Some career advice please


Thread Starter


I come from a background in Cobol programming (5 years) and have year of Uni physics & maths.

So far the advice I have received has led me to the following list of required skills:

1. PLC ladder logic programming
2. Electronics/electricity basics
3. MS server/networking
4. Wireless networking/communications?

I am intending to do a year diploma Electronics and communications that includes PLC programming and scada.

I am quite confused though as there are so many vendors, hardware, software and industries/specializations.

Ideally id like to work in oil/gas/mining as I consider being outside and traveling to remote places as important.

Obviously I'm looking for something well paid, mobile (international skill) and that has job security eg wont be obsolete soon.

Brands that have been recommended are Scitech, contrologix, allen bradley, Siemens, modbus etc, ethernetIP
Are these appropriate to start with?

Any advice much appreciated
COBOL, huh? Haven't heard much about that for a while (at least not in my business--which is power generation).

Most of the people I have worked with in this field are pretty much self-taught, having gotten most of their "education" and "training" from working in the industry. I think more and more trade schools and "junior" colleges (for lack of a better term) are starting courses for instrument technicians and controls technicians because of the impending retirement of many currently employed in the various industries (refineries, chemical plants, power plants, etc.), as well as the recent boom in oil and natural gas exploration and retrieval.

As you have noted there are quite a number of vendors of various equipment and software, and while the concepts of most are relatively the same (we are talking about process control after all), the way programming and configuration is done can be very different depending on the vendor and even the generation of their products.

Certainly, a couple of the largest companies in the world are Allen-Bradley (owned by Rockwell Automation, I believe) and Siemens. They seem to pretty much have the largest market-shares from my experience. And, the largest number of people familiar with their products and programming and configuration.

However, being proficient in one, two, or even three product lines (programming, configuration, etc.) is very different from understanding processes and applications. The types of controls and interfaces required for a gold mining operation don't differ greatly from those required for an oil production field or a refinery. However, the systems and devices the control systems interface with can vary greatly. It helps to have an understanding of hydraulics and hydraulic actuators, and pneumatics and pneumatic actuator, as well as ladder logic and PID control.

I'm sure you've learned in your COBOL programming experience, that understanding what the software needs to do is just as important as understanding how to make the software do things. The more you understand the intricacies and complexities of the application, the better the programming will be for the user.

What I'm trying to say is that simply being schooled in PLC hardware and programming, or DCS or SCADA software, isn't everything you need to be able to jump into a job and be productive. I run across lots of people who know ControLogix or TriSen or ABB or Emerson or WinCC or MODBUS, but don't know how RTDs work, or how double-acting pistons work, or how a positive displacement pump differs from a centrifugal pump, and consequently when they encounter something different in the field they don't always deal with it appropriately in the PLC or the DCS.

I think you would do well to try to find someone who's currently employed in your field of interest, or a trade school or other educational institution that offers courses related to your field of interest and talk with them to see how you might best proceed with preparations for a career in that field. With the current boom in LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) and oil exploration in many places around the world there are certain to be openings for "junior" personnel willing to learn a trade or profession from the ground up--and many employers do feel that OJT (On-the-Job Training) is some of the best training around.

Be aware, that some of the sites you might get to travel to are not tourist sites, and that when working there is usually seven days per week, 10-12 hours/day or more, and sometimes several weeks on and a couple of weeks off. The working conditions can be harsh, as can be the living conditions, though in my experience the food isn't too bad (because they don't want everyone complaining about the food, too!).

Curt Wuollet

I think the best way to find out what employers want is to read their
ads. In my part of the world, even field service jobs want a BSEE, because they can. That's kind of silly as that would disqualify the best automation types I know. You need to be able to understand many
disciplines and how they interact. But being the best really doesn't matter if you can't get in the door so I'd study the ads that sound good and see what they want.

cww who is a software developer at the moment
Thanks a lot for the reply, COBOL in fact is going strong i'm just not into sitting in an office at an insurance company! :)

That is sound advice, and kind of where I had got to in my thinking, eg not just the control side but also what is being controlled and that is in itself a specialization and can only be gleaned in the field or from very specific training but that would be best after some general experience (that is sort of the entrance requirement for these specialised courses I have found).

Unfortunately i'm not in an area where we have oil & gas so I can't really get on the job training - i'll have to start with anything control related.

And thanks for the info about working conditions - I'm aware and that part I'm ok with :)

Anybody here that can give me some idea of specific valves, actuators used on fracking wells, so I can do some reading/research etc

I'm waiting for my course but that's only in Feb so I have time to get up and running.
Thank you, thats exactly what Ive done apart from asking around on forums and reading up, which is why wireless networking is on the list.