"I like helping people, learning and leaving things a little better than I found it." That sums up our hero Chester Burke and he shared his inspirational journey in this hero conversation. At the core he loves to create new things and he provided great insight to how the world of engineering and manufacturing provides so many opportunities for that to happen. When he is faced with an opportunity to improve a process or engineer automation he loves how that allows him to use his unique skills to build something truly incredible.
He shared some of the challenges he sees as a direct front line leader in manufacturing. There was great advice offered for others to consider as they begin their own journeys and many of the points shared can apply to multiple disciplines of industry.
Chester is an all around fun guy and has a passion for everything he does. Whether he is engineering a cutting edge automation solution, finding peace on the gun range, spending time with his wonderful wife and daughter, Chester will always leave a lasting impact on others as his outlook on life and how he treats others truly makes him our hero!
It was an absolute treat to hear Chester's story and for those looking for inspiration and encouragement look no further - enjoy the ride with our hero Chester Burke!
Guest: Chester Burke
Host: Chris Grainger
Executive Producer: Adam Sheets
Podcast Editor: Andi Thrower
Industry War Story Submission: Send us a DM!
Welcome to EECO Asks Why. Today we have a hero episode and I'll tell you what this hero, ladies and gentlemen, has been listening to. EECO Asks Why since the third episode he's a regular listener. We got connected through one of our account managers, Mr. Joe Clark in Virginia. When he said, you need to talk to Chester Burke, who was the controls engineer at Cadence. And I was like, okay. Then when I connected with jester, it was an immediate connection. I was like, Chester, we definitely need to have you as a guest. Want to get your story. Welcome Chester. I'm excited for this conversation.
Yes, sir. I am certainly not a hero. If you asked me what a hero is. It's first responders and people in the military, either active or reserve or our veterans. They're the heroes. I'm just a man that works for living.
And I support that completely Chester, but I tell you what, in my eyes, you're the guy who gets up and you make that plant work or that plant operate, which this in turns makes this country move forward. So, you know, I'm going to argue with you on that hero part, but we'll you know, we'll just agree to disagree there, but so excited to have you on here, you know, talking about your journey.
I know you got a lot of exciting things to do, so I'm going to get out the way and let you get started by telling us how you got to where you are?
Well, it was quite a journey. It was not clear cut by no means. I guess, when I was in school, I didn't like it. I didn't like high school at all.
I wanted out. And I wanted to get out of that. I didn't like the discipline. I didn't like all that went with it. The riding, the school bus. I wanted out. And when I got out. And looked at what was facing me. I went, oh, no, I screwed up. And that started my journey, as you say to get where I am right now. There's several things I go into. Like, I was always interested in electricity. I had an uncle when I was 10 years old, who was electrocuted. He was killed at the Back Creek storage facility when they were building that. And that was devastating, and I always wondered, what is this force that took him away from us?
When I got into 11th grade of high school, I took vo-tech classes and instead of college prep classes and. I was in the electronics program because of said interest. And I took a summer job between my junior and senior year as an electrician's helper for electrical contractor who was building a nearby prison that was being built. And one day we were out digging ditches, literally digging ditches, laying conduit in the bottom and covering them back up, taking the tamper and tamping everything down. And I saw this guy ride by in a convertible and short sleeve dress shirt and a tie. And I asked one of my coworkers. I said, who's that? Oh, that's a job engineer. And I said, okay, what's it take to be an engineer? Oh, you have to be smart and go to school for that. All right. And when I went back for my senior year in high school, I went, oh, no I do want to be an engineer. But I have not taken a single preparatory class and the university's going to even let me in the door. I hadn't even taken the SATs. I never have, by the way.
So during my stay at vo-tech Warner Scott was our teacher. He took me aside one day and he said, you know, there was an electronics program at the local community college Dabney S. Lancaster, in Clifton Forge. And he said, I think you might be very good at that. So when I graduated from high school and I was sitting on the couch, my dad walked in and said, you can't do that. I said what do you mean? And he said you can't sit there on that couch. You're either going to go in the military, you're going to go to school or you're going to go to work. And I remembered what Warner said. So I'd like to go out to Dabney and my dad said, all right, I'll pay for one semester. And at the end of that semester, I might straight As and I found my calling. I love college because no one cared if you showed up in class, whether you did the work or whatever, it was all on your shoulders.
And I said, I can do this. So got my associates degree. I looked at my opportunities and I said, this is not the engineer I want to be. Went for some field trips to some universities. I went to your Alma mater ODU. And we went to UNC CC that's university of North Carolina at Charlotte. And I'm sorry, I liked that school better. I went there and I paid for it by being a co-op student with General Electric in Hickory, North Carolina. And if people don't know what that is, that's where you really hired as an engineering trainee and you work a semester at your employer and then you go to school full time next semester. And you alternate like that until you graduate. It adds a year to your stay, but that was priceless for me, that gave me some experience in what engineers do and also help pay for the entire stay.
After that I came home and was broke, unemployed, but debt free. So, I was fortunate enough to get an interview and more fortunate to get a job at Burlington Industries in Glasgow, Virginia, where I was the controls engineer for about 19 and a half years. And that's where I got my real education. That's where I learned how to be a controls engineer and all that comes with it. Then I was doing mostly troubleshooting, modernization, sometimes design work, but after Burlington went bankrupt and the new owners decided that wasn't needed anymore. I went to work for a little company called Gala industries and think Eagle Rock. Good bunch of people. I like them. I enjoyed working there, but I still wanted to be that design engineer. So when this opportunity came open here at Cadence where I'm currently their controls engineer, I took it. And right now I'm a member of a engineering group because we make specialized components for medical and industrial devices and we have to design and build our own production equipment. So I'm part of that team of engineers. I'm the only electrical tell people that I'm a leaf and an ocean of mechanical engineers. And we design our own equipment. And I really like this. This is where I wanted to be from back when I was digging ditches.
Such a great story. I mean, from digging those ditches to look, you know, to where you're at right now. And I mean, I didn't realize about the GE co-op, what a great opportunity that sounds like it was to get you that exposure as well as the help from a financial standpoint, to get that education taken care of.
Yes, it was. Like my dad said, boy, I didn't know how much you were costing me until you stopped.
That's right. That's right. Well, you know, you're out there at cadence now, you know, you've been in several industries Chester and I'm really curious on your, take on what some of the biggest challenges that you're seeing out there right now. So what would they be?
Well, it seems to be a common problem across all manufacturing that we are having difficulties finding skilled, talented people. I don't really know why. Whether the schools are not teaching what we need from the start or what the issue is. So, anybody would like to get into this field. There's some needs out there. Yeah.
Speak to that, you know, give some advice. Say, somebody does want to get into this field cause I'm with you and we hear that skills gap consistently on the show and we've talked to some wonderful people who are trying to address that, you know, with some really cool initiatives and we even have, you know, all our guests coming up to talk about it more. What advice would you give someone? Why should they take a career in industry or manufacturing?
Well, most of the time you're indoors. So you're cool in the summer, warm in the winter, unless you have a particular aspect of the manufacturing that doesn't allow that. So far manufacturing is everywhere. The skills that you learn in one manufacturing facility can be applied to all manufacturing facilities. We all have the same kind of things we got to work on. Maybe some differences, maybe some specialties, but I'd say that it's worthwhile. Absolutely. Now if you're asking me, you know, what does it take to be a controls engineer? Well, that was my wandering path.
I would say if you want to be more in the maintenance department, there may be some community colleges that offer certificates on stuff like that. If you want to go up into modernization, I'd say at least an associate's degree, if you want to go up to actually designing from a blank sheet of paper, probably a bachelor's.
And if you want to go up even higher than that work for Rockwell or Siemens design components they want a masters maybe, right? I've always asked the question do I need a degree? The answer is no, but I have worked with a very talented, capable people who did not have a degree, and I have worked for talented, capable people who did.
And I think it's safe to say that. You will have more opportunities to learn and demonstrate your talents if you have a degree. So a degree is worthwhile. It's worth getting, I would recommend it. So, I started to notice like large corporations require degrees. That's one of the ways they weed out the resumes, you know, who has a degree who doesn't smaller corporations or companies they need the work done.
Yes. But I'm in no way poo-pooing on anybody with a degree or anybody without a degree. What really determines whether you do well in your job and you're able to keep your job is what you can do. Not how many degrees you have. Probably get in trouble for saying this, but one thing a degree does is it demonstrates on paper that you have the capability to learn.
Absolutely. Now, you know, when you thinking about this and that mindset for someone that's wanting to pursue that career manufacturing. Sometimes I'm wondering if it's a stigma, you know, you mentioned you work in inside, you know, there's security, there's different types of things, but sometimes people think manufacturing, they still go back to the history channel and they're pitching Ford model T's going down the line and you're standing there doing that same thing all day. So, you know, is there anything about manufacturing that you'd like to debunk to maybe opened the eyes to people out there who just really don't understand about your world.
Modern manufacturing is not dirty. It is not unsafe. It is clean and technically advanced a lot of stuff you saw on those historical films of making model T's what people were doing is being done by robots. I'm seeing a lot of influx of robotics. If a person had an opportunity to specialize in robotic programming, that'd be something I would consider. I'm seeing robots that I deal with them today. I have to program them. I have to pick them out. And we're all the time looking to use a robot where a person would go out of their mind and about an hour or two doing that over and over again, we like to use people in positions where you think, and you have to make decisions. That's where a human is, in my opinion, most valuable.
Great point. Great point. Now you also mentioned, you know, let's stick on that theme to help people understand the value of manufacturing. You mentioned the importance of mentors and how it is to help people along, anybody, any situation stand out in your mind about your, in your past, at that helped you along in your career?
Oh, yes. I have been blessed. The good Lord blessed me with a lot of good people in my life. Like my father for one, I mean, he was a great man. I still miss him terribly. He gave me a good work ethic. Basically if you want it bad enough, you'll figure it out. You have to make your life. Nobody's going to give you your life. You have to go ahead and make it. I think I mentioned Warner Scott. My vo-tech teacher. He was man who told me that. Look, it doesn't matter where you start. You don't have to end up there. You can make changes. Edmund Davison, he started his own business, making a handmade knives and in his field, he's pretty well known for that. He started with nothing except a plan. He said, I'm going to do this. I'm going to do that. And he taught me the meaning of the word tenacity, never saw stubborn man like that. But he taught me. You make a plan, you stick with it. No matter what. My professor at Dabney Mel Herwaldt he was a character.
I love Mel to death. And he told me once, Chester, if you can get along with me, you can get along with anybody. And he was right. Mentors are incredibly important. I mean, they will shape you as person.
No doubt. And I'm curious, Chester, you know, with these hero episodes, when are you happiest? You know, what work are you doing that brings you the most joy?
I like to be creative. I like to start with nothing and make something. I like automating, I like my job. One time I was sitting up in a loft in a ceiling back at Burlington and we had these pressurized yarn dyeing machines. And there were six of them. And I was sitting in front of the computer screen and I clicked a button and I started off six of them at the same time. And I made the floor shake and the boiler house probably threw a fit because there went all their steam at that point, but I was sitting up there in that loft and I was hearing the roar and feeling the floor. That's pretty neat. I wonder if anybody noticed
I like my job and the importance that comes with it, but what really makes you always ask people why and what really makes me smile and makes me go home feeling good about myself is once in a while, I'll have an operator who has to stand in front of that machine and work all day doing this or that. And I'll come along and they'll suggest something and I'll make it happen. That changes how the machine works and it makes their life a little bit easier and they just smile up a storm. And I really liked that part of my job, the same way as the maintenance guys, if I can give them the information they need to get the machine up and running, even, you know, I'm anal about my electrical prints. They need to be right. And they need to be easy to read. And that's how these guys and girls, you know, keep these machines running. So I like it when they brag on my prints.
I love it. I mean, you just hear the passion in your voice Chester and one thing as a long-time listener we're going to take a turn here and let's talk about you outside of work because I'm anxious to hear this stuff. you know, so far it's like, what do you like doing for fun? Any hobbies?
Yes. I like target shooting. I do. Guns. Yes. Target shooting in particular. I'm not a hunter. I like to shoot paper. And the reason why, you always ask why, is when I sit down and with this rifle, and I'm trying to hit this very small target, hundreds of yards away I have to be in total control of my physical and mental state.
And then with mental, you don't care, what has happened. You don't care. What's going to happen. Only thing you care about is what is happening. And it is for me, it's a great eraser. I erase all stress and I'm only concentrating on the task at hand. And my wife, I love my wife. She will tell me at times, go to the gun range and come back in a better mood.
She knows you. Well, huh?
She knows me well, we've been married for 20 years. She knows me well.
So what's your favorite gun?
When it comes to rifles I like the AR fifteens. When it comes to pistols, I'm a Baretta fan, particularly the Beretta 92.
Okay. So you have expensive taste. Got it.
Yeah, I do.
Well, I love it. I love it. We'll have to get to go to a gun range with you Chester. Now you mentioned your wife, you know, we love talking about family on EECO Asks Why, so, what would you like to share with us about your family.
My wife and I have been married for 20 years. This past month was our 20th. I'm very proud of my wife. When we got married, she just decided to go to college and she is now a BSRN at Augusta health over in Fishersville. She keeps me grounded. Let's just say that, that knows me very well. And she keeps me grounded and she's stubborn in all the right ways. I love her dearly.
That's wonderful. That's wonderful. Any other family in the area? I know you said that's where you're originally from, right?
Yes, I'm. I'm from basically Goshen, Virginia, and I grew up in Bell's Valley, which is a little bit north to Goshen. And I went through Rockbridge County, public schools, went to the real Rockbridge high in Fairfield not the one in Lexington. The one in Fairfield, which is long been closed. I have going to be 13 years old, 13-year-old daughter in the next couple of months. And she's too much like her dad.
Well, thank you so much for sharing about your family. It sounds like you got a lot of great things happening there. You know, I am curious Chester. I know you are a big EECO Asks Why podcast fan, but any other resources that you'd like for my podcast or YouTube or just books in general that you found value in?
Well, no, I have to admit that yours is the only a podcast with this subject matter that I've run across. Control engineering is a magazine I love to subscribe to and read. I might be my call me weird, but I'll take home an operator's manual and either PDF or the book and go through it. Wondering how this thing works. At Burlington, a friend of mine, Dwayne Cox used to say people say nobody reads the manual and he would shake his head and say no I know one person who will read the manual.
It's got to be somebody, right? Very good. Very good. Well, thank you again for being such a loyal listener and Chester, you are the reason why we put the show together and I'm excited. We're getting ready to get into our lightening round. I'm anxious to hear some of your favorites as a, as one of the EECO Asks Why regulars. So let's get started if you're willing to play. All right, let's go. All right. So what's your favorite food?
Thin crust pizza.
Oh man. All right. Now any adult beverage preferences?
Well, my wife would allow me to drink a Bahama mama once a year on my birthday.
Bahama mama. I hear you buddy. Now, what's your favorite app on your phone?
My favorite app. I guess I spend way too much time on Facebook and Fox news.
There you go. Now what's a, I'm curious, what's on your nightstand. It may be an operator's manual. I may already know this, but.
What's on my nightstand. You mean as far as books?
I mean just anything. Do you have anything on it? I'm just curious. What do you have there?
How about what's the guilty pleasure?
A guilty pleasure. I'm pretty good. I don't have any guilty pleasures. I'm not guilty.
For me. It's got to be peanut M and M's, but I mean, that's just who I am, you know, I run so I can have peanut M and M is that's just the way it works.
You don't need to run more or let's just say that.
What's your favorite sports team?
Well, this is why I always get in trouble. When I was growing up I watched a lot of baseball. And it was always the Yankees and the Dodgers were talking to 1970s and it was Reggie Jackson. It was Tommy Lasorda. What was that manager's name? Billy Martin. So whenever someone asked me, what's your favorite team?
Probably, you know, lean towards LA Dodgers because they were always like the underdogs Yankees was beating them every time they go to the world series. And people look at me like, what why, why don't you Atlanta Braves fan, you know why aren't you a Washington Nationals fan? No, I kind of shed a tear when Tommy Lasorda died, so there.
All right. Now what's your all-time favorite movie?
Oh man, I'm a very big movie fan. I sit down in front of Netflix and just started rating movies. And when I finished it was over 1200. I spent way too much time watching movies, but I look at movies as an art form. They can be true artworks and they can be awful. I mean, Like the godfather trilogy, Apocalypse Now, Forest Gump, those movies have a lot to say. Yeah. If I had to pick a favorite the one I always go to is one, probably nobody has seen it is a, it's a Willie Nelson, Gary Busey movie called Barbarossa. It's a Western and Willie Nelson plays this outlaw in Mexico and his in-laws are trying to kill him. And it's a hilarious movie. It has lot good to say about family. He loves his wife. He will not leave her, even though the in-laws keep sending people to kill him. And he had developed a friendship with this, a farm boy played by Gary Busey. And I could watch that movie over and over and I can quote whole scenes, but nobody's seen it.
How about favorite music?
I am a country music fan, and I guess you should call it a classic country music. I am a tremendous Waylon Jennings fan. I'm not a fan at all of today's country music. I'm so sorry for those who are, as far as I'm concerned, country music died a terrible death years ago. I still love Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Alan Jackson, all of that stuff. But the news stuff, I couldn't even tell you who was nominated at the CMAs.
I hear you. I hear you. And I hadn't the last one, you know, it's coming dogs or cats?
All right. I've been thinking about this one. I'm going to take the safe answer for 200 and say that it's both. When I was a kid, I had a purebred Collie named Kojak and I had Kojak from when I was eight years old to about 18 and the dog passed away. I've never had a dog since, it's too painful. When it comes to cats, my wife and daughter convinced me during the pandemic to get a cat. So we have, and as long as I told them, it's alright as long as I don't have to feed it, take care of its box or anything like that. So we have a cat in the house that I have to admit isn't too bad.
We'll let it slide. That's good stuff. I have a cat myself. He stays outside. We get along because we stay out of each other's way, but it's good stuff well Chester. That was fun. That was a fun lightning round. I love getting to know you more. This has been a, just an outstanding he wrote and yes, I did say hero episode. So, you know, we wrap up EECO Asks Why with the why Chester, and I'm really curious on what your personal, why is sir?
My personal, why? I'll have to say as corny as it sounds, and it does sound corny, I like helping people. I like to learn and I like to leave things a little better than I found it.
Beautiful. That's not corny at all with Chester. I think that you are definitely one of our heroes. I'm so glad we got to know.
I've loved learning about you through this episode today. And I know it would definitely put a smile on a lot of our listeners faces you know, for those out there that want to I know Chester you're on LinkedIn. We'll have your LinkedIn profile there. People want to reach out and learn more about a controls engineer. We'll have that available. And thank you so much for being such a wonderful guest.
Thank you for having me. You do a professional wonderful job, and I look forward to your next episode.
So thank you, Chester. You have a wonderful day.