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In this career interview with an engineer in the automotive industry, we find out what it is like working in the field of catalytic systems. This professional has 10 years experience developing emissions measuring devices and testing emissions on vehicles to help reduce pollution. In this interview he shares his story.

Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?

A: I am a Catalytic Systems Test Engineer in the automotive exhaust emissions field, a position I have held for nearly ten years. I’m pedantic, inquisitive and focused; all qualities I feel are very well suited to my position as a test engineer where all variables need to be measured or controlled as far as possible.

Q: What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?

A: Being a Caucasian male makes me part of the vast majority in my place of work and industry, so I have never been discriminated against. I think the engineering community in general is less judgmental of differences of ethnicity and gender.

Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?

A: My position is responsible for running emissions tests on vehicles and engines as a developmental tool for effective catalytic converter production. Just as emissions standards vary across the world, so do the test procedures for measuring those emissions; my job is to ensure the test laboratory meets international standards and that the data generated is accurate, and to coordinate a fleet of experimental and prototype test vehicles.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?

A: I would rate my job satisfaction as a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10. Better feedback on project results would definitely increase my satisfaction and somewhat alleviate the feeling of being a single gear in a vast machine.

Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?

A: It is rewarding to know that I am part of an engineering process that results in less pollution entering our atmosphere. The technology I help to bring to market, especially in countries such as India and China where air pollution is severe, will help in part to prevent countless respiratory illnesses.

Q: Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?

A: There is really nothing unique about my situation.

Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

A: As part of the automotive engineering degree program at Loughborough University, a year is spent with a company in the automotive industry before going back to complete the final year of study. I spent that year working for the same company that hired me after I graduated so I knew what was expected of me. Although this route puts you a year behind some other graduates, I believe it produces more effective engineers sooner, as such work experience also helps to put some of the studies and projects undertaken in the final year of college in perspective. It worked well for me and I wouldn’t change it.

Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?

A: I learned the hard way and fairly early that credit isn’t always given where due. After developing a very effective new method for testing vehicles at incremental speeds and absorbed loads to visualize the effects of different catalytic converters on throttle response, I was sorely disappointed to find no mention of my name when that method was shared with other departments.

Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?

A: That good engineering doesn’t necessarily mean the best engineering solution to the problem. Good engineering in the working world is solving the problem acceptably for the specified cost. In college, theoretical problems tend to be approached with little regard for cost limitations. In the working world there are always budgetary constraints, and I have lost count of the number of times I have wondered how much better a project could have been with just a little more funding available.

Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?

A: Of course, having to make a living is motivation enough to get up and go to work every day; enjoying the job is a bonus.

Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?

A: I have a particular problem with work being done needlessly; there are so many problems and projects to work on without wasting time doing a job twice. When a small detail is overlooked, or there is a slight misinterpretation or miscommunication on project specifics, not only is my time wasted, but others waiting for results from my area are left hanging. While I would never actually quit due to such circumstances, I do sometimes wonder what would happen if I were to leave.

Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?

A: With many engineers and chemists in the company pressing for data from my area it can sometimes be quite stressful. It’s easy to burn out by staying late and starting early so I endeavor to get all of my work done during normal work hours and I don’t take my work home. I am quite lucky in that the company I work for has a gymnasium for employee use, so a quick workout at the end of the working day helps me to deal with any stress and make sure that I get home energized. We work to live after all, not the other way round.

Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?

A: $45k to $55k is a good indication of the salary for the position I hold, and while it is easy to say I need to be paid more, financial pressures come from overpriced housing and the expense of commuting rather than being paid too little, so honestly I feel it is a fair wage.

Q: How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?

A: Being employed with the company for nearly ten years I have worked my way to four weeks of vacation a year from one week after a year on the job. I always use all of my vacation entitlement. Four weeks actually means twenty days, which I find somewhat misleading. We in the USA definitely lag far behind our colleagues in Europe and elsewhere.

Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

A: It should go without saying that a good degree from a reputable accredited college is essential. In fact, the company I work for favors graduates with degrees from a select few colleges where they have a good relationship with the engineering and chemistry departments. Skills developed outside college can be the difference between being hired or rejected, especially as there are so many graduates competing for the available jobs. In my case, a passion for restoring classic motorcycles not only showcased my practical skills to my interviewers, but was also a good topic of conversation that made the interview go very well.

Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

A: Don’t expect much excitement. Test engineering involves a lot of monotonous monitoring and repetitive testing.

Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?

A: I would actually opt for a complete career change to marine archeology. Not because I don’t enjoy my job, but because after nearly 10 years I could do with a change of pace and scenery, and I can think of few things as fascinating as uncovering our underwater heritage.