• Meet our Members: 
    Q&A with Cyrus Taft

    Cyrus Taft

    Cyrus Taft

    Cyrus Taft is President of Taft Engineering, which provides consulting services—primarily regarding boiler control systems—to the power industry.  He possesses decades of experience working with boiler and turbine control systems.  Taft actively contributes to ISA by managing the Society’s Power Industry Division (POWID) website and symposium web pages, and by serving as member and Chair of the ISA77.30 Dynamic Performance of Power Plant Control Systems Committee.

    Q.  Please give us a brief introduction of yourself, your educational background (degree/s received and when) and how and why you became interested in a career in automation?

    A.  Born a Connecticut Yankee, my family moved to south Florida when I was five so I was exposed to two different cultures from a young age.  Growing up, I was always tinkering with mechanical stuff, like bicycles, lawn mowers, go-karts, mini-bikes, and cars.  I was fortunate that I knew I wanted to be a mechanical engineer. 

    I attended college at Georgia Tech in Atlanta and graduated with a bachelor of mechanical engineering degree in 1974. About 15 years later I went back to school and got a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering (mostly control systems) from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. 

    After leaving Georgia Tech, a career in automation was the last thing on my mind.  I obtained a job with Westinghouse as a field service engineer in the Power Generation Service Division, working on large steam and gas turbines in the Southeast.  After one year, I was moved into a group that worked on turbine balancing and controls systems.  There were two things I particularly liked about this job.  First, I learned a tremendous amount about turbines and turbine control systems in a short period of time, and second, I met my future wife, Julia, who was also a field service engineer.  

    My controls experience at Westinghouse led to my second job at Southern Company Services in the design engineering group, working on both boiler and turbine control systems.  At this point, I really enjoyed the control and instrumentation work and decided it would be my best career choice.  Forty years later not too much has changed as I am still working on power plants.

    Q.  Could you provide more detail about your current career and your volunteer role at ISA?

    A.  For the past couple of years I have been easing into retirement and it looks like this will be the year when I actually ‘pull the plug.’  One big advantage of being self-employed is that I have the freedom to work as much or as little as I like.  I still enjoy the work very much but I have other things I want to do, too. 

    On the ISA front, I am still active in the Power Industry Division and in the Fossil Power Plant Standards committee, ISA77.  In POWID, I manage the POWID Division and POWID Symposium web pages, which has been a bit of a challenge in the past year.  I have been actively involved in writing standards for ISA77 since it was formed in the early 1980s. I am currently chair of ISA77.30 and our committee is nearly finished with a new standard on power plant control system testing. 

    Q.  How would you say ISA has benefited you?

    A.  Well, my first boss at Southern Company Services was active in ISA and the Power Industry Division and I was encouraged to become active also.  I immediately realized what a valuable resource POWID was because all the industry technical gurus were involved with POWID or its symposium.  By attending the POWID symposium and reading the technical papers I was able to learn firsthand from the experts.  I also established many contacts and relationships, which have been highly rewarding to this day, both from a technical and personal standpoint.  

    My involvement with ISA greatly broadened my perspective of the power industry. And that, I feel, made me a more valuable employee at Southern Company.  This greater knowledge and perspective also helped me significantly when I started my own business. 

    Q.  What advice would you give to other young professionals entering the automation profession?

    A.  I do have some suggestions for a happy and successful career. First, when in school, get some exposure to industry through plant trips, technical societies, student competitions, etc.  There is more to engineering than computers and equations.

    Early in your career, think about where you want to be in 10 years.  This might include what company you would like to work for, what type of work you want to do, and where would you like to live. 
    Learn from the best.  Figure out who in your company, your area, or your industry is the most knowledgeable and try to learn from them, person to person if possible. If not, do this by reading and researching publications.

    Make your own network.  Establish your own contact network inside and outside your company.  This will not only pay dividends in your current job, but it may prove invaluable if you need to find another job someday.  ISA and other technical societies can play a big role in this effort.

    Invest in your own career.  Don’t expect your employer to pay for everything.  Join societies and become active, buy books and training materials, spend some of your free time keeping up with your profession.  Also, don’t be afraid to say no.  As you become more technically competent, you will be asked to do more.  Resist the temptation to bite off more than you can chew.