163. Hero – Joseph Frank, Automation Engineer/Power Technician at Contact Switchgear Services Transcript
Episode 163 of EECO Asks Why has a hero that loves his family, has a passion for industrial networks and new technology. Our guest, Joe Frank, found his calling when he realized that he wanted more from his career and decided to start down the technical path. This is an episode we can all relate to as he describes the work-life balance and how support from loved ones helped him make his career possible.
Also, don’t forget we’re collecting those war stories. We want the good, the tough and inspiring. Send us a short clip or write in to have your story featured on an upcoming episode of EECO Asks Why. Submissions can be sent as a direct message on Instagram or Facebook, and you can find the links in the show notes, and we look forward to hearing from all the facets of industry.
Now let’s chat with Joe Frank and find out more about this hardworking dad, cue the music.
Welcome to EECO Asks Why. Today we have a hero episode. We’re going to be sitting down with Joe Frank, who is the industrial network engineer at EECO. How you doing, Joe?
Good. How are you doing Chris?
Doing good brother. Hope your day is going well. Yep.
Absolutely man, they’re all. They’re just going, brother, they just one day to the next with COVID they all kind of just run together, but you know exactly right. We have fun, but we love these episodes, Joe, where we get to showcase our heroes. And brother since I met you, when you came EECO, I know you have a very interesting background and looking forward to you, sharing your story with our listeners out there. We typically get these kicked off just by giving you a chance to talk to us about your journey.
Okay. So, I guess we’ll start off with. You know how every teenager is they don’t want to go to college at first and, or, you’re getting your parents kind of pushing you to go to college. It took me a little bit to get on that ball. I worked a couple of jobs when I first started out, after high school and at some point there, I wised up and decided, you know what, I probably need to go back to school so then that way I can get an actual good job. So it was one of those things where I just had to kick myself in the butt to get myself moving and went to school in New York. I went to a community college and got a two year degree in information technology, majoring in networking.
I’ve also had a little bit of experience go. I went back and forth a little bit to college here and there with mechanical engineering and I did some architecture and that kind of thing in between. So a little bit of everything. And then after I got out, I got a job with General Electric as a field engineer. And my role there at first was to help design and implement human machine interfaces HMI’s so it started there and it just progressed from there. So, by the time I left there, I was a lead field engineer with almost 10 years experience. And I worked on a numerous amount of things such as networking in the industry.
And I mostly worked in pulp and paper. I also worked on drives. I worked on PLCs and not just GE products, but Rockwell products as well. And I’m trying to think if there was any other ones that I’ve worked on along the way. I know some things from red lion and some, just a lot of different things. We were more like a system integrator than we were just working for GE.
So got to experience a lot of different things. By the end I was programming PLCs for some of the paper machines that I’ve done. And communicating with drives and panels, touch panels for operations out on the floor. And I’m setting up switches and having everything communicate correctly.
And it’s been a wild ride. I’ve done some training for a lot of the guys that I used to work with in the beginning. I’ve done a lot of project management. There’s just a lot of facets to the field engineering job that I was in, in particular. And the one big thing that I think really helped me in my journey was when I was at GE. You would take a project from the beginning and work all the way to the end of it. So we were involved with the quoting, we were involved with getting the right parts and prices, and then you would work with the customer to see exactly what they needed, the engineering aspect. And then you would actually sit down and engineer the job and do the job. You would do the coding, you would do the communication setup, and then you would actually do the testing. And then you would actually go to site and implemented as well and do all everything from start to the B from the start to the end of a project. So that was a very big thing that helped me and my career.
I gotta be honest with you. It was a great ride while it lasted. Unfortunately, the GE field service group got bought by ABB about two and a half, three years ago. And that was kind of my transition. I just decided, it wasn’t going the way that I really wanted it to go. And, I don’t want to say I was unhappy, but it just wasn’t what it used to be. So I decided to find a different path. Found this job at EECO coming over here as the network engineer. So for me, this was just a great spot for me to fit into. I’m very familiar with networks. I have an IT background and I also have the process knowledge.
So for me in this position really gives me an edge because I know so much about the industry and then, throwing the networking at it too, which I’m still learning some stuff as we go to. There’s some things that in the last 10 years that I needed to be caught up on in the IT world. So it’s just, you’re always learning. It doesn’t matter what stage of your career you are. You could be 65 and almost ready to retire. You’re still going to be learning and stuff. Cause there’s always something new that’s changing. So it’s great.
I love it. Yeah. I mean, we literally just recorded it with someone and that was his feedback is you always have to be learning. You have to accept that moving forward. So, I mean, you mentioned, so you went to school in New York. So are you from New York man?
Yes, I’m actually from upstate New York, north of Syracuse.
Okay. Very cool, man. Very cool. And then, it sounds like the thing that you worked on at GE just exposed you to so many different areas of the project management sounded really cool because not only did you get the hands-on piece from an engineering standpoint, but it sounds like you also had to learn a lot from a communication, the way projects actually work, how to work with others. Did it give you that type of exposure?
Oh, yeah. A lot of customer face time, a lot of working with numbers and budgets and that kind of thing. So it really exposed me to pretty much every facet of, any kind of project that you would do in industry. So it was great. It was great.
Awesome, man. So, I mean, network engineers that’s getting talked about more and more, cause it’s definitely a real need that’s out there. So what’s some advice you would give someone listening that may want to pursue a career like yourself.
So it’s funny that you mentioned that I actually ran into a young professional a couple of weeks ago, that is, he has an IT degree, or I think he’s actually, yeah, you just finished his IT degree. And he was asking me, what things he could do to better his career. And I point blank told them, I said, look, you have a background in IT. That’s a great background. You really should move over and start learning automation. I’m not saying become a full-blown electrical engineer, but come over into the industry world and learn automation so you understand how it works, how it connects.
There’s such a need in this field that they’re looking for people tremendously to work in these type of scenarios, where they understand the networking portion. And there’s a lot of people that don’t understand that. A lot of the automation guys don’t want to go to IT. And then the, IT guys don’t want to go to the automation portion of the business.
So you’ve got a little bit of a competition there, but it’s if you understand both and you can learn both which yes, I’m going to be honest it’s very overwhelming learning the automation portion because there are so many different companies out there. There’s so many different products out there, but you just need to be cognizant of if you do learn those paths, if you learn that path from IT and learn automation, or if your automation and you learn IT, that’s a very potent mix where you could do very well in a career. I mean, it’s a very up and coming career path. And I think there’s a lot of money to be made in that area.
You can really, essentially you can write where you want to work. I mean, you have a lot of control of your career path at that point, because you’re marketable to so many different areas. I mean, that’s awesome that you had someone come up and ask advice and you were able to pour that type of wisdom and knowledge into them. That’s just wonderful and great advice for our listeners out there too. So how about on the flip side, has anybody stood out to you in your path as a great mentor or someone that you have a lot of trust in?
I’ve had a lot of great mentors in the past. Some of the guys that I’ve worked with at GE first of all, I actually happened to work with my stepfather for the entire time I was at GE, which was fantastic. And I mean, a lot of people would say that, well, he got you into that job. And it’s just well, he kind of did he said, Hey, would you like to come work with these guys? They’re looking for somebody with your qualifications, would you be interested? Sure. I’m interested. And I’m going to be honest with you the first two years of GE, I really didn’t know if I really wanted to do that. You know what I mean? Like I was just, there was so much information being in the automation world. Oh, there are all these different devices and all this stuff I had to learn. So it was like, I would go in every day and I would leave, think of me as a sponge. I was completely dry in the beginning of the day when I’m leaving there, I’m soaking wet, right? Like I’m just overflowing with water.
So it’s just one of those things. But a lot of mentors I mean, one of the guys I work with Bob and Ken and my old boss, Tom. They all taught me so much, you know, hang in there and just push through it. You’re going to do very well in your career. And I’m telling you they’ve helped me tremendously. And when I get stuck on something, they’d be there to help me. So if I call them, they would always be there to answer my question. So it was great having that kind of support and having a support team is very important when you’re trying to build a career like this.
Just in general, the importance of a network. And understand what I’m talking about, your professional network here, Joe. So make sure we’re on the same page, but that is important, but your stepfather did not get you that he may have been potentially there to open the door for you, but you had to walk through it and you had to make that step. I mean, my dad did the same thing. He initially got me connected with EECO, because he was a customer of EECO. And from there, I mean, it’s all these little connections, that lead us down our path. So, I mean, hats off to you sounds like you’ve had some great mentors throughout your career. When you look at stuff in the future and so much is changing so fast, what gets you the most excited?
I think in this industry, I think the thing that still excites me to this day. And that’s kind of strange that it would, but just the new technologies that come out all the time, it’s just, it’s always evolving. It’s always changing. There’s always something new. Like every couple months, there’s always something new that comes out and even being like, I am tied to Rockwell through EECO. Rockwell, comes out with different products all the time and there’s just so much to learn and it’s just, it’s so exciting to be in a place where I can keep learning as I go. And I mean that’s probably one of the most enjoyable parts of my job is getting to learn these new products all the time. Like it’s just always growing and it’s just always so interesting to see what can be done in automation.
It’s kind of like watching like Tesla, right? So you watch them to build these cars and that everything’s automated and they keep adding these new features into these Tesla cars, like all the time. It’s just crazy where the future is taking us. It’s just crazy.
So when I think about network engineers, man, sometimes I’ll have a picture in my brain, same way with salespeople. We’ve had this conversation with other people in the past. People think sales a lot of times they think used cars and that’s completely wrong. If you’re in a B2B business, that’s not what sales is, but people had the same perceptions when it comes to engineers and network engineers and sometimes they’re like okay, well, it’s the guy with the pocket protector or he’s out there running around with a bunch of blue hose hanging out of his pockets, and maybe they’re not as network within the, so far it’s working with people they’re more introverted and that’s just wrong. I mean, just by hearing you talk, man you’re out there, brother. Are there any myths or is there anything out there or misconceptions, if you will, for the listener out there when they hear network engineer that you would just like to take off the table or to address head on, man?
Well, let me put it to you like this. And I think you’re absolutely right. There are a lot of people that think that there are a lot of nerds out there with, the pocket protector, that whole visual. And I’m not going to say that’s wrong because there are some people that are like that in this field, and you’re going to run into those people and you’re going to run into those eccentric people. And the only thing I can say to people that are trying to you know, co-exist, I guess is the great word to do it is just to be open about it. I mean, just free flow with it, man. I mean, you’re going to run into all these different types of people and they’re going to be from all different walks of life.
So the best thing I can say is just be open about it and don’t get yourself in a position where you feel the need to argue with somebody, right? I mean, cause that is a very big thing in the networking field is, and I’m going to be honest with you. I’ve had a lot of arguments with IT professionals because they’re so headstrong and they’re so protective of their little network world where they’re not open to the idea. You got to get to know these people first, you gotta talk to them, understand what they’re about, where they came from, what kind of walk of life they actually went down, what path they went down and try to touch them on a personal level.
And that way you can have a conversation with them and you’re open to their ideas and they’re open to your ideas because you don’t know how many times I’ve run into fighting with an engineer because they’re so determined that they’re going down this one path and this is the path they’re taking and there’s no other option. That there’s no other way to solve the problem when there really is, but they’re not open to it. So if you can kind of open that up so they can be open to it, you know, everything will work out.
So, I mean, what have you done in those situations in the past to open it up? I mean, is that by asking questions or are other different approaches you take to those situations?
Exactly. Asking the right question, just saying, well, what if you did this way or show them just say, Hey, can you just take a second? I’m just going to show you this and you tell me, do you like this way better? Or, is this really the way you want to go, the, is that really the right way? Would this be better for the customer? Would this be better for us? Would this be easier for us to program or, those kinds of questions? So you just gotta be patient and you just gotta work with people. It’s part of the business.
I’m going to say that again, there are a few people, there are a lot of people out in this business that are very headstrong and you’re not going to change their mind because they’re so used to doing it a certain way. Sometimes it’s better to just listen to them, let them get it out of their system and then just say, bring it up. Just, Hey, what if we did it this way? Or do you think this would be better if we did it this way? I have convinced a couple of engineers to change their way of thinking, just so that they, oh, well this is a little bit easier and this is going to be more efficient in the future if I need to change this code or whatever.
For the young engineer after listening, take this advice. You don’t have to always be right. There’s something to be said about empathy and also understanding where people are because you never know what drives decision-making for some of the people you’re dealing with. So I’m with you Joe. I ask a lot of questions just by the nature of who I am. Just ask my wife. She gets very, you know, sometimes it’s like all right, are you going to stop? It’s just, but it helps to know what’s important to other people. It just understanding the environment and, what matters to you is important. And I need to understand that so I can better speak to that with you in a conversation. So that’s great advice, man. That’s good stuff.
So, when you’re out there and you’re rocking it and you’re doing stuff that you enjoy and you’re getting that high of, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. What are you doing to those moments, man?
Probably working on something, that’s probably doing somewhat some engineering and that’s, probably my most appreciated thing to do is, being able to relate with the customer and being able to help them in a situation and actually doing a project where I can write some code or do some engineering because you kind of feel like on a personal level that you’ve accomplished something, right? If you made the customer feel good and you’ve made yourself feel good and all this stuff works when you put it together. It’s just an overwhelming feeling of wow this makes me feel really good. I did this right for them. I did it right for me. Everybody’s looking good here. The customer, our company, myself, everybody’s in the right here. So it’s that kind of attitude.
That I love to, and I hate to say this, but I really don’t do well with failure. I don’t accept failure. So, and this one thing you gotta, but you also gotta keep in the back of your mind that you will make a mistake. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care how good you think you are at your job. You will always, or at some point you will make a mistake and it’s okay. It’s always going to be okay. So even if you bring down a paper machine, that’s, it’s costing them $20,000 an hour, while it’s down, it will happen at one point in your career, I’ve taken one down. I’ve got to be honest with you. It happens to all of us. So, don’t be afraid, but at the same time, don’t be afraid to ask questions too.
Like If you think you know something and you just assume, don’t just assume. Call your support team and say, Hey, is this right? Just double-check me. Is this going to be okay? There’s a lot of things that, a lot of people that I’ve seen in the field that they call them, the superheroes where they’ll just go gun-ho and just go attack something whether they know it or not. And it could cause some serious ramifications. Sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it does, but there are a lot of people out there that are like that. Don’t be that guy just double-check yourself, if you’re not sure.
And then owning it. And if you, so if you do make that mistake, you just got to own it and take it on. And then, you’ll learn from it. But I think you got to always keep honesty at the forefront because.
Yeah, customer is going to be very appreciative if you own up to your mistakes, they’re going to respect you more if you own up to your mistakes, or even if you tell a customer that there is something that he wants you to do, that you don’t know much about don’t lie to them. Just tell them, look, I don’t know much about this, but I do know a guy that might know something about this. It’s just, that’s what you gotta do. And that’s how you’re successful in this field.
No doubt, brother. No doubt. Now you’ve had some really cool roles and worked on some sounds like some exciting projects. Does anything stand out as man, that was an awesome project? I can’t believe I got to work on that. Anything jumped out as a highlight?
Yeah. I mean, I think towards the end, of my GE career, there was one job in particular that I worked on. It actually was the second time that I had worked on the project. We were upgrading different sections of a paper machine. And the second time around, I really got to actually, even the first time around, I really got to enjoy myself getting in there and they wanted me to do all the control code. So it was like, I got to get in there, modify what they had and make everything connect and work correctly, adding different things in there that they needed as a customer, working on their screens and, just overseeing the whole thing on the communication side, setting up their managed switches.
It was just a great job. Great experience got to work on a lot of different aspects, including drives. So really it touched everything really in the automation field, sensors. I mean, it was just, it was a great job and we executed it and it was a very difficult job because the drives that we were using were very new to us. So even some of the drives engineers that were there had to work through a lot of kinks that were very tough. And working with a group of people. I love working with a team it’s just so much fun and just, it’s great to work with other people. You know what I mean? It’s just it’s great to be a team player.
And that’s another thing too, that you need to be open to and cognizant of, is to make sure that you are aware that, you’re not just going to work by yourself all the time. You will work with others. And a team is very important. And I think that’s a big thing about why I came to EECO as well, because EECO has a very good team of people. We all get along, it’s basically like a family here and that’s why I really enjoy EECO as a whole. My career has been excellent so far loved working at GE and I love working here at EECO. I mean, it’s been fantastic so far.
Well, we’re blessed to have you, buddy. I mean, it sounds like that was an awesome project and your note about teamwork I’ll second that it’s so important because if you appreciate the team you’re with too, and they appreciate you, it just makes the environment and the culture so much better, man. I mean, it’s awesome. We love to take these episodes, Joe. Get off the career path, talk a little bit stuff outside of work. What about hobbies, man? What do you enjoy doing for fun?
I have a lot of different hobbies, but my most recent one I’d have to say is fishing has been really taken up a chunk of my time outside of family. Raising two girls with my wife, younger kids and, we’re going down that avenue and they’re in elementary school. That’s been quite a challenge and then, trying to get out there on the weekends and what I can and do some bass fishing and, whatever seems to be biting at the time. I mean, it really doesn’t matter to me as long as I put in something in the boat, but you know, even if I’m not catching anything, just being on the water, being where it’s calm. I just I love that being out in nature. It’s just a great feeling.
One other thing I’ve started doing is I’ve actually started making a lot of my own fishing tackles. So that consumes a little bit of my time as well, outside of work where I’m just, making lures for friends and that kind of thing. So, and it’s exciting for me cause I’m making stuff and you’re being able to catch stuff on it. It’s a, it’s just another accomplishment, right? Outside of work that, Hey, I’m still building something, I’m still doing some borderline engineering. And then, even when I’m not working, I’m always busy. I always gotta be doing something. That’s part of my makeup, I guess.
So are we going to see on LinkedIn, Joe’s bait and tackle?
Well, maybe someday, but not on any time soon. It’s kinda more of a hobby for myself and anybody that I fish with.
Now do your girls go out with you?
My oldest daughter she is not really into fishing, but the youngest one is. Thank the Lord. We really enjoy taking her out and she’s the funny part is that she’s a very picky eater. And every time we put fish in the boat, she’s oh, can we eat it? If we’re not catching bass, which I’m not a big fan of eating bass, but like bluegills and, catfish and stuff like that. If we catch that stuff, of course, how am I going to say no to a six year old, a six year old girl. So, I’ve got to take them home and take the time and filet them and then I’m frying them up in the kitchen kind of thing. So it’s just, it’s really fun to see her light up. She really does enjoy it which is good.
That’s awesome, man. That is so cool. And on the lure stuff, we had a guy who worked in our shop division at one time and he started making lures. And I’m curious, do you do the airbrushing of them too and stuff like that? Or how are you building these lures?
I haven’t done the airbrushing yet. I’m working on setting some stuff up for that. Right now I’m making plastic baits for bass fishing and I’m also making led like a jig. And also different led weights and that kind of thing. So, I’m actually setting up a little area right now in my basement to where I can start doing some airbrushing. So that’s coming in the near future.
Nice, nice. Now, so, if you want to send any samples, I mean, I don’t get to fish a lot, but I do enjoy, getting the bait wet every now and then just to get out the house.
Absolutely man, you just tell me what you want and I’ll send some stuff.
Well, if it doesn’t work, I’ll blame you. Now if it works it’s all me, so
I’m okay with that buddy got to have a scapegoat that’s right.
I kid, because I care, bro. Now you mentioned your family. So you get two daughters. Anything else about your family you’d like to share with us?
My wife and I, we actually just celebrated our 10 year anniversary a couple of weeks, or week or two ago. And we’re just loving life, man. We’re both hardworking people. We got two beautiful daughters. I mean, I can’t complain. I mean, life is good.
So I’m a girl, dad, myself and Joe, I told you about it. We had this women in engineering podcast series come out. That just, it blessed me, but my oldest daughter, she’s 10. Just couldn’t wait for that series to come out to listen to somebody’s stories. So, how does it be in a girl bad man. What do you enjoy most about that?
I guess I would say that they’re a little bit more mature than boys, so that’s kind of enjoyable but at the same time, girls have their tough suits as well. I mean, it’s, is it difficult? Yes. Sometimes it can be very difficult. They’re very headstrong, even at a young age, they pack quite a bit of attitude, which we just have to deal with. I’m not looking forward to the teenager years. I have a feeling that’s going to be a little bit difficult time in my life, but we’ll get through it.
Here’s some advice alcohol may help. I’m just saying,
I got plenty of that. So, but I would really enjoy for one to one, if not both of my daughters to go into an engineering field, I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to tell they’re so young right now. Both are not really taking a super strong interest in math, which is what kind of keys into a lot of engineering, but I think we’ll get there. I think we’ll definitely get there. At least one of them. I’m guessing that one of them is going to be very technical in the future, I’m sure.
Well I mean, just having a father influence like you, I know you’re going to support them, whatever path they take and it’s just, it’s really cool. That you take the time with them cause I just strongly feel the most important person in a particularly a young girl’s life is their dad. I mean, they got. The dad’s has gotta be there to help teach them and they gotta know that they’re there.
So, we have that common thread between us, we have two daughters in elementary school, so, it’s always fun catching up with you about that, buddy. No doubt, brother. How about, for our podcast listeners, we always like to give a chance for, are there any podcasts or books or resources that, that you enjoy consuming and they don’t have to be professional. They can be stuff you enjoy doing for fun that you’d like to offer.
Yeah, I’m not, I don’t really do too much listening to podcasts or I do a little bit of light reading and it’s you’re probably laugh, but it’s mostly around either fishing or it’s around. I used to be a big into the ghost hunting thing, which is very unusual and it’s a very unique. I don’t know. I guess you want to call it a hobby, but it’s kind of backed off a lot lately, but but ghost stories really kind of intrigued me and I like kind of reading things about that, but lately I’ve been really watching a lot of. And like I said, I was doing the lure making stuff watching videos on YouTube, but you know how to make these certain baits or, even watching some of these guys fish on YouTube.
So YouTube is a big platform in our family. I know even our kids like to watch kids’ YouTube a lot. Obviously most of their stuff is watching them unwrap toys and stuff like that. So, but for me, the fishing stuff is really kind of grown, but there are some technical stuff that I like to watch too. When there’s stuff out about Tesla and I know since NASA is really kind of low key now and all that Space X stuff, watching some of that on YouTube that really interests me. So you know, that kind of stuff, I kind of stick to. Podcasts, I probably should start getting into that, especially when I’m taking these long four hour trips across the state to go work at a job site that I probably should start listening to some podcasts.
But then, and even this podcast, I’ve listened to a couple episodes and this is just, it’s very intriguing to me that our company and you guys, Chris and Adam, you guys have really done a really good job of trying to spread the word and get this going. And I mean, it’s really cool to see us do this kind of media platform.
I mean, it’s a ton of fun man. I mean, it’s really serving others. We’re passionate about this industry, but just trying to spread a positive message and so many of these different little mini series that we’re doing, they all tie together. But at the core of everything we do, man, it’s people and that’s what I love about it. The most is just hearing the stories and, giving people like yourself that spotlight, that chance to share it because your story is important, this has really just been, it’s blessed me more, far more than I ever could’ve dreamed.
So, man, it says thank you for the kind words. We wrap these episodes up, Joe where we talk about the why, in EECO Asks Why. So, and for that, we’re talking about purpose, what’s your personal drive, what motivates you? So, if someone was to come up to you and say, Hey, you know, what is your, why? How would you answer that?
My, why would be most importantly, family, you got to have a good family. You got to have a strict. Back, like I said, with networking, you got to have a strong backbone to support you in the future.
Me having a very strong relationship with my daughters, with my wife, having that moral support at home as well as having it at work is very important to continuing your career path, because I gotta be honest with you if I didn’t have that backbone and that support, I don’t think I would have done as well as I have today. Lord knows my wife supporting me traveling across the state. And when I was at GE, I was traveling halfway across the country a lot. So her just supporting me in what I want to do as far as a career and me supporting even her to do what she wants to do. We’ve always been there and it’s always, it’s having that family in the background and even having the support at work, having the people at work to help you through the next step down, It’s just been astronomical.
I’ve been truly blessed with all aspects of my life with having that supportive at home, as well as having it at work. So that’s really all I can say about the why is just you really? I have that. I mean, and it’s very important that if you want to be successful, that you have that kind of an opportunity you have that backbone, you have that support.
Well said my friend well said. This has been a great conversation, Joe. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time with us here on EECO Asks Why. Just a wonderful conversation. You’ve had a great career. You’ve got tons of great things in front of you that we wish you and your family, your daughters, the best, and hopefully you get more fishing time, coming up in the future.
I will, man. And I appreciate you guys taking the time you guys are doing an excellent job.
All right. Thank you, Joe. Yes, anytime. Thank you.