Interview - Shirish Ratnaparkhi - Instrumentation Engineer
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Shirish Ratnaparkhi : Instrumentation Engineer

"Control system engineering" connects well with all parent streams of engineering like mechanical, electrical, chemical etc. and a career in “controls engineering” has many opportunities. We speak with Shirish Ratnaparkhi who takes us through the career graph of an instrumentation engineer, by virtue of his experience in this field:

What is your current position, career focus and total years of experience?

I am working as Senior Manager, Projects and Risk Management Consultant. I am with Emerson Export Engineering Centre in Pune for last 10 years.

Previously I worked with Tata Power Company at Trombay for 14 years, initially in instrumentation maintenance of thermal power plants and later in engineering of internal projects.

My career focus is to move towards consultancy in the field of Safety Engineering and Risk Management for the process industry.

How did you get started in your career? What motivated you to get into this career?

I did my diploma in Electrical engineering from GP Jalgaon and stood second in college. I was introduced to Instrumentation and Controls as a ‘specialized subject’ by my diploma professors. I scored well in College of Engineering, Pune and got selected in Tata Power Company through the campus interview.

A senior engineer and a friend guided me in simple terms that Maintenance, Design and Consultancy would be the right path to follow. I understood it and am following the same course, which is absolutely logical. Applying the gained knowledge in the next phase is quite rewarding.

What is this career like?

A career in “controls engineering” is an ocean with far spread possibilities. Broadly, industries are of two types– Manufacturing (e.g. Tata Motors) and Process (e.g. ONGC or Tata Power.) You may consider starting in either, the domain knowledge will apply. You can be with instrumentation & control (I&C) product manufacturers, or with I&C projects engineering companies. I&C solutions and consultancy businesses are at higher end.

Every process industry sector like Oil and Gas, Power, Steel, Chemicals, Food and drugs, Textile, Construction, Space research, Transportation and many more require “I&C” and the opportunities are never ending. Control system engineering connects well with all parent streams of engineering like mechanical, electrical, chemical, process etc.

Control system engineering happens to be quite a creative field where added knowledge and IT skills are also counted. Lot of research possibilities exist and can be explored by linking with renowned associations like ISA and more.

Project engineering offers a lot of travel opportunities for those who like to move around the globe. Travel is all for work, and you can play if you wish to!

There are tremendous career opportunities in marketing and sales as well. Unlike IT career, this career is not so open to switching since it requires a domain engineering knowledge, however still a few have done it successfully!

What is a normal work day in the life of an instrumentation engineer?

Consider a plant side young engineer. He/ she could be working in shifts. 8 to 10 hours of field work in the plants takes you to various equipments like boilers, reactors, switchgear, mills and so on. Your vocabulary would consist of “regulating” pressure, temperature, flow and level, auto, manual and so on; you will discover a world of “controls” through your work. You would switch between field and control room, maintenance and design, own plants, colleagues and customers, buying and selling, working and managing small and big “projects”.

Hard work with your own hands will take you to command and authority. Adopting leadership skills on the way is imperative in every field and this field is no different!

The engineers on off-shore jobs would go round the clock without weekly breaks for six months and score 6 months of vacation before they join in again!

There are numerous patterns of work to suit your choice.

How was your journey from your first job till the current one? Where do you see yourself 5-10 years from now?

I was working with Tata Power in maintenance and after gaining sufficient hands-on experience, I found that I was not in a position to interact with the “customers”. For this sole reason, I decided to come to the other side of the table with a vendor company and my purpose was fulfilled as expected. I can say that I have seen both the sides!

My first job helped me with the knowledge and experience of the plant side field work and I gained a good command on the boiler processes.

My second job with a vendor company helped me with skills on the control system design and engineering as well as project management skills.

What specialized training and education did you choose to succeed in this field? What inspired you to build the skills?

The current job provided me an opportunity to find a specific field of Safety Engineering. It offered me to appear for the prestigious course and exam in safety engineering and I acquired an accreditation called Certified Functional Safety Expert (CFSE). It offers very good career options in Risk Management.

We know three chosen fields – Health, Safety and Environment. Working in these fields gives me immense satisfaction since I am touching the core. Working in Safety happened to be a trigger point for me and so I nurtured myself in this area of work.

I am looking forward to specific consultancy in the field of power plant safety engineering which is yet to open up to its full extent in India and the industry is in the learning mode.

Adding to it, energy management is yet another field calling. I am grooming myself in this path and I am in initial stages.

Which skills have you found most helpful, and which ones will be most important in the future?

I must mention two skill sets, technical skills and people skills. And would rate people skills at the top, not ignoring the right mix of technical skills. Technical skills can be acquired and enhanced through people, provided you have the right technical skills to choose the right people and right people skills to make the best use of it!

Lastly, goal-setting skills is what builds an organization and that is what I am working on for my own future!

What have been your best experiences and challenges while working in this field?

Successful implementation of critical and challenging projects with self-drive and team work is highly satisfying and rewarding. Installation and implementation of Environment Management System (EMS) as per ISO 14001 in Tata Power was one such experience. Commissioning of a newly developed control system in a power plant in Saudi Arabia against many odds was another achievement while I was with Emerson! Traveling across the world was quite exciting all the time, but moving without family was equally painful and challenging.

The real challenge is seen when the recession hits the world economy and suddenly your job shows the reality! If you decide to stick to your employer with full faith and courage in bad times, it pays off when the wave resides!

What recommendation would you give to prospective students who want to advance in this field? What education & skills do they need to focus on, over others?

I would say, pay very close attention to academics in college time as well as to the core topics. Do not waste the learning time in other activities, it is so much precious. Keep checking what interests you the most and focus on it so that you are thorough about the subject which you're passionate about. A good grip over mathematics and logic will always be a plus. A problem-solving attitude makes a true engineer.

Do not forget to hone your people skills at every opportunity you get. It starts right from college activities!

Do you have any other 'words of wisdom' that you would like to pass on?

With whatever small experience I gathered, I have the following pointers:

  1. Find what you want. Stick to your dreams. Find the ways and engineer them well.
  2. Loyalty pays. We need not jump and switch jobs, instead put your foot down where you stand and achieve it to a great extent.
  3. Understand finance. Engineers often miss to learn about money. And time. Look at it as an engineer. Earlier the better!
  4. Dare to switch quadrant from employee to employer and it is well appreciated and supported by all. You will lead the path of survival – success – significance.
  5. I wish you all the best and certainly look for a career in “Controls”.
  6. Last and not the least, I am a people's person and very much open to guide and help the enthusiast in shaping up the right career. I call it a team work which helps me and others in the same team!

Shirish can also reached at his LinkedIn profile -