Q&A with Patricia Brett

In her position as Senior Principal Engineer at Honeywell Process Solutions, Patricia Brett applies her expertise as a software security architect for embedded control devices. She is working toward becoming the software security architect for distributed control systems. Throughout her career at Honeywell—which began in 1981 as a Principal Engineer—Brett has been relied upon for her expertise in human factors, wired and wireless network communications, system architecture, system integration, software installation, software testing, and standards representation. Within ISA, she serves as a managing director on ISA’s Standards and Practices board and has been highly involved in a range of ISA standards committees.

What initially attracted you to the field of automation (and specifically your selected field)...and when was it? Was there any specific thing that triggered your interest?

The field of automation attracted me because of the diversity of opportunity; it’s not just another computer programming job, but rather an opportunity to learn the whole life-cycle of a computer system—from the requirements definition phase on through design, implementation, testing, certification, acceptance, installation, use, upgrades and maintenance. There is a lot to learn, and no lack of new challenges.

Please tell us about your current career responsibilities (specific position, company) and background, and area of specialty in automation? 

Honeywell employs me now as a software security architect for embedded control devices. I am looking forward to becoming the software security architect for the entire distributed control system. I’ve been very fortunate to hold a variety of positions at Honeywell, including positions related to human factors, wired and wireless network communications, system architecture, system integration, software installation, and software testing. I’ve also served as a standards representative to ISA, IEC, NEMA, and ANSI.

Could you tell me how you are currently involved with ISA?

I am a managing director on ISA’s Standards and Practices board and have been most active in network communication standards committees pertaining to both wired and wireless communications. I also have participated in ISA101 and ISA84, and I’m currently a member of the ISA106, ISA18, and ISA99 committees.

How did you initially get involved in ISA? How long have you been an ISA member?

My association with ISA started when it became clear that the automation industry needed a single standard from an ANSI-sanctioned standards developing organization to replace specification work that was being done by consortia. The consortia were advocating a standard promoting their individual interest rather than openly working to define what would be the best, internationally acceptable standard for the industry overall. My work began in the SP50 committee, which was tasked with defining a single common fieldbus protocol. I have been involved with ISA for over three decades.

What ways would you say ISA has benefited you?

Working in ISA has provided me the opportunity to understand problems faced by a variety of automation users in multiple industries. It has educated me on new technologies and how they can be used to improve safety, ease integration, and, in general, increase productivity.

Participation in the standards committees provides an early view of upcoming standards and a general timeline for when customers will expect to be using them to maintain their competitiveness.

ISA leadership meetings have provided the opportunity to gain skills in working with management and offer a great opportunity for building an industrial automation network. Participating in ISA also has helped me improve my listening, presentation, and negotiation skills.

It is very impressive that you recently received an award from ISA's Standards & Practices Department relating to your involvement on ISA-TR100.20.01, Common Network Management: Concepts and Terminology. Do you have any reaction to receiving the awards? Also, why do you feel volunteering on ISA S&P Department committees important?

First, I wish to thank ISA for honoring me with the Standards and Practices award. Working on ISA standards and technical reports takes time and dedication. The award from ISA recognizes the commitment, expertise, and general contribution to the team effort made both by myself and Honeywell, which sponsored and supported my participation.

Participating in ISA S&P committees not only allows me to contribute to the success of ISA.  It has provided exposure to business disciplines, such as financial reporting and strategic planning, which are not encountered in my day-to-day engineering job. The board provides the initial forum for discussing new ideas for standards and for gaining an early understanding of emerging technologies and how they may impact industrial automation. Board membership has provided me with leadership and project management opportunities and experiences, and has helped to establish relationships that expand my professional network.

Do you have any advice or suggestions to young automation professionals entering the profession? Are there things that you have learned that you might pass on…to help them better develop their careers?

Young automation professionals should consider joining ISA and participating in standards committees relative to their areas of interest and expertise and in areas of new technology. Become active in the local ISA section, which may sponsor educational opportunities as well as visits to different customer sites. To get an overall perspective, talk with automation system engineers, operators, and field personnel. Develop good listening and communication skills; welcome change. Young automation professionals also should consider joining LinkedIn groups relative to their areas of interest and expertise, and subscribing to and reading automation industry trade magazines.