No. 2 Question – I am currently in college studying engineering. I have always had a passion for how amusement rides operate. Please answer the following questions about how I might get into this field.
- What can I do, still being young, to get in a better position for this type of work?
- How can I apply to your company and when should I do it? For example, in my junior or senior year of college or when?
- What are the typical salaries in this industry?
- Do you offer any training courses I might be interested in?
- My major is computer engineering. What opportunities are there for me in the amusement park/roller coaster field? Who are some other companies like yours who do similar things?
- Do you offer internships?
(1) What could I do, being still young, to get in a better position for this type of field work, be it with your company or a similar one?
Answer: The usual – good grades and some experience in this market would help. A lot will depend on the market demand when you graduate.
It is a definite plus that you have a real interest in theme parks, but it will help more if you have some connection to the business so that a prospective employer will have someone to call who knows you and can recommend you. We, like most employers will naturally take a “known” over an “unknown” candidate. We are successful most of the time at hiring individuals with whom we either have direct experience, or at least we know someone who knows them. The direct experience often comes from working on a project together.
For example, if you have a role on a project working for someone else, and we get to work along side of you, or know people who work with you and say good things. Then when we are looking, we think, “hey, remember that guy that did a good job of xyz, he’d be good at this, maybe we can get him.” That is the way it usually happens. You don’t even have to be working as an engineer – just out there were others can see you somehow. News of a hard-working intelligent person travels.
Attitude is half of the equation. Technical ability is the other half. Fact is, there are enough people out there with ability. (Fewer than you would think, but enough.) The real challenge is today’s world is to find the person with the ability who has a good attitude about working hard, and can get along with people. Those who score high on both counts will be highly sought after. Seems simple, but most people have one or the other or neither.
I’ve been asked questions such as “what college is best”? For me, that question misses the point. Sure, some employers favor candidates from certain colleges, but what we are all really looking for is candidates who understand the material enough to do a good job. That may not have anything to do with the degree. (Or even if you finished the degree. But don’t quit – that doesn’t look good at all, and some jobs literally require the degree for certification and regulatory reasons.) Believe it or not, it is possible to go through several years of college and get a degree, even with good grades, and still not really understand the subject that is featured prominently in the middle of the diploma. I know lots of people who studied engineering, beating their heads against it to get decent grades, but who, at the end of every course experienced this giant sense of relief on the way out the door of the last class as they tossed all of their notes and tests in the trash, hoping never to have to look at the @#$%^& stuff again. Well, fact is, you probably never will have to think about 80% of what you learn in college. But, some carefully unidentified 20% of what you learned will become a large important part of your life’s work. You need to LIKE it. If you are one who does not like what you are studying enough to look forward to your class work, you ought to find another field of study. If you interview with me (I’m not much different than others) I’ll know about five questions into the interview if you have any real interest and aptitude for the subjects that you studied. That is what I want to know, not where you went to school.
Finally, what happens to those I described above who don’t have an interest and aptitude for engineering but make it through school anyway? They find work, and after years struggling along below the earnings curve, some will eventually find work in another field that they like more, but a few of them bubble to the top of their field of study anyway and the rest of the smart ones end up working for them. They obviously don’t get to the top using their technical skills; they do it because they work very very hard, and they usually have outstanding “people skills”. They can organize, communicate, motivate, and generally get things done. I can’t tell you how much an employer appreciates the employees who are very productive and have that great ability to “get things done”. They will be paid well and shown regular appreciation.
The technically bright people often lack these other skills. The real stand out, and they are rare, are the few individuals who are technically bright and also hard working, organized, motivated, and get along well with others. Rare. If you can be one, and be seen, you will go far.
One last thought: In our work, lots of us have to travel, sometimes for weeks or even months at a time. Most single people like travel, at least at first. Marriage and children take the fun out of travel for most people, and even single people tire of it because it tends to keep them single. If you can sell yourself as someone really willing to travel, that will give you an edge with some employers.
(2) How can I apply for your company and when should I do it? For example, in my junior or senior year of college or when?
Answer: Either one, both, or neither. See the above. I’m sure you will get lots of good advice from school sources about when to apply to most large companies. Follow it. We are a small company. For us, it is simple: If we need you, and we see you, and we think that you can do what we need you to do, we will hire you. Else, not. Some of it has to do with timing. If we get a resume, or are reminded of a resume or a person at the right time, that will be the trigger. Sometimes we just contract with a person for a short time, for a project, but the person does such a good job (and we have the future work) so a short thing turns in to a long thing – employment for years. It just depends.
(3) What are the typical salaries in this industry?
Answer: Right now, 2001, if you walk out of school with a GPA of 3.0 to 3.5 in electrical or software engineering or computer science, if we need you, we will offer you something in the range of $45,000 to $50,000. Over 15 years you can hope to nearly double that with a little help from inflation, if you are motivated.
(4) Do you offer any training courses I might be interested in?
Answer: Not really. One thing that we in particular use, that they probably won’t teach you in school is training in PLCs. That is Programmable Logic Controllers. There are several brands. We use almost exclusively those by Allen Bradley. There is a large market for this skill, so if you do take a course on it, it will not be wasted. However, you could also go a lifetime without ever working with one. They are used extensively in industrial automation and other control systems. The rides and attractions use them because they are very reliable and safe. If you work here, you will have to learn them. You will be far more likely to find work here or in this industry if you know PLCs and have some experience programming them or designing with them. Even just a course in PLCs would be a plus. Not many students see them in school. Just the “technology” degrees, not the regular engineering or software oriented degrees because with the later you will have not problem picking up PLCs. Still, for us, the more exposure to PLCs the better. A good text book is Programmable Logic Controllers by Petruzella, 1998, published by Glencoe/McGraw-Hill. Allen-Bradley teaches a course on it too, but it is expensive. I think most technology oriented community colleges will offer a course on it once a year – at least ours does.
(5) As my major is computer engineering, what opportunities are there for me in the amusement park/roller coaster field? What are some other companies like yourselves who do things like this?
Answer: A computer engineering major will have plenty of opportunities. If Disney is hiring when you graduate, they will be your best shot. I’ve attached some links to organizations with member lists that you can look though. It will be hard to find a job as a new grad at a small company unless you are known to them as a promising candidate who works hard.
(6) Do you offer any internships?
Answer: Only if we are busy and can use an intern at the particular time that the intern applies. I get a steady flow of resumes, but over the last ten years we have only hired about five. Two ended up working here.