract work, this was ok but found that most of the jobs I got was when somebody was in a mess (nothing worse when the company your contracted to tells the customer lies & your the one in the middle of it). I took a job in a manufacturing plant as a systems engineer, this seemed great, a lot of automation of various types but like you say the downside was supporting maintenance. especially the mechanical side & installation (I had done this in the past but not really what I enjoyed.
However I stuck it as I was home every night, the company needed me more than I needed them & I proved to be very cost effective. One negative was that a number of engineers on the maintenance teams viewed me with suspicion and although never said much you get the feeling they don't like you.
So to sum up.
Being a Systems engineer for a systems house:
Pro's
Exciting projects
works well with others as at the same level
some travel was eye opening
Large variations and gaining experience in many types of systems.
Con's
Travel
Often matrimonial problems
The choice is yours I'm afraid.
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Old September 12th, 2019, 11:47 AM   #14
PLC Pie Guy
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Squirrel.

I'm also on the East Coast, there is a lot of work for a brain. A LOT of work, you simply need to know how to find it. It comes all day, all night, all weekend, every holiday, vacation day and every moment you might need some time away..... No joke.

If you want to stay in the maritime provinces and not travel, you need to think about starting in a maintenance department or apply for one of the dozen or so jobs right now in the N.S. area for "Control/ Automation Techs.. We are loaded with a variety of smaller factory floors that produce mostly food and beverage/dairy, Pot /Greenhouse vegetable producers, lumber mills and even agricultural equipment dealers that are using integration now. One of my favs.....
There are postings for OEM machine builders in the area looking for techs. (minor travel)

The thing is, being in the industry here now for almost 20 years, from my point of view, a big tittle does not mean a lot, its reputation. What the managers around here are struggling with is finding affordable, competent help. Sifting through "maintenance guy after maintenance guy".

If your ok with starting as a tech in a maintenance department and get your foot in the door your set. Once somebody realizes that you can do something you WILL be busy. I guarantee it. If you find a GOOD employer, one who is business is always growing.... you can make a lot of money troubleshooting, knowing something about control wiring and simply making their equipment run safely and efficiently.

Also keep in mind, apply for jobs looking for industrial electrical help. A lot of times, the manger doesn't know a construction electrician from a control tech. They don't know what they really need. That's when you end up with a department full of good people that are not suited to be doing the work they are asked to be doing. Then we go backwards a lot as simply troubleshooting by these folks sometimes causes more problems. Blown fuses, lost comms. mis-wires ect... I live this one!

Another thought.... Larger Refrigeration companies can often benefit from a good controls guy. I do a lot of work of one in the Valley that deals with bigger systems.


I started doing control and automation work almost 20 years ago as a maintenance electrician. Now I'm so busy with the 5 plants that my employer owns / rents its crazy. Nobody knows or cares that I'm an electrician by trade, I'm just "the guy". I get to do full Automation/Control design build from start to finish on everything from large silo delivery systems to servo controlled filler machines. I get to build and work on refrigeration systems, delivery systems,
ovens, conveyor applications, stand alone machines for everything you can think of. A lot of desk work, a lot of in the plant work, late nights, early mornings and a lot of call ins, but no travel. Pick your evil!

It amazes me that after 18 years at this, I'm still the young guy. Iv never had an apprentice or a trainee of any kind. Anybody I have ever worked with on a project was much older than myself at 37 years. This is why I say, there is a serious amount of work around here for decent technicians and that need grows every year.


I'm not sure what area your in but if your in N.S. or P.E.I. PM me your location I might be able to help find you somebody to start with or suggest you some good places to apply.

As an hourly maintenance tech around here, you'll be able to set your price, with good experience and demonstrated ability you can ask for approx 30$ per hour. Give or take depending on the company.

Once established though... You can demand a little more, perhaps a salaried position, completion bonuses, production bonuses, phone, travel or whatever you think your worth. What can they say? Really!
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Old September 12th, 2019, 08:14 PM   #15
EastSideSquirrel
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Thanks everyone for chiming in. I appreciate your lengthy responses! I'll definitely check in, in about a year and let you all know how things are progressing. Once again, thanks for the tips.
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