What’s it like to work for Superior Controls? Who better to tell you than Superior Engineers themselves! We’re talking to different Superior Engineers who are at different points in their careers. Tag McCormick, P.E. is a 10-year Superior Employee.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I live near Portsmouth and Exeter, New Hampshire. I have a beautiful wife and two kids. We do a lot of things together as a family, which is great. I also enjoy mountain biking, surfing and running. I’ve done Reach the Beach Ragnar with some of my Superior coworkers – it’s a 200-mile race from Breton Woods to Hampden Beach. It took about 30 hours to complete.
What did you study in school?
I went to college at Maine Maritime Academy and studied Power Engineering Technology – that’s an applied engineering technology degree for power plant theory and operation. My best friend in high school had a family farm and a few of his uncles were graduates of Maine Maritime. I can remember just helping out and hanging around the farm. And I remember those guys could fix ANYTHING. And at the time, my friend was also planning to go. I’m glad I did it. It was a great education. It’s very hands on and applied practice. I was really interested in what I was learning. We had electrical theory, electronics, controls theory, and then typical engineering stuff like how the universe works. Plus, some simulated control room time too, so I got some exposure to how operators use control systems in college.
I started working in power plants after that. I worked in North Carolina for a while and then back up here locally as well. And that is where I started to get more interested in just the automation side of things. Power plants are very automated. I worked for a company based out of Boston after leaving power generation. They specialized in water/wastewater. I was doing control system startups on new construction of plants in that industry. Then I came over to Superior.
What attracted you to Automation and Superior?
I was looking to make a change and get established with an automation company. The company I was with before was a design/build firm. Controls was just a piece of what they did. They would build a plant and design it, and I would do the control system startup. I also wanted to get located even closer to home. I was connected to Superior through a vendor that supplied software to both companies.
Up until that point in my professional career, I had only worked for corporations. The move to Superior felt like moving to a family culture. That small company feel where everyone knows each other. The way that Rick Pierro and Mark LaRoche (co-founder) had set up the culture and the way that we do work, it just kind of made sense. They had internal procedures and practices in place to best facilitate work getting done. There weren’t multiple tiers of management. It was really a team. It’s engineers solving problems and supporting each other in that effort. That’s the core of it that I recognized when I started, and I think it’s still a key factor in our success today.
There’s also a lot of flexibility for time management, allowing you to balance work with personal time and family life. There have been plenty of times where we’ve put in a lot of hours for clients, but you can manage that time in a way that works for you. I’m able to shift my time and start and end as it works for me, the project team and the client. It’s basically expected that you’ll get your work done but you’re somewhat autonomous in how you get it done.
What was it like getting started?
The thing I had to get used to first was having an established approach to completing a project. In the companies I had worked for before then, there wasn’t an organized approach. You never knew how close you were to being done. Superior has an established approach to projects. I had come in at that point with six years of experience working in industry, so I had a good idea about practical applied controls. But I was a novice level programmer at that point. I was essentially given a small project to work on right away and kept getting assigned projects, one after another. I came in as an engineer and then got promoted to Project Manager and have been doing that ever since.
How has your career evolved at Superior?
The size and the quantity of projects have gotten bigger, and I’ve got multiple projects being executed at the same time. When I started out, I was just an individual contributor doing engineering only, then moved up to working on small teams on a project. And then eventually I got assigned multiple projects and teams. I’ve grown through experience. A few years ago, I moved into a Group Engineering Manager role. It’s been challenging but rewarding as well. I enjoy working with people and mentoring others.
I’ve had a lot of training opportunities as well, such as courses at UNH and specialized week-long courses to learn applications, including Rockwell’s RSTechEd events. Matt Martin and I presented at Rockwell’s PSUG as well.
What has your experience been as a project/client manager?
We’re assigned a project and then we’ll typically work with Bob Patrick, our VP of Engineering to build an appropriately sized team. And then we have procedures in place for how we want to execute projects. Every type of project has an established lifecycle, which is great. It gives you an idea of where you are and where you need to be.
Aside from that, Project Managers are empowered to manage that project on their own. We really only go to management for support or to add resources. Because we have that established methodology in place, that provides a lot of support for being successful; we’re trusted to manage our projects within that methodology.
What are some projects you’ve worked on?
My first really large project was an air pollution control system for a power plant in Massachusetts. That was really cool, because it was a little different than our typical life sciences projects. Plus, we were working to clean emissions from the power plant, so I felt good about cleaning up the environment.
Another notable one was for a life sciences company, where we had to come up with a unique, flexible design for a chromatography system. That was cool in and of itself, but it also had to be very flexible for the user, so it was a fun challenge.
There was another large-scale project for a life sciences company that was really neat. I had a couple different technical leads and a tiered team approach with ten engineers. We provided the hardware and did all the technical work on it. We still have a team member there helping out. It was great to have a lot of input and be able to design a system from scratch.
Any projects you’d like to work on in the future?
Anything groundbreaking that would contribute to society. In life sciences, there are ongoing improvements all the time, and the things that are on the near horizon are really exciting. To be involved in automation for a system that makes a groundbreaking therapeutic or vaccine is awesome. We’ve got people working on those efforts now during the pandemic. Also, anything to do with renewable energy would be great.
Important lessons you’ve learned along the way? Any advice for would-be applicants?
Be open to opportunities, to learn new things and apply yourself. I think as engineers, an engineering minded person is someone conflicted when they’re presented with a problem. The typical response is initially anxiety, because you don’t know all of the information and you have to develop a solution. You’re presented with a problem that throws you off balance and you want to immediately understand and know all the info and solve the problem. My advice would be don’t rush into solving the problem. You’re a capable engineer and have a team of people supporting you. You’re going to work towards a solution and you’re going to get there. So, take a deep breath when you’re presented with a problem and you’ll be fine.
I really appreciate the talent of the people that I work with. We’re fortunate to have a team of really strong engineers. And in our culture, it’s instilled that we’ll work together and help each other out. I think that’s a unique scenario for a company to have.
Interested in a career with Superior Controls?