ENGINEERING TECHNOLOGY IS MORE THAN JUST ANOTHER JOB; IT’S A CAREER
Todd Blackstock doesn’t fly helicopters, but without the special skills of technologists like him, many qualified pilots wouldn’t either.
As a program manager at Anodyne Electronics Manufacturing (AEM) Corp. in Kelowna, British Columbia, Todd and his team build aircraft audio equipment, mainly for helicopters. It allows crew within the helicopter to communicate with one another and with traffic controllers or teams on the ground, often on firefighting or rescue missions.
Todd is well qualified for his job. He has a diploma in engineering technology from the British Columbia Institute of Technology and a second diploma in control systems from the College of New Caledonia in Prince George, BC. While both are two-year programs, Todd was able to go directly into the second year of the BCIT program after completing his studies in Prince George and graduated with two diplomas in three years.
A 32-year veteran in the industry, Todd has seen a lot of change over the years, particularly in aircraft safety regulations and technology advances.
As a program manager in a department of 22 people, Todd is responsible for several projects at the same time. His day can include coordinating different aspects of multiple projects with other managers, overseeing environmental qualification testing, and incorporating leading technology for airborne applications.
Quality standards for AEM’s products, which are installed in helicopters around the world, is rigorous. The company complies with both Transport Canada and (American) Federal Aviation Administration specifications before its equipment is approved for operational use in aircraft.
“You can appreciate that everything that goes into an aircraft has to handle vibration, temperature, humidity and altitude,” says Todd. “I work with teams or individuals responsible for different aspects of program development to ensure we meet the standards. I help solve challenges and steer them in the right direction.”
Ensuring that challenges are overcome as quickly as possible is a crucial part of Todd’s job. While AEM sells most of its products through a global network of distributors, it also supplies to original equipment manufacturers so any delay in delivering equipment could delay the launch of a new aircraft.
“That’s our primary source of stress; being behind schedule,” says Todd. “No matter how well you plan there is always the possibility of unforeseen issues that could put us behind schedule.”
Todd tries to head off problems before they happen by careful forecasting, weeks and months ahead, and calling for additional resources as soon as possible if they are needed to keep a project on course.
“It’s one thing to run behind schedule, but you have to know how to recover if you do, so I need to always keep my eye on the horizon to mitigate those risks,” he says. “For example, I might decide that in three weeks I will need two more people to get me ahead, or someone with a different skillset. Then I request the resources.”
Todd says patience is an essential quality for the type of work he does.
“Things can go wrong during the development stage of new equipment, and it might fail its early tests,” he says. “We must then go back and fix it before advancing further and that takes patience. It’s a case of knowing that things can go wrong, and accepting them calmly, then working as a team to find a solution.”
But once the solutions have been found, and the equipment built, tested and signed off ready for shipping to customers, there’s a tremendous sense of satisfaction in a job well done, says Todd.
“I’ve been in this business for 32 years and one of the reasons for that is it’s exciting and never boring,” he says. “There are days when it’s very challenging and sometimes stressful. But there’s a big reward when you have finished off a development, and you know the product is flying on an aircraft somewhere in the world. This is not just a job, it’s a career.”