At every phase of my academic career I’ve focused principally on theoretical subjects; therefore I thought to pursue a degree in journalism and/or teaching. But I had a very technical upbringing, and during my first year of college I felt an obvious void that I couldn’t academically fulfill. I decided to return to southern California and begin a career in composite fabrication for an aerospace and defense subcontractor. The department grew, and naturally so did the responsibilities, I began overseeing a small team executing on various projects. However wind, for me at least, was almost an inevitability. I have relatives that began in the industry when it was in its infancy, ranging from EHS coordination to technical roles. It’s rather funny actually, there are two distinctive paths within my immediate household, the first is renewable energy and the second is law enforcement. Call it serendipity, but having gathered the experience in composites I was brought on to with the manufacturer Clipper Windpower as a traveling O&M technician (their first, actually). I can remember arriving in Cedar Rapids and spending my second week in wind in an advanced troubleshooting and diagnostics course on the converter subsystem. Honestly, I spent the entire week trying to follow what felt like several hundred acronyms. I returned to my element when I later arrived in New York as they were executing a blade remediation project and they needed someone internally to perform quality checks and verify the cure times, note imperfections, etc. Since that time, I’ve spent nearly 11 years in wind.
In my opinion, the mid-2000’s really shaped wind. I never stopped learning everything I could, not to mention the ample opportunity to do so by working 80+ hour weeks those first few years. With much clarity, I remember that first year traveling to countless sites learning how to commission, perform the scheduled maintenance, complete large corrective activities, you name it. Because of the vast amount of on the job training I received, I remember being one of the first field based candidates to receive the advanced pitch controller training and then immediately traveling to an 80 turbine site that had nearly 50% of the turbines offline for pitch related issues. In fact, one of my favorite finds from that entire pitch controller experience was an intermittent alarm caused by a connector that was landed in between the protective insulation and the conductive material on a terminal of a bridge rectifier. I was appointed the lead traveling technician role after that first year, based primarily on my proclivity to solve problems, follow policy and procedure, and the fact I never left work. In 2009 everything changed, I had a horrendous crash on my dirt bike resulting in a compound fracture of the radius and ulna and crushed radial head, fractured elbow, etc. in my right arm. The entire experience was unreal, in between multiple surgeries throughout the year it was evident I wouldn’t be able to climb day in and day out like I had been so I was assigned a mentor, with the expectation I would learn how to become a site manager. After a few weeks, I got the chance with it at a project located in Kansas. Do you want to know what made that a successful transition for me? The expansive technical knowledge I had obtained. I could clearly and concisely articulate what an issue was, the likely cause of failure and the expected return to service time. Not to mention the ability to prioritize the work, recover from a delayed maintenance by running a split 24 hour shift, etc. I found my niche (or so I thought), I was offered a regional management position over a group of traveling technicians performing upgrades and enhancements on our existing fleet. That role lasted for roughly ½ year, and then because of the reorganization Clipper was subject to after an acquisition, I was internally recruited for the SAP Business Analyst role, supporting Plant Maintenance and Customer service. The implementation of SAP had been completed in advance of my tenure, however I had the operational background to help shape the customization and configuration settings of the ERP software to maximize to the business’s benefit. Unfortunately, Clipper Windpower ceased operating and manufacturing wind turbines. As a result, nearly all of their employees were let go. I remember being part of the last group to leave, where the last 6-12 months we had been supporting in all areas of SAP (security, Quality Management, Inventory and Materials Management, etc.). I had positioned myself to return into an operational management role by working with a third party service provider in the capacity of a Site Manager over a Gamesa project in Oklahoma, I later accepted an Operations Manager role with the same company, overseeing all commercial agreements. I would have continued my career with them, however they were acquired by a rather large manufacturing conglomerate and the integration didn’t have me transitioning into a role in which was unfavorable, so I went out the job market and found a Senior SAP PM and MM Specialist role for an owner/operator that would allow for me to leverage my operational and IT related background once more and I’ve been in this post for nearly a year. The focal point of this article is not only to give the viewers an impression of your time spent in wind, but also to illustrate the wide variety of skills the industry’s employees have.
However much I’ve always enjoyed the managerial side of the industry, it was hard adjusting to not always feeling the tangible sense of accomplishment you’d get when you solved a complex technical problem at a turbine. I’ve used two vices to sort of offset that. The first is a passion for riding/racing mx. I have a 2016 KTM 450 SX-F Factory Edition that I’m riding every weekend (every weekend that I’m not injured, at least) and the second is a company that I operate called Sonder Wood Co. (@SonderWoodCo) specializing in custom conceal furniture for various applications. Growing up, we rarely contracted out any type of work; the kids were always considered to be a form unsanctioned labor to help build decks, porches, gazebos, sheds… almost everything. My grandparents owned and operated an apple and cherry orchard so there was always a need to build something new. I suppose that’s what sparked my taste for woodworking/carpentry. For anyone who has ever spent time traveling in the industry, you’d know there is very little time to pursue activities unrelated to your immediate job and from the 11 years I previously mentioned, 9 have been traveling upwards of 60% of the year. It was apparent I wouldn’t be able to pursue this until my career stabilized, in which it has leveled off since I’ve moved to Austin. Sonder Wood Co. happened progressively, it started as building furniture for family, friends and for my own home and has since evolved into something I’m really proud of.
The vision would be to take Sonder to the next level and build furniture available to view in a showroom setting, but I enjoy my career and challenges wind has always presented. Whether it is technical or not, this industry has always had a need for experienced and capable workers to help shape a bright future for renewables and I can’t see myself giving up on being a part of that any time soon.