I was asked by the OSU Automation Society to share some thoughts on why you might consider automation as a career choice. I think former chairman of Emerson Process Management, John Berra, summed it up best in an Automation World magazine column:
I have often called our profession a noble profession. Our work demands the broadest skill set of any engineering discipline—it requires knowledge of chemical processes, mechanical, electrical, electronics, software, networks and IT (information technology). In a typical project, the automation amounts to less than 10 percent of the total cost, yet it has the most impact on the performance of the process. All of the best equipment and process designs are rendered helpless if the automation doesn’t work.
The field of automation requires a breadth of knowledge that keeps you learning throughout your career. And the work you do contributes to the advancement of mankind. From processes that control the quality of the medicines we need, to the processes that control the energy we use every day. As a member of the automation profession, you play a direct role in innovating new solutions, increasing efficiency, reducing energy consumption, and improving the performance of your business.
The diversity of opportunities within our profession is large. Working for automation suppliers you can be a design engineer for the latest technologies. Or, as an application engineer working with manufacturers to apply these technologies. Or, as a sales or marketing engineer to highlight how the technologies can be applied to solve business problems. Or, even a blogger and community manager leading the industry to adopt social media as a way to connect automation professionals together across the globe in peer-to-peer networks.
From a manufacturing perspective, you can lead capital projects designing, installing, and starting up automation systems. Or, you can work with the operations and maintenance team to improve and optimize the performance of the process. Or, you can streamline the processes around quality, safety, and reliability. As you learn the business, you are developing the skills to lead the business.
To share my journey as one data point, I began as a systems engineer for Conoco putting in power, control, safety, and telecommunications systems on offshore oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. After many years learning about the oil and gas production business, I came to work for Fisher Controls as a sales engineer working with oil and gas producers.
My career has included stops in application engineering, alliance management, product marketing, marketing communications, and now leading the communications transformation through social media. In more than 25 years, the learning has never stopped.
For those that pursue automation as a career, the opportunities will continue to grow. The baby boom generation is beginning to leave the stage and we need smart people to replace them. This includes the leadership teams. This means the opportunity to advance should be greater than ever.
To get a feeling of the opportunities already available, one has only to look at the jobs page on LinkedIn groups such as the Automation & Control Engineering group or automation companies such as mine—Emerson Process Management.
Whatever path you ultimately choose, I wish you the best of success. For those that choose an automation career, I look forward to connecting and crossing paths with you.
Update: Per Jeet’s comment below, I’ve added a link to the newsletter above and here in this update.