I Became an Engineer: To Get Off the Tractor

By John Chernekoff, VP Engineering Trust Automation, Inc.

I grew up in an agricultural family. Farming was a great experience. I enjoyed the gratification of seeing the results of hard work, and I love the outdoors, but…

There were some downsides.

  • Results were always at the mercy of nature; inherent risk.
  • Hot, or cold, or dusty,… the elements are harsh.
  • I was allergic to just about everything I came in contact with.

I needed to get off the tractor and go to school to at least explore an alternative. But, where and to study what?

I loved to take things apart, figure out how they worked, and try to fix things. Electronic things were especially interesting to me.

That being said, I really didn’t know I wanted to be an engineer. I knew I wanted a “good” career and that I was pretty good at science and math in school.

Growing up as a “farm boy,” I learned to fix things, adapt to new situations, and find creative solutions to problems. We were always looking for the best results with the most efficient approach (saving time, saving resources, etc.) as we worked in the vineyards and fields. This is also where I observed and adopted a work ethic that has benefited me throughout my career.

As a young boy, I would sneak my transistor radio under my pillow at night (when I was supposed to be asleep). I loved to tune the AM dial to see how many distant, out-of-state stations I could pick up (I later learned about the effects of the ionosphere). This started an interest with radio communications and thus, electronics.

After high school, I attended a community college. An advisor there challenged me to pursue pre-engineering classes (I was on track to get a two year Electronic Technician degree). He said my math scores were good—“take calculus and physics and see how it goes,” he said. I did, transferred to a university, and have always been grateful for the advice. I began pursuing an engineering degree and realized that engineering had the elements of the things I enjoyed.

My career began at Hughes Aircraft where we were designing, integrating, and testing wideband frequency-hopping synthesizers for satellite communications. The synthesizer used a phase lock loop (PLL), which provided an opportunity to develop both electronic design and control system analysis skills. Coming right out of school, this was way too much fun (in a nerdy sort of way, of course).

As my career journey progressed, I got to experience working at both large and small companies and in situations that have encompassed start-up, steady growth, and turn-around.

As VP of Engineering, I get to participate in multiple ways in our system development. It is always challenging to provide solutions when managing resources for multiple projects. I think the most gratifying thing about my role now is helping to find ways for my team to succeed at their job. My job satisfaction comes from enabling my teammates to do great engineering and observing the results that serve our customers.

When I retire, I expect that I will approach everything from an engineering perspective. Life is a barrage of problems to solve and opportunities to learn—and that is the stuff that fuels an engineer’s mind. More specifically, I also hope to be able to encourage students to consider engineering as a career path.