Controlling His Destiny
Editor's note: Since publication, the Computer Control Engineering Technology program has been discontinued.
When Eric Reindl discovered the Computer Control Engineering Technology program at FVTC, he figured out his future career.
When Eric Reindl was a kid, he taught his mom how to turn on her computer and helped her learn how to use it. It always came easy to him and was something he enjoyed doing. But it wasn’t something he wanted to turn into a career when he graduated from high school in 2003. Instead, he took a job installing gutters.
A friend’s father hired him to work at his gutter-installation business. It worked out well. Reindl loved being outside in the summer and appreciated the opportunity to stay active all day. But eventually, the physical labor and lack of opportunities started to wear him out. “It was taking a toll on my body, for one thing, and I didn’t really think I had that great of a future installing gutters,” he admits.
Now Reindl’s future is looking much better. The Green Bay native is about two semesters shy of earning an associate degree in Computer Control Engineering Technology (CCET) from Fox Valley Technical College. He’s already been checking out job listings and feels confident that he’ll be able to find work in the growing field when he graduates.
Craig Hemken, an instructor in the program, has high hopes for Reindl and all of the other students enrolled in the CCET program as well. Hemken helped launch the program at FVTC about five years ago. He talked to local industry representatives and discovered that they could use employees with both electronic and computer hardware skills, as well as programming and software knowledge.
“That hybrid mix of skills was something they were looking for,” says Hemken. “More and more processes are becoming automated. There is a need for people who have both electronic and computer skills.”
Controlling the Environment
Computer control engineering technology is the use of computers to control real-time applications. It integrates electronics, software, computer systems, and control systems to create innovative solutions for industrial dilemmas, and is used in many different settings, from manufacturing companies to hospitals and other health-care providers.
It was the combination of electronic circuitry and computer programming that appealed to Reindl when he started investigating new career options. He had considered opting for a basic networking degree, but he knew that eventually he wanted to go beyond that with his skills. When he heard about computer control engineering, he was intrigued. “It deals with networking, which I like, but also with fixing circuitry and troubleshooting,” he says. “It sounded like something I would enjoy.”
Once he had settled on a new career path, however, the challenge became finding a place to pursue it. Because CCET is still a relatively new field, degree programs can be hard to find. FVTC offers the only program of its kind within the Wisconsin Technical College System.
That was ideal for Reindl, who lives in Green Bay but works in Appleton. “When I found out the program was at FVTC, that was perfect,” he says. “I go to school early in the morning, go to work, and then most days return to school again in the evening.”
Add homework to that schedule and Reindl’s life is quite hectic. His wife, Jessie, is one of the reasons he started the program in the first place. When they got married in 2006, Reindl realized that it would be hard to support a wife and children with the money he was making installing gutters. He didn’t have any opportunities for advancement, unless he wanted to own a business of his own. “I wasn’t ready for that,” he says. “I just wanted to make enough money for my family.”
Meeting the Challenge
Although FVTC’s 70-credit CCET program is designed to be completed in two years, Reindl knew when he enrolled that it would take him a bit longer to finish. He’s been taking classes on a part-time basis so he can also fit in almost 30 hours of work per week. Many other students have taken advantage of that option, Hemken says. “A lot of students have to work,” he notes. “We want this program to be flexible enough for them as well.”
The program is challenging, which is another reason that Reindl is grateful for the opportunity to tackle the courses at his own pace. The first half of the program is devoted to mastering the electronics portion of the equations, basically learning how electricity works. The second half focuses on the computer control components. He started those related classes last semester.
Reindl has always enjoyed math and science, and working with numbers comes fairly easily for him. This frame of mind has helped prepare him for an engineering technology career. “He’s a very logical person,” says FVTC Electronic Technology Instructor Walt Hedges. “He’s very systematic in the way he solves problems.”
Reindl appreciates the problem-solving practice he’s already learned. Working with circuits that have hundreds or possibly even thousands of resistors can be tricky, he admits, but he’s beginning to understand the process of troubleshooting problems. “There are a lot of different components to put together and figure out,” he says. “There’s a good deal of problem solving that you have to do.”
Engineering a Flexible Future
The next problem for Reindl to solve is where to work once he’s done with the CCET program. With his degree, he’ll be ready for work in a variety of situations. His goal is to find a job as a control system engineer, possibly in a health care setting. FVTC offers a specialized biomedical controls course that he’d like to take, if time allows. He could also look for a similar position at a nearby manufacturing company, or work as a software engineer or instrumentation technician.
Of course, he’s already got the perfect position in mind. He’d love to be able to take a job at a hospital in Green Bay, where his wife works as a medical assistant. He’s seen job listings in the classifieds for that particular site and is hopeful that something will be available when he’s finished with his degree. “It would be really nice to have some actual structure to my day,” he says.