When you think of careers in engineering, you probably think of Google, Facebook, Twitter and the hundreds of other tech companies that have made computer engineers some of the most in demand professionals of our day. But engineering covers a wide range of tasks, industries and titles. Michael Surman is the Chief Engineer at a professionally staffed university television station in the New York metropolitan (NY-NJ-CT) area.
What made you decide to get into the engineering field?
My grandfather was an engineer, and one of the things that we did together was fix old radios and take apart electronics. That’s what started my interest in engineering. I originally went to school for mechanical engineering at New York City College of Technology (City Tech). I thought that after college I would work at a car company designing car parts for maximum performance. During my freshman year, I approached one of my professors about any internship opportunities he might know of, and he suggested an internship at a TV station. Though I had no interest in working at a TV station, it seemed interesting enough – and what college student doesn’t need some work experience? It was actually my ability to solder wires that got me an internship, a skill I learned from the time I spent with my grandfather.
How long have you been with the TV station?
Eight years. My career path was pretty straightforward – I started as a college intern working in the engineering department helping out, then worked part time as a broadcast engineer, which lead to a full time position, followed by assistant chief engineer, and then chief engineer.
How has your role changed from being a broadcast associate to head engineer?
As a broadcast associate I was given different tasks throughout the day, such as: running video and audio cables; making labels and keeping track of spreadsheets with wire numbers and locations of equipment throughout the television facility; soldering wires and making special connectors for different types of equipment; and updating AutoCAD drawings and equipment elevation drawings.
Now as head engineer I manage everyday projects and monitor the 24/7 workflow with the engineering team. I’m always communicating with vendors and technical support to troubleshoot any issues or just to make sure that we’re on track to meet any deadlines.
Another difference in roles is that I no longer clock out at the end of the day – I’m on call 24/7 to help deal with any emergency issues that may come up.
What is a typical day like at work?
Work is different every day. There’s always a new project, a new problem, or equipment that needs to be commissioned. My day starts with emails from vendors and from the in-house operations with problems or questions regarding the many aspects associated with a television station. I follow up with as many as I can get to that day and work on a number of different projects either with, or in conjunction with, the IT department. Testing and configuration of in-progress and or completed projects is a big part of everyday work.
What are some of the challenges of being an engineer?
Part of my job includes working with the latest technology and equipment, learning and understanding what it does and how it can benefit our operations. The challenge of all this is implementing this new piece of technology into our system, with the minimum amount of disturbance to our operations.
What is one of your favorite parts of your job?
Television technology is always growing and changing. My favorite part is having the opportunity to stay up to date, and use the latest and greatest gear on the market.
What advice would you give for someone that wants to get into this field?
Attention to detail and being organized are great traits to have. Always know what you are doing and document the changes that you are making within a system. If you don’t have the proper documentation, it will be very hard to find and fix a problem in the system later.
What skills do you think a person should have if they want to pursue a position in engineering?
A working knowledge of AutoCAD, and being able to managing multiple projects and tasks simultaneously. It’s really important to be a people person for this role – you’re constantly working with team members, vendors and support staff to keep things running. Being tech savvy doesn’t hurt either.
STEM careers are some of the most well paid, in demand and under-staffed in the United States today. And the demand for qualified individuals will only continue to grow with the continued dependence of technology in our lives. To learn more about careers in engineering, be sure to check out some of the other engineering and science job profiles found at The Career Project.
| Chemical Engineer Job Profile | Computer Engineer Job Profile |
| Biochemical Engineer Supervisor Job Profile | Business Process Engineer Job Profile |
| CAD Engineer Job Profile | Scientific Engineering Associate Career Profile |
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