Career Story: Quality Assurance Engineer For A State Department Of Transportation

Quality Assurance Engineer For A State Department Of Transportation

Job Title: Transportation Engineer-Electrical

Type of Company: I work for the California Department of Transportation, overseeing highway construction.

Education: BS, Electrical Engineering •• some post grad work in System Management

Previous Experience: I retired as a Chief Engineer with the USAF at McClellan AFB in Sacramento. My work involved acquiring and maintaining aircraft, communication and space systems. The last major program was "out-sourcing" the industrial work in order to close the base.

Job Tasks: I monitor different projects throughout the State after they've been competitively awarded to the lowest (or "best value") bidder.

A typical day starts with a review of things to do, such as checking emails, post mail and phone messages. I monitor projects under way and contact the prime contractors, subordinate electrical contractors, manufacturers like G.E., vendors and suppliers for equipment that requires quality assurance (QA.) A QA program is required to qualify for federal matching funds. QA tests a random sampling of materials or equipment. If the equipment does not pass our lab tests or meet contract requirements, we reject the items and the contractors are required to re-submit them before they get paid. Some of the equipment is more complex than others. In Southern California, for example, we are installing TV cameras, traffic controllers with intelligent software, fiber-optics for communication, radios, ramp-metering systems and even inrared truck detection systems, so not all trucks will have to stop to be weighed.

At other times I respond to contractors inquiries on our test processes. Some items are too large to be shipped (e.g. amber alert changeable message signs), so we travel all over the state, several times a year. When I get all caught up with the rest of my work I review incoming contractors to determine the scope of electrical testing so they can be assigned to other engineers. We are the only transportation lab in the Department. Our group has 18 trained electrical engineers and technicians. But the overall lab has 600, including civil engineers who test concrete, asphalt, steel; chemists; geologists and other experts.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of my job is knowing you are serving the public good in providing all the necessary steps for efficient transportation. I also get to use my education in the area I was trained in. I get to work with other government personnel as well as people in industry.

The worst part of my job is what a small part I play in the scheme of things. I can't really tell after a day's work, what measurable difference I have made. This probably wouldn't b true in a small business.

Job Tips: Identify your interest in Science and Math. Get good grades in general. Talk to your counselor or advisor for tests in your requisite abilities, natural talents or learned. Get your school to join in partnership with local businesses or industries to start a Mentoring program where you can meet with career scientists and engineers. Learn finances as engineering is big business. Learn market and sales and learn to work with teams of people as once you are in your career, you would need to sell your ideas to managers who may not be technically trained. Work hard and smart and above all, have fun!

Additional Thoughts: What surprised me was that my degree did not teach me about finances and promotions (as mentions in the last question.)

I was fortunate as I started as a Student Trainee while I was in college. I am mostly satisfied with my accomplishment. Times are changing. If I was young today, I might have decided to go into Forensic Science, Bio Engineering or Environmental Engineering, to make a difference with our revised social priorities.

The most important personal trait is selflessness: mentoring college students and participating in Adopt-A-School, Industry-Advisory Councils etc. Individual rewards and fulfillment are important. But when you retire, you want to feel you have done more than just make money. When you find your passion, follow it and be a leader. With leadership, integrity is paramount. But the rarest gift is vision, the view of the world as you see it in the future, and how you go about making that a reality.

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