In this series, recent grads share their journey to landing that first job out of college. After years of studying and working toward a degree, these Panthers’ hard work paid off. Now they’re paying it forward by letting you know how they did it.
Name: Samuel De La Torre
Hometown: Hialeah, Florida
Degree/major: Bachelor of science in electrical engineering
Where are you working? Title? Florida Power & Light (FPL) and my title is protection & control engineer. The position is held only by individuals with a bachelor of science in electrical engineering, whereas other engineering positions within the company can be held by any discipline of engineering.
How did you get your job? I applied during a career fair held at FIU in the fall of 2016. Then, I went through a series of interviews, both in person and via the internet. Then, I attended an open house and received an offer shortly after.
What was your greatest fear going into your first job and how did you face it or overcome it? My fear going into this job, as well as any job I’ve ever held, is a pretty normal one: making a crucial mistake and disappointing my peers and leadership. What I do to avoid this is, and I know it might sound corny, but it’s just to pay attention to detail and not be afraid to ask questions.
What surprised you the most about your first job? This wasn’t my first job in life, but it was my first job out of college. What surprised me was how much FPL takes care of their employees. Their approach to making us prepared and ready to take on the daily challenges of the job is second to none, and I’ve worked for Siemens and the United States Navy, so I can tell you, FPL is a top-notch employer in all regards.
What advice do you have for those beginning the job search process? Work on your resume and always attend career fairs! If you don’t knock on the door, they won’t know you’re looking. If you’re turned down for a position, don’t fret, just stay positive and apply for other positions and other companies. Do not be deterred because you were not a good fit for some company, keep applying! The right company will eventually find you amidst the pile of resumes. And if they’re lucky, you’ll accept the offer.
What does a day on the job look like? Most days I go straight to the substation. As a new engineer, you’re assigned to work with a more seasoned engineer. At first, I worked a lot on feeder breakers. Now, you might think of a breaker like the one in your home. It’s not. These are usually 13.8/23kV breakers that feed thousands of customers. After substation electricians install the equipment, we have to make sure all the wires were landed correctly using the prints we are provided. We then proceed to prepare the settings for the protective relays that safeguard the electrical grid components being fed by that feeder breaker. They call us “relay guys” and that’s because we install, calibrate and test the protective relays that protect the electrical grid from itself and outside faults. It is a beautiful job that requires meticulous attention to detail and a deep theoretical understanding of power, control and communication systems. At the end of the day, you go home feeling satisfied because you played a role in keeping the lights on for thousands of customers, and, if you did a good job, they will never know it happened, or have a reason to thank you. We are truly silent sentinels.
How does your job connect back to your coursework? The job of a P&C engineer is directly related to all the coursework I learned in power systems 1, 2 and 3, offered through the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering located within the College of Engineering & Computing. The electrical theory I learned in those classes, from calculating fault currents, understanding leading and lagging power factors, watts, VARs, phase and line voltages and currents, are things used daily. We are not technicians, we are engineers. Everything we do has a theoretical meaning behind it, and it’s our job to understand it. You won’t learn everything you need for this job from school, but it will give you a great base from which to build on. So take power courses, all that you can. They will help to prepare you. That being said, there is an entire world of knowledge to learn once you start in this job. Don’t expect to get here and know everything, you might actually feel like you know very little, but the fundamentals of power theory will all be there, so make sure you understand them well.
How has your transition from school to work been? How do you balance your time? I’ve had a job most of my life, so I can’t speak to the transitioning process, but I can offer some advice. We work from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on most days. Be ready to work longer days, or start early. The job has particular time requirements that all play a role in keeping the lights on for customers and might involve working odd hours to accommodate specific needs for power delivery. All I can say is be flexible when you start, and go the extra mile. It will make you look good, and set a good precedent moving forward. In the end, it will speed up your learning.
What’s been the coolest thing about your job so far? Seeing all the moving parts that keep your TV and refrigerator running is nothing short of awe inspiring. The equipment that FPL is deploying all over the State of Florida is impressive. The people are great, and they love FPL. A lot of folks I have met have been with the company anywhere from 20-40 years, and that speaks volumes about this company. Working with equipment with voltages in the thousands is extremely impressive. I love how we are able to provide power to so many people and we do it so flawlessly that most people just take it for granted.