An Interview with Brent Giles

“The thing I like most about my job is that it is not routine. I work on a variety of projects, and there is constant change. It is also very rewarding to see the projects I work on make a big difference in the bottom line of the business.”

Brent Giles is an industrial engineer at Norfolk Southern Corporation. He manages the quality control program and performs cost analysis at his company.

Brent received his Bachelor of Science in Engineering Management from Western Michigan University. After graduating, he went through a management and leadership development program at Norfolk Southern. He then became an associate quality engineer and aspires to work up to the position of manufacturing plant manager.

In your own words, what is an industrial engineer?

An industrial engineer is a specialized engineer who uses his or her technical and management skills to improve processes, reduce costs and increase efficiency. At Norfolk Southern Corporation, I manage the quality control program of the manufacturing plant and ensure that processes are in place to meet the facility’s quality standards. I also perform cost analysis for the parts and machines that we build and look for ways to improve quality while reducing cost.

If a student said to you, “I am interested in becoming an industrial engineer,” what would your response be?

Students interested in working as industrial engineers should enjoy working with people and being in a technical environment. They should enjoy problem-solving and be prepared to work on a variety of different projects. You need to have a technical background, but also a good sense of management and business operations. There are a wide range of career paths available, so it is a diverse field to enter.

What level of education is ideal to become an industrial engineer?

Most industrial engineers have at least a bachelors degree. The specific type of bachelors degree varies. Some professionals in the field have degrees in industrial engineering or manufacturing engineering. My bachelors degree is in engineering management. Students are typically encouraged to seek a masters degree in business administration (MBA), industrial engineering or engineering management after several years of work experience.

Are there any licensing or certification requirements to become an industrial engineer?

No, industrial engineers do not typically get their professional license. Most work as managers, so obtaining an engineering license is not required by law, nor does it significantly improve an industrial engineer’s career prospects.

Why did you decide to become an industrial engineer?

I decided to become an industrial engineer because it gave me the opportunity to be a manager and work with people while remaining in a technical field. I started school as a mechanical engineer. It wasn’t a good fit for me because mechanical engineering is focused more on performing calculations rather than working with people. For that reason, industrial engineering drew my interest more than any other specialty in the engineering field. It gave me the ability to be in a technical engineering field but also still interact with people.

What do you enjoy most and least about being an industrial engineer?

The thing I like most about my job is that it is not routine. I work on a variety of projects, and there is constant change. It is also very rewarding to see the projects I work on make a big difference in the bottom line of the business.

The most challenging aspect of the job is working with people. The human factor is always a big variable, and with industrial engineering, most projects will in some way affect how a person performs their job. It can be difficult sometimes for people to adopt change.

How do you balance your work and your personal life?

I balance my work and personal life by keeping a non-traditional schedule that allows me to have longer weekends and more free time. I work 10-hour shifts for 4 days each week, which gives me an extra day off. I work a total of 40 to 45 hours a week, and I never have to work on weekends. Typically, industrial engineering jobs have a fairly set schedule.

What personality traits do you think would help someone succeed as an industrial engineer and what traits would hinder success?

The most important personality trait of a successful industrial engineer is the desire to learn and solve problems. You most likely will not always be an expert on the project details due to the wide variety of problems solved by engineers. You need to possess a desire to learn and investigate while developing a solution.

Are there any extra-curricular experiences that you think a student interested in becoming an industrial engineer should pursue?

Someone hoping to work in the industrial engineering field should pursue an internship. It wasn’t required for me to do an internship, but I sought one out and ended up working full time for a company during the summer. It became a cooperative education program, where I worked and got paid while going to school. That experience helped me find the industry I liked and also gave me valuable experience that put me ahead of others when I graduated.

What words of advice or caution would you share with a student who is interested in becoming an industrial engineer?

If you are interested in becoming an industrial engineer, make sure you understand that this area of engineering is different from other areas. You will not be as focused on designing products, but rather finding solutions to a wide array of problems. It is not your typical desk job or number-cruncher position. You should prefer working with people and on high-level projects with a great deal of responsibility.