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Automotive Engineers

By Valerie Anderson

Name: Gary Pollak

Gary Pollack
Company: SAE International
Job Title: Program Manager-Technical Projects
Education: BSME, postgraduate work in Engineering Management and Business

1) How long have you been at your job and what do you do there?
I have been in my current job for over eighteen years. I worked in the industry for ten years before coming to SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers), so I had a pretty clear idea of what was of interest to me. Here at SAE, I manage technology research projects for automotive applications. Being a car enthusiast, this was the perfect job for me.

2) What's the best aspect of your job?
Being involved with numerous and varied projects has the most appeal to me. Many engineers work in one field or on one technical project area for most of their career. Working with SAE has allowed me to experience projects in all areas of the vehicle. If you name any part of the car, I've probably worked on some project in that area.

3) What's more important: salary or job satisfaction?
Although salary is an important consideration, I'd have to say that the older I get the more important it is for me to enjoy what I do.

4) What's the best career advice you've ever received?
Get involved! Don't wait for a formal assignment.
Look into those areas that interest you. Volunteer to take on extra responsibilities even if you have to do it on your own time.

5) What's the best way a fresh-out-of-college employee can impress you during their first week on the job?
Don't try to change the world your first week. I'm more impressed with someone who shows they are in it for the long term. Be willing to learn the background of your job and learn from the experience of those who have been in the job longer.

6) How did you learn to work with staff outside of your department?
Do some homework and find out the common areas of their job and your job. Other departments are much more receptive when you can show the relevance of your interactions for a corporate goal.

7) What trait do you admire in co-workers?
Being up-front and honest are important. Good working relationships are built on mutual trust.

8) How do you relieve job frustration?
Look for the humorous side in any bad situation. Sharing a few laughs always seems to give you a new perspective.

9) What one thing do you know now that you wish you could have known when you first started your job?
The most important thing is to enjoy what you do. Everything else will take care of itself.

Name: Jack Pokrzywa


Jack Pokrzywa
Company: SAE International
Job Title: Managing Director
Education: Masters in Liberal Arts, Warsaw University; Bachelors in Engineering, Warsaw's Technical Institute

1) How long have you been at your job and what do you do there?
I have been the manager of automotive headquarters at the Society of Automotive Engineers since 1996.

2) What's the best aspect of your job?
I enjoy facing the many advanced technology issues at my job. I also like tackling the business challenges and staying in tune with the industry's needs.

3) What's more important: salary or job satisfaction?
Both money and enjoying your work are important, however, having satisfaction at your job provides the opportunity to excel, which leads to new opportunities and, subsequently, potential raises.

4) What's the best career advice you've ever received?
"It takes several years to become an overnight success."

5) What's the best way a fresh-out-of-college employee can impress you during their first week on the job?
In order to impress me, new hires should have a professional demeanor and have drive. It's important for them to understand that in order to succeed, they must do more than simply what is in their job description.

6) How did you learn to work with staff outside of your department?
I learned to work with others by looking at the final product or service that they produce. I recognize that the final product is the result of work from many people from many different departments. It's imperative to work with others effectively in order for the end result to be the best that it can be.

7) What trait do you admire in co-workers?
Organizational skills, discipline and the ability to say "no" based on their convictions. But mainly, I admire my co-workers passion towards their work-no matter how small or "unimportant" it may be.

8) How do you relieve job frustration?
I work through on-the-job stress with physical activity.

9) What one thing do you know now that you wish you could have known when you first started your job?
When I first started, I wish that I had better understood and accepted the complexities of the corporate environment.

Name: Al Kamm
Company: Senior Automotive, Bartlett, Ill.
Job Title: Senior Project Engineer
Education: BSME, General Motors Institute (now Kettering University);
Masters in Engineering Administration, Midwest College of Engineering (now Illinois Institute of Technology)

1) How long have you been at your job and what do you do there?
I have been with Senior for about ten years. I am responsible for the design, testing and eventual production of flexible components for auto exhaust systems, which are necessary in front-wheel-drive cars to allow the engine to move normally without causing excessive noise and vibration inside the car.

2) What's the best aspect of your job?
The successful launch of a new product is probably the best part of my job. I was recently visiting a college with my son, and in a parking lot I saw a new car that I have been working on for the last several years. It was very nice to finally see a vehicle that I have been involved with on the street. My son joked that it would be ok if I looked under the car to check out our part in the exhaust system. I didn't, but only because I knew it wouldn't be visible. I have been known to check under cars in dealer showrooms when I'm car shopping.

3) What's more important: salary or job satisfaction?
Job satisfaction is more important to me. You don't stay in the engineering or manufacturing areas to make a lot of money. The creative side and working with people keep me going.

4) What's the best career advice you've ever received?
When I started at Senior, my first supervisor told me that my job responsibility was to do "whatever it takes" to get the product ready for production. We're a small company, so it can involve doing a lot of different things to get the job done.

5) What's the best way a fresh-out-of-college employee can impress you during their first week on the job?
Stepping in and getting involved right away is a good sign. Taking the initiative to develop contacts within the company and figuring out how his or her job fits in to the company as a whole is also appreciated.

6) How did you learn to work with staff outside of your department?
When I was a co-op engineering student, we rotated assignments every 12 weeks. I got involved in every area of the plant and learned the importance of cooperation with different departments. I developed a network of contacts in the various groups, which was helpful. I highly recommend the co-op or intern experience.

7) What trait do you admire in co-workers?
I admire the creative talents in my co-workers. I have worked with a number of people who have come up with very creative solutions to problems.

8) How do you relieve job frustration?
Physical activity helps-just get up and get away from your desk. I'll go out to our lab to see what's going on. Regular exercise outside of work is also very helpful to relieve job frustration and stress. I used to swim several mornings a week. My starting time changed, so that became inconvenient. Now I try to bicycle as much as I can. This includes commuting to work occasionally.

9) What one thing do you know now that you wish you could have known when you first started your job?
My previous employer rotated engineers through various departments and assignments. That was one of the things that I enjoyed about working there-getting the opportunity to work on a variety of products and issues. We don't rotate assignments as much here. We get to be pretty good at what we do, but I would appreciate more variety.

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