Q&A with Ian Harris

As Senior Facilities Engineer at Aera Energy in Bakersfield, California, Ian Harris applies his automation experience and expertise to upstream oil and gas projects. Aera Energy is one of California’s largest oil and gas producers—accounting for nearly 25 percent of the state’s production. Within ISA, Harris serves as District 11 Vice President-Elect and is actively involved in ISA’s Central California Section.

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?

I was always interested in finding out how things worked. I became really interested in personal computers when they first became available in high school. I decided to study electrical engineering in college. In 1989, I earned a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. My first job after graduating college was a Control System Engineer. I have always enjoyed the challenges in automation and have remained connected to automation throughout my career.

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

I am currently a Senior Facilities Engineer with Aera Energy. I was responsible for developing control system standards for the company. Now I’m involved with upstream oil and gas projects that require automation.

Previously, I was a Senior Control Systems Engineer with the City of San Diego. I managed engineers, programmers, and database managers to oversee the design, construction, operations, and maintenance of a control system that allowed unattended operation of the regional wastewater treatment plants and pump stations

Are you involved in any volunteer activities or leadership positions within ISA? If so, could you briefly explain?

I am currently District Vice President Elect for District 11. Previously, I was the Secretary for District 11 for two years. I also served as President of the Central California Section and held various other volunteer positions.

My goal—along with other section leaders—is to attract quality speakers to our section meetings so we can increase the knowledge of our members and advance the automation profession.

How did you initially get involved in ISA?

My first boss emphasized that we should base our designs on ISA standards. He encouraged me to join the local ISA section.

What ways would you say ISA has benefited you?

I have always used the high-quality standards that ISA provides. I have also attended many ISA events to gather as much new information as possible. Automation is always advancing. Being involved with ISA is one of the best ways to keep up with constant changes.

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?

Find a mentor and ask as many questions as possible. Go out to the field or attend an automation show. In college we are taught how to model and perform analysis of dynamic systems and perform Laplace transforms, but I have rarely used those tools at work. When I graduated college, I had no idea there was a difference between a gate valve and a butterfly valve. I had no idea how to read a P&ID or relay ladder logic. I was fortunate enough early in my career to find people that helped me understand this new world of control systems.

I would also encourage young automation professionals to join a professional society. It is the best way to expand your career network and share questions with people who have experienced the same challenges you are dealing with.