Day in the Life of the Director of Automation

Four men collaborating on tablets.

April 12, 2022

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to have a career in automation? Michael De Boer answers the questions below about his career path at Interstates and what it’s like to develop himself in the automation field.

What is your role at Interstates?

I’m excited to be the new Director of Automation. Previously, as an Automation Manager, I oversaw one of the automation teams and focused on value-added grain projects like elevators, feed mills, and flour mills. As a director, I’ll work with all the automation teams and managers to deliver industrial automation and integration projects.

What is your educational and career background?

I attended Northwest Iowa Community College (NCC) for Industrial Instrumentation and Controls. While I was there, I started as an intern at Interstates, working in the panel shop. During school breaks, I traveled and worked on control panels at different Interstates job sites. Watching the work controls programmers do behind their computers to make the plant run was very interesting.

Before I graduated from NCC, Jack Woelber approached me about switching to programming at Interstates to see if I liked it. I did. After graduation, I went full-time as an Application Programmer in 1999. Since then, I’ve moved through all possible job titles on the automation side: Controls Systems Developer 1, Controls Systems Developer 2, Sr. Controls Systems Developer, Lead Controls Systems Developer, Project Manager, Automation Manager, and now Director of Automation.

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

I just started in my role as director, but my daily tasks will include reviewing current and future team backlog and ensuring we have enough people and work. I’ll meet with project team leaders on what they are delivering and how it’s going. I’ll also communicate and assist with any strategic initiatives, new market pursuits, new client pursuits, and strategies to win work.

More broadly, I’ll work with other discipline leaders to make sure we are operating efficiently and effectively as ONE Interstates for our clients.

What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned at Interstates?

You need to listen to clients and dig into their real issues. They will tell you about a problem, but if you can get the what and why from them, you can usually solve a much larger problem at the same time. It is very rewarding to figure out what they value most and what will make them successful.

I’ve also learned the value of working in a team. It’s easy as a programmer to work in your own little world. Getting past your tasks and seeing the bigger picture of what needs to happen and how each person does their work will make a big difference.

What is the key to building good relationships with clients? How have you seen this play out in your experience at Interstates?

Find what drives them at work and personally. What do they put their effort into, and how can you help? I have made personal connections and friendships with most of my clients. When they know you’re invested in their companies and them personally, you can really start providing meaningful support and value. 

Where do you see Interstates and the industry going in the future? Is there anything particularly exciting to you?

Automation is really changing and has been for a while. It used to be that just PLCs and HMIs were considered automation, but it is so much bigger now that we utilize plant data for so much more. Now we spend just as much time collecting and presenting information to managers and corporate leaders so they can make better business decisions. The data side of automation will only continue to grow. It allows us to run analytics on equipment and processes, and now we are bringing AI learning into it. 

What is the most rewarding part of your career at Interstates?

Watching my team members grow professionally and personally is so rewarding. I love seeing a person coming from their first day out of school, to joining our group, to being the main person on a plant start-up. When I see them start to make friendships with coworkers and our clients, I know they are enjoying their work.  

Curious about working in automation or other disciplines at Interstates? Click here to see our current job openings.