Day In The Life Of An Engineer

A yellow Interstates branded hard hat sitting on top of blueprint plans.

February 24, 2022

Have you ever wondered what it takes to become an engineer? It’s National Engineers Week, and Zach McBrayer answers questions below about his career path and what you might expect in the daily work life of an engineer at Interstates.

What is your role at Interstates?

I am a lead engineer for a group focused on Interstates markets. I lead the power designs on various projects for several different clients. I could be working on designs for a papermill one day and on a pet food production line the next. This past year, I have been focusing more on medium voltage work and have enjoyed learning about it and the new challenges that come with it.    

What is your educational background?

I went to school at SDSU in Brookings, SD, where I received a degree in Electrical Engineering. I started with Interstates right out of college.

What made you choose to pursue being an engineer?

I really enjoyed math in high school. My senior year, I took physics, and my favorite part of that class was the electricity portion. I didn’t really know what engineering was or what degrees used math and electricity until an electrical engineer from Daktronics came in and talked at a career fair. His job sounded interesting to me, so from there, I decided on electrical engineering.

What is a typical day like for you? What do you accomplish over time?

Most days, I have project meetings with our clients and other companies working on the project to discuss and coordinate details to ensure everyone is on the same page. Coming out of those meetings, I take all of the fuzzy and often jumbled project information and details and assemble them to scope our designs into smaller, easier-to-understand tasks. From there, I work with our internal project team to schedule this work and hand it off to the design center. Once the work is assigned, the design center gets packages cleaned up and drafted onto drawings that the field will use for their work.

I own the design from start to finish and provide feedback to the design center along the way. Designs can vary from week to week, depending on where we are on the project. One day we could be working on lighting the process floor of a plant, and the next day we could be laying out the equipment in an electric room. 

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

There are many moving parts to keep a design going, so juggling all the communication and keeping everyone in the loop on decisions being made can be challenging. On top of that, project details are constantly changing, so you have to roll with the punches and problem solve issues that arise from those changes.

What do you find rewarding about your career?

It’s stressful, but I like putting out fires. I love when I can help resolve a problem or answer a question on a project, knowing that I helped someone do their job or got a plant up and running again. It’s also a great feeling to see a design all the way through from start to finish. Standing back when it’s complete, you get a sense of pride knowing you helped design that plant.

What kinds of personalities are suited for life as an engineer? 

Engineers need to be detail-oriented, good problem solvers, and communicate well with others.

What is something you wish you’d known about your career before starting it?

I wish I had known more about the national electric code (NEC). I was not familiar with it coming out of school. Thankfully, Interstates got me up to speed quickly with NEC classes.

I also wish I had known more about the construction process and how things are installed in the field. I spent a summer on-site with Interstates, and I learned so much. It helped me as an engineer make my designs more constructable in the field. 

What advice would you give to someone considering a career as an engineer?

Check your ego at the door. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or tell people you don’t know. Find a good engineering mentor who has been in the profession for a while, and soak up their knowledge. Ask why and try to understand the reasoning behind design decisions; don’t just blindly put something on paper because it fits. Develop a good relationship with the people in the field and get their input on design decisions.