Interview with a Chemical Engineer

in Engineering, Salaried Jobs

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What do you do for a living?

I’m a degreed chemical engineer, but I don’t really do per se, what you might think of as chemical engineering. It’s more of a sub-discipline of chemical engineering.  Right now my job title is Heat Transfer Department Manager.

How would you describe what you do?

I work for a stainless steel fabrication company, builds tanks, pressure vessels, heat exchangers. My particular department is heat transfer, which is along the lines of heat exchangers and general heat transfer applications.

What does your work entail?

My work is multi-faceted, which most engineering jobs will be. You’re kind of the catch-all for everything that others don’t know how to do and don’t want to do, so technically, I’m supposed to be spending most of my time reviewing and approving drawings and assembly layouts for the various components that are sold.

…it’s hard to find an out-of-work engineer…The pay’s good, the benefits are good, so if you’re not a dumbass and you at least show some initiative when you work, it’s pretty easy to make a good living as an engineer.

It’s a very custom line that I manage, so every job is different. We don’t really have a lot of cookie-cutter parts where it’s standard designs with parts off the shelf or piecing together. It’s very blacksmith and thats the part where I come in. I review the drawings for accuracy and also check them for design considerations as far as pressure vessel code is concerned. ASME Code, which is American Society of Mechanical Engineers, has several volumes of literature, which outline the design consideration and rule for pressure vessels.

How did you get started?

It’s hard to say I always wanted to be an engineer. I mean, who always wants to be an engineer? It’s not exactly a glamorous position. But I was always good at math and science and pretty good at school in general. Those things coupled with the fact that it’s hard to find an out-of-work engineer, made it something I wanted to get into. The pay’s good, the benefits are good, so if you’re not a dumbass and you at least show some initiative when you work, it’s pretty easy to make a good living as an engineer. And it’s also a career that you don’t have to make your life, and that’s important to me. I wanted free time to have a life of my own. I’m not working 20-hour shifts like doctors and I don’t have to take my work home.

Pick your engineering discipline in college, something that interests you and then be sure and focus on the grade side of it to some degree because it’s worth its weight in gold when you’re out there in the real world. People really do honestly notice a GPA that is above average.

I shut the door of my office and the work stays there 99% of the time. I currently manage a department and have employees under me which is something that I wanted to do as soon as possible in my career. And it’s something that’s applicable too, it’s a great resume builder. The sooner you can get management experience under you, the better off you are and in just about any case. So, no, it’s not something I dreamt about as a five-year-old boy, but it pays the bills and it’s fun. I enjoy it and it doesn’t bog me down.

What do you like about what you do?

I love the freedom my position has. Everything we make in one form or another is some custom part. So, I get to design a new heat transfer or a heat exchanger application virtually every day, multiple times a day, which is kind of cool. It’s hard to get bored. It’s kind of cool because I see everything from the beginning all the way to the end when it’s shipped out off a dock. That’s something that it’s kind of hard to find in engineering, honestly. That quick turnaround and instant gratification, where you say, Hey, I designed this thing three weeks ago, and now it’s shipping. That’s kind of cool. I’ve had jobs in the past where you’re on a project for two years and you don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere.

What do you dislike?

I guess probably one of my biggest gripes would be the interface that engineering can sometimes have with the manufacturing department where it’s easy to come off as enemies to one another. Maybe our drawing package didn’t exactly spell out every step by step what was needed to manufacture something and then they do it incorrectly. And that can creates issues because, the part gets scrapped, or it’s late, it cost the company a lot of money, all these bad things and everybody starts pointing fingers and that’s frustrating. That’s just the facts of life. But it’s not that way in most cases, but I guess if I had to say what I dislike, that’d probably be the most obvious thing.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

I’m salaried employee.

How much money do you make as chemical engineer?

It’s $69,000 right now.

What education or skills are needed to be a chemical engineer?

Well, I guess simply put, a Bachelor’s degree in some form of engineering discipline, preferably mechanical or chemical would be a good place to start. There’s probably dozens of different disciplines within engineering. But really, the meat of them are chemical, mechanical, and electrical. And if you major in one of those, and obtain your degree with a decent GPA, you’re virtually guaranteed a decent salary. You’re guaranteed, health insurance, benefits, 401k, etc.

What is most challenging about what you do?

I guess the fact that I am the final sign-off on just about any heat exchanger or heat transfer design that the company makes. One of the pitfalls of being an engineer is that any time something comes across someone’s desk that they don’t know how to do they typically go to engineering. If any question is too hard for anyone else in the company to answer, they’ll come find one of us engineers. So that’s kind of tough to be the focal point of everyone’s tough questions, because you’ll be thinking you’re intelligent, and all of a sudden someone comes and asks you something and you don’t know.

What is most rewarding?

Every project we do in my department comes across my desk from the beginning when it’s conceived, and I get to monitor it as it goes through the production process and until it’s shipped. And sometimes, even installed on the customer’s site. So, to me, that is rewarding.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Pick your engineering discipline in college, something that interests you and then be sure and focus on the grade side of it to some degree because it’s worth its weight in gold when you’re out there in the real world. People really do honestly notice a GPA that is above average. People realize engineering school isn’t necessarily easy and if you show that you’re at least halfway intelligent and dedicated to something in school, then that will be rewarded.

How much time off do you get/take?

I work Monday through Friday and I have three and a half weeks’ vacation right now plus I get 10 or 11 company holidays. Basically a month and some change, plus or minus.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

People think we are just tucked away in corners, in cubicals somewhere, in dark rooms and no one really deals with engineers. I think that’s the biggest misconception is that engineering is just kind of these guys that do calculations all day and don’t really have to interact with the general public. In each of my past jobs that’s simply not the case. It’s important to have people skills, and if you do, you’re very valuable to a company. If you are an engineer that enjoys working with others and works with them well, you’re a great asset to any company.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

I guess my goal would be to someday leave the technical side of engineering and be more on the business side, and do more of business management or department management. Right now I’m a manager over the design side of things where I’d like to get away from that and do more higher level management on the business side.

What else would you like people to know about what you do?

In my opinion, engineering right now is a very good career to go into if you’re going to college or in college just because it’s such a high demand. There are so few engineers right now it’s pretty easy to get a job. Like I said, if you’re an engineer that’s not a dumbass and you want to work, it’s pretty easy to find a well-paying job.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Jared April 25, 2013 at 9:25 pm

your pretty badass, I am a sophmore in chemical engineering! I dont know which sub-disipline I would like to go to, but it was refreshing that your not in a lab somewhere tanning under a 9 volt bulb.

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Bill February 25, 2012 at 3:55 pm

wonderful information

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Erich September 19, 2011 at 1:08 am

69k per year and a departmental manager? Doesn’t seem like much, we start out at 65k down here and usually within the first year its 85+; is that 69 without bonuses?

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Courtney May 8, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Hi there, Im working on a research paper, and i’m really glad for this interview, but i can’t find this persons name. Am i just not seeing it or did they not want it disclosed. I am affraid i will most likely be unable to use this resource if i am unable to identify the source of the answers. Thank you for your help.

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trave45 May 9, 2011 at 6:18 am

Hey, thanks for the comment. This interview was done anonymously since financial data was given. Feel free to use the site as the reference, that should suffice. Have your teacher contact us through the link at the bottom of the homepage if she/he has any issues. Best of luck on your paper!

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someone April 1, 2011 at 2:51 pm

WHas the date this interview was made. I need it for a citation.

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trave45 April 1, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Hi, I’m the owner of the site. It was posted January of 2008. Please list the site name as the reference. Thank you and best of luck with the paper/project.

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antonio perez November 24, 2010 at 8:32 am

hey, my names antonio and i am also doing a research paper on chemical engineers. i need to interview an engineer as well and i was hoping you could help me out. ditto, all i need to do is ask a few questions and if you can’t , could you forward me to someone who could . thanks

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trave45 November 25, 2010 at 11:23 am

Antonio, thanks for commenting. Feel free to use the information here, provided you site the source. The person I interviewed is unavailable for follow up questions however. Best of luck with your research paper!

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kyle September 15, 2010 at 9:11 am

Hi, my name is Kyle and I am doing a research paper on Chemical Engineers. For this paper I need to interview a chemical engineer and I am wondering if you are willing to help me out. (You would only have to answer a few questions) If you are not able to help me, could you forward me to someone who would be able to. Thanks!

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