Education and school info - where did you learn?

Question for all you engineers and technicians - where did you first get a start on learning automated systems?

I know most of the actual skills come from OTJ training, but did you get into the career through ME or EE schools? Trade schools? Jumped right into the workforce? Something entirely different?

Would love to hear the stories, and I bet lots of others would as well.
Okay; I'll lead off here (and probably wish I hadn't). I went to a US maritime academy and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Engineering Technology, and a Third Engineer's License, All Engines-Unlimited Horsepower, from the US Coast Guard. Unfortunately, when I graduated there were almost zero sea-going jobs available on US-flag ships. So, I went to work for a major multinational corporation as a field engineer. As it turns out, it was a good choice. The ship we had at the academy was built in 1941 as a banana boat (literally!) and had a two-element feedwater control system and a combustion control system made of dashpots and cables and handwheels. WE were the automation and learned what had to be done and how to do it. We used shims in the feedwater control system as we sailed across the equator and back (temperature changes affected drum level and shims helped minimize the effect and maintain proper drum levels to avoid carryover and worse). We made our own fresh water and make-up feedwater with a triple-effect tube nest low-pressure evaporator system. The ship had AC and DC power systems, and NO automatic synchronization of steam turbine-generators.

With the major multi-national corporation, I eventually lucked into heavy duty combustion (gas) turbine operation and shortly after, controls start-up (commissioning) and troubleshooting. It took me all over the United States, and then many places around the world (some I wanted to go to; others I never wanted to go to and will never return to). I never aspired to be anything more than the best field engineer I could be. It took me too many years to realize the job was 30% technical and 70% ... political. I liked working with people, I just didn't like many of the people I had to work with (I liked the majority of my colleagues, but not all of them; but I liked few of the Customers of the division of the company I was seconded to). I was 35+ years working in the field--almost unheard of for the profession, but, again, I knew what I wanted and when I had it. I quit that company three times; I went back to work for them twice because I missed the technical work and many of the colleagues I worked with. In the end, the BS and politics and computer-based training, along with the rack-and-stack HR mentality (which seems to be present in in so many corporations today!) was just over the top too much.

The thing I would tell people starting out in the field is to network, network, network. No one knows everything and you NEED the support of others, some of whom may have decades of experience. Nourish those network relationships. When you contact someone for help/assistance, MAKE SURE you provide feedback after the problem has been resolved--even if it turns out to be something entirely different than what you or they thought it might be. People love to be of help and assistance--but they love it even MORE when they hear they were helpful and how things turned out. Humility is a good thing, not always a sign of weakness; humility is important, especially when starting out in a technical field. Those people will welcome your calls/emails in the future, and can help you if you have ideas of doing something different in the future. A very large part of any success I enjoyed was because of the contacts I developed and the help they gave me--and I always made sure to tell them they helped solve the problem I contacted them about. When you first call these people always ask if they have time to help you. As your relationship grows you will find them saying they always have time for your call (because you always give them feedback!). AND, sometimes when you have time, just call to say, "Hi; how's everything? I'm not calling with a problem, just checking in with you." That, too, is very important in developing your relationships.

Starting out you aren't expected to know everything (well, not usually--and you shouldn't be). There is OJT (On-the-Job Training) and that's very important. But, you can't just call and say, "It's not working; how do I fix it?" You need to be proactive and be able to say what you have done AND what the results were--not just, "I've tried everything and nothing worked." Yes; you will feel like that sometimes, but a thoughtful, logical troubleshooting progression is always necessary. It takes a while (years, sometimes longer) to be able to recognize problems and know exactly what to do in some cases. If your manager can't help you, he/she should know who might be able to help you--and they should help with introductions and getting useful help. And if your manager can't, or doesn't know how to help you, you're working for the wrong person. Full stop. Period. End of discussion. But, the people you develop in your network will begin to realize you have good skills and respect you and can help you further your career if you want--if you don't just call for help with every little problem and show some initiative and can provide good information.

BUT, don't forget--being a good technician IS NOT the only thing. You can be a mediocre technician but if you have "people skills" you will be asked back in the future. If your "people skills" aren't good, you may be asked back in the future when no one else can solve the problems (i.e., those with "people skills"), but you won't be welcomed back--it will be uncomfortable when you are asked back, even when you solve the problem. Learn to write good reports; Customers LOVE them some good reports.

Finally, controls work IS NOT sitting in front of a computer monitor hour after hour after hour!!! ANYBODY can do that--and believe, lots of controls people do just that--sit in front of a computer monitor hour after hour, day after day, and are very unproductive and inefficient. The best controls people know the process they are working on and can go out of the control room and put their hands and eyes on the process and equipment. The best controls people know systems and field devices (it's AMAZING how many people don't understand thermocouples and RTDs--two-wire and three-wire devices which aren't "hook it up and forget it"). You can be the best PLC/PAC programmer, or the best HMI programmer, but if you don't understand the process all the best tips and tricks and fancy algorithms aren't going to make for a smooth-running program and plant--even if the HMI screens are BEAUTIFUL!!! Learn to read and understand P&IDs--many HMI graphics are sorely lacking in details (orifices; check valves; even solenoid-operated valves) and can lead to incorrect assumptions.

And that's probably the most important of all: NEVER assume anything. Do you know how to spell assume? ASS-U-ME. Making an assumption can make an ass of you and me. Almost. Every. Single. Time.

That's me. Retired and loving it. I was fortunate enough to work for what was one of the best multi-national corporations in the world (but is now a former shell of itself). I was fortunate enough to work with some of the best and brightest people from around the world. I was fortunate enough to work during a time when knowledge and experience were desired and honored. Nowadays, the only thing that matters is being speedy and cheap. And, filling out computer workflows and forms. And computer-based safety training--a LOT of it. And why? To protect people who don't have the proper experience and knowledge to work on the equipment without hurting themselves or others. I have known, and had to work with, field service people with four-year engineering degrees who were TERRIFIED to use a multimeter to measure even 12 VDC or 24 VDC--because of all the safety training forced on them by the Danger Rangers. They FREAK OUT when asked to measure 125 VDC in a training environment. Because they've been thrown to the wolves. Because everything is a commodity and can be easily replaced--including field service personnel (who aren't really engineers anymore--whether they have the degree or not--and some of the best engineers I worked with didn't have even a two-year technical degree. They were just plain smart and had excellent--not just above average--critical thinking skills. The world is a VERY different place because of technology--better in many respects, but worse in many others. I'm glad I'm out--and so are many people (glad I'm out). Critical thinking skills aren't welcome in many parts of the world these days. Even though critical thinking skills are what's so badly lacking in many parts of the world these days. That and civility. (And I will fully admit to not always being the most civil field engineer. I could be polite, but when the poop hits the fan if you were screaming at me because you don't know what to do, I was not going to be polite or civil. If I had it to do over again, I might have been more polite and a little more civil--until we got to a private place, that is.)

That's my story.

And I'm sticking to it.
@CSA : Very interesting! I also started out at a US maritime academy. My degree was Marine Engineering Systems, with the same unlimited 3rd eng'r license (steam & diesel). I also saw the state of the shipping industry and ended up in the offshore oilfield for about 6 years and then moved on to manufacturing. Went back for a degree in Electrical Engineering when I found that not many people knew what Marine Engineering is ("You were a Marine?"), which led to a LOT of closed doors. The EE helped open doors but hasn't been nearly as valuable In Real Life as the knowledge and experience learned and earned in the field, both offshore and in factories.

The ships and workboats I was on were old technology, all analog, with very little "automation" as we know it today. The newest ship I was on was a container ship built in 1984, the oldest around 1969 or so. The last workboat was built around 1980 but had a tow winch added in the early 90s that had a GE 90-30 PLC. We didn't ever mess with it, lacking a laptop or even a handheld programmer. My automation experience really started in manufacturing, but the maritime experience really set me up well for it. I also started out as a technician in my first factory and then moved up into more and more technical roles with increasing responsibility. I think that's an extremely valuable path to take, whatever your education. A good school (good teachers, really) can teach you how to think and how to learn, but true knowledge comes from experience. I've heard it said that practical experience without theory is dangerous...theory without practical experience is unfinished business. You need enough theory to understand the stuff you're seeing in the real world, but you need to be able to see in the real world to apply the theory.

Some of the best engineers and technicians I've worked with had no degree or at best a 2-year degree earned after a lot of real-world experience. I've worked with a number engineers who had more academic backgrounds (started life with a 4-year degree), but only a few turned out to be really good at this stuff. And they tend to be the ones that took active part in the large projects at school (like working with the autonomous vehicles and such) so they came into the plant with a solid practical background, knowing how a multimeter works and which end of a screwdriver to hold. You really have to be willing to get your hands dirty when it's needed.

Know what you know....know what you don't know...know who to ask.
I started my controls career in the USN as a Boiler Technician with a NEC in Automatic Combustion Controls. The controls on the ship were all pneumatic. We tried some electronic stuff but they could not handle the heat and humidity of a fireroom.

After leaving the Navy, I immediately found a job at a US Army ammunition plant in the steam process plant. Again, all pneumatic Bailey controls. Pounds of Mercury in a water level transmitter LOL. Parts for the OLD Bailey system were becoming unavailable. I assisted in the installation of electronic transmitters though I/P convertors to the bailey controllers. I knew it was time to obtain knowledge on electronics. My employer provided tuition assistance and I soon graduated with a AAS in Electronics.

I left the ammo plant and hired on at a major electric utility. The HUGH distributed control system amazed me. My electronics degree was fine to perform the job. However, I knew I needed more. The utility also provided tuition assistance and I soon graduated with a BS in Information Systems.

After obtaining some seniority at the utility, I was able to transfer to the combustion turbine division.

Mark I controls systems on GE 7B. Major learning curve. New 7EA turbines were built with Mark V controls systems and I was able to learn these systems as well.

I will have to admit that I have been blessed. Not many people get free education, on the job experience, and decent pay.

I will agree with the other posters on this thread. You must know which end of the screwdriver is utilized. You also need to know that a ratchet wrench can both install and remove bolts LOL.
We had a subject named control system Engineering in the 4th year of our BSC in Electrical and Electronics Engineering. However, I barely passed that. The PLC that we had in our lab was already out of order before we could even touch that. So, unfortunately me and my classmates could not learn much about the automated system from our university.

After passing Engineering, we did some professional short/long courses. Some learnt siemens PLC. Then they joined many automation companies and performed excellent there.

Some did microcontroller programming and later had careers in this field too. Actually here what we learn, we learn from our jobs mostly.

But thanks to the internet. Scopes for learning are huge now.