What better way to learn about the electronics industry than from real people successfully pursuing their careers in great companies? Charlene Gunter du Plessis, Senior Director of the IPC Education Foundation talked to Kate Stees, a Materials and Process Engineer at Lockheed Martin Missiles & Fire Control in Ocala, Florida.
Kate currently works in the failure analysis laboratory supporting a range of electronic assembly related production issues, as well as research and development projects. She has worked for Lockheed Martin Ocala Operations for more than seven years, starting as a Quality Engineer and transitioning to a Manufacturing Engineering role, supporting program assembly builds and the automated processes areas.
Kate is in her final year of the IPC Emerging Engineering program and currently serves as Vice-Chair and A-Team Lead on the IPC-A-610 committee. Kate holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Central Florida.
We asked Kate questions about the electronics manufacturing industry, tips for career advancement within the industry, and key strategies to prepare for landing a dream job.
Charlene: “What do you love about your profession and the industry in general?”
Kate: “Problem solving, continuous learning and making a difference are the three aspects that I love about my profession and the industry. I get to do all three on the daily bases.”
Charlene: “Why did you decide to become a Materials and Process Engineer?”
Kate: “Working as a Materials and Process Engineer in a failure analysis (FA) laboratory has been the most fun and rewarding job I have had thus far. While I was working in my previous role, as a Manufacturing Engineer, I got a chance to help out in the FA lab. The work in the FA lab has challenged me and helped me grow a diverse set of skills, including technical writing. It also made me feel like I was making a difference. I decided to switch my role to the Materials and Process Engineer when an opportunity came up.”
Charlene: “What was the highlight of your career thus far?”
Kate: “The highlight of my career is making an impact on a global level through participation in IPC Standards creation. I get to make that impact by leading the IPC-A-610 Task Group as a Vice-Chair and A-Team lead, and as a committee member of other IPC Task Groups, including J-STD-001 and IPC/WHMA-A-620.”
Charlene: “What are your goals in terms of engineering today?”
Kate: “My goals in terms of engineering include continuous growth of my technical knowledge and skills, as well as leadership skills which are also critical to have in your engineering toolbox.”
Charlene: “What do you look forward to in the future?”
Kate: “The industry is very fluid in this day and age. I am looking forward to seeing how the industry evolves with the current workforce dynamics, emerging technologies and digital transformation that is taking place.”
Charlene: “How would you describe the term “Engineering”?”
Kate: “Engineering is the application of science and creativity to create tangible solutions to problems.”
Charlene: “You are one of IPC’s Emerging Engineers. Why did you decide to get involved and what are the benefits?”
Kate: “I learned about the IPC’S Emerging Engineering program from Teresa Rowe, IPC liaison, at my first J-STD-001 Task Group meeting. As a newcomer, it was challenging to follow what was happening during the meeting, therefore, I decided to join the IPC Emerging Engineering program to help me expedite the learning process of standards creations. Completing the IPC Emerging Engineering program has enabled me to expand my technical knowledge, leadership skills and vital connections in the electronics industry – it allowed me to become a voice in the industry at an accelerated rate.”
Charlene: “What aspects do you love about your job?”
Kate: “I work in a failure analysis lab that supports a manufacturing floor. What I love about my job is that it is interesting and engaging, and rarely mundane. Even though my job title is a Materials and Process engineer, my job covers many other disciplines of engineering, including mechanical and electrical engineering. I also work with a great group of technical experts that are fun to work with and learn from.”
Charlene: “What makes the industry exciting?”
Kate: “The exciting part about the electronics industry is that it touches every aspect of our lives, from cellphones to medical devices to spacecrafts, and we, the people in the industry, get to be the force that drives the industry.”
Charlene: “What suggestions do you have for students to consider when exploring different career paths?”
Kate: “First, determine what you are passionate about. There are various online tests one can take to help them narrow down their career path. The next step is to expose yourself to the careers that you are interested in by shadowing, interning, volunteering and just asking questions in the fields of interest. This will enable you to narrow down your career choices even further.”
Charlene: “What advice do you have for young professionals, especially students in finding a job?”
Kate: “Networking is the most effective step you can take in finding a job - go to the career fairs, join engineering clubs, create a LinkedIn account. Networking can feel uncomfortable and inauthentic. I am an introvert by nature, so I understand how challenging it can be for some; however, networking is a necessity in today’s world. Creating and nurturing a professional network will lead to more job opportunities and advancements, as well as increased job satisfaction.”
Charlene: “What can a student do to prepare for that interview?”
Kate: “There are a lot of interview tips and tricks that one can find on the internet, but the basics include the following:
The reason for being prepared in every aspect of the interview is to help you stay calm and alert without draining your mental energy on unnecessary tasks and worries during the day of the interview. Additionally, during the interview, don’t forget to relax and make a connection with your interviewer. We tend to get caught up in giving rehearsed answers to tough questions during the interview and forget to make a connection with the person on the other side. Making that connection will bring about a genuine conversation that will bring you a step closer to landing that job.”
Charlene: “Where do you think are the emerging technologies over the next 5 years?”
Kate: “One of the emerging technologies is digital transformation which encompasses Industry 4.0 smart factories, automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. Since we live in a digital age, digital transformation is inevitable. The digital transformation will be long and painful process, but it will enable the industry to work smarter. Another emerging technology is additive manufacturing, or 3D printing. Additive manufacturing can solve a multitude of engineering problems including manufacturing of complex designs. It can help consolidate multiple manufacturing steps into one step, increasing the productivity and eliminating waste. These two emerging technologies will completely redefine the industry.”
Charlene: “What do you currently do to change the world of engineering today?”
Kate: “I am changing the world of engineering through my participation in creation of the IPC standards. Collectively, the members of the IPC are making a global impact by ensuring that the industry designs and manufactures electronics to the highest quality standards.”
Charlene: “Thank you so much for your time. We wish you all the best!”
Kate: “Thank you for the opportunity.”
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