Poet Nicanor Parra taught Mathematics and was a Professor of Theoretical Physics.

Interview with an Engineer (3)

Landfill gas power plant

NAME: Marvin Darrell Riddle

JOB TITLE/OCCUPATION:   Executive V.P. and Owner Riddle Consulting, Inc.

PROFESSION/INDUSTRY:  Engineering and Project Management: Specializing in Utility Business Development and Electrical Project Management

EDUCATION:  M.B.A. in Business Administration, University of Alaska, Fairbanks (1999); B.A. in Liberal Arts and Business, UAF (1995); A.A.S. Power Engineering Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, Calgary, Alberta, Canada (1977); Power Plant Operations Certificate (2-year program), Tennessee Valley Authority, Gallatin, TN (1972)

ADDITIONAL PURSUITS & AREAS OF INTEREST:  Pursuing proficiency in Central American Spanish (I currently live part time in Panama); Amateur photographer skills that I try to constantly improve to record extensive travels I share with my wife; Off Shore sailing is a passion I experienced while living in Punta Gorda, Florida; Scuba Diving (Dual rating Naui and Padi Instructor)—I took a sabbatical for a year in 1992 and lived in the Dutch West Indies during that time I lived on a dive boat and supported myself being the engineer and dive master of the boat.

What is your educational background, specific to your profession?

I actually started as a power plant operator, was promoted to Shift Engineer, was promoted to Superintendent and was soon after selected to be a Start Up Engineer. It was during the Start Up Engineer time that I decided to get additional education and obtained the AAS in Power Engineering. This helped me become the Chief Start Up Engineer for Basin Electric.

I was given the opportunity to move to Alaska and assume a General Manager Position responsible for overall management of a small utility in SE Alaska. I later moved to a larger utility in Fairbanks and worked my way up to Vice President ,with the proviso, I obtain a 4 year degree. I did that and decided I might as well get a MBA while I was at it. I obtained these degrees while working as Vice President Member Services and Business Development.

After retirement my wife and I started a consulting firm that specialized in business development and construction. We assisted with DOD utility privatization in Alaska. My current project is underway and it my most unusual one. It will be a renewable energy project consisting of 5.6 MW of electric generation produced by Landfill gas.

What was your most valuable experience, that gave you the tools and insight to working in public utilities?

My most valuable experience was during my initial two year Power Operations Training program at the Tennessee Valley Authority. It was during this training that I was exposed to a wide range of training methods: classroom, hands on, show and tell by actual operators performing the tasks and skill set training involving use of drawings and instructional material. This helped me develop reasoning skills because the information was presented partly and you had to obtain the rest of the required knowledge on your own. The proficiency testing was intense, both written and oral exams lasting 4-8 hours that required you to draw on all facets of the instruction and draw logical conclusions to the questions. This type of education/instruction proved to be incredibly valuable as I progressed in the Power Generation profession.

As a working professional, what changes have you seen in your industry that have significantly affected how you work?

The industry has added digital technology at an amazing rate. The new engineers and technicians have grasped this quickly as they actually grew up with it. That said, I do find that, if the problem cannot be solved by a computer program, they flounder. I believe the hands on and logic that was required when the system was more mechanical is being lost. Thinking through logical solutions without software aid is difficult for a lot of the newer engineers.

Clients expect solutions quicker now than in years past, and the computer helps that. Clients are also keeping equipment much longer due to thinner operating margins. This older type of equipment does not lend itself to computer aided solutions. As a consequence, I find that newer workers are in quandary when they have to find a quick solutions using older equipment. I am also seeing more and more older engineers having to come out of retirement to provide solutions to problems that the younger employees should be able to accomplish but can’t.

With regards to the new generation of engineers, what are the skill sets that you are seeing?

The new engineers and technicians have grasped computer assisted technology quickly and can use it skillfully to solve problems. Most younger employees are actually better educated then generations before in the basics. I also have found they are willing to learn other methods to solve problems. As such, I believe where skills are lacking that it is not a people problem but rather a method of instruction issue.

What would your advice be to an aspiring engineer &/or to the institutions and instructors that are providing them with the education & “tools” they need to become an electrical engineer?

I believe to be a good engineer you need some practical experience. One of the best new engineers I have worked with recently was an electrician before he obtained his electrical engineering degree. This may be extreme but, if you could alternate field work and classroom work, I think you would get a much better engineer.

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