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Interview with Project Engineering Manager, Sean Swearns

Name: Sean Swearns
Current employer: Fluor Corporation
Job title: Project Engineering Manager
Science Career: Engineering Manager
Time working in this field: 18 years

How would you describe what you "do" in your job to a student?

My present position is leading the engineering effort for complex heavy industrial facilities. The work involves coordinating multiple engineering disciplines in the design effort and ensuring we build the facilities according to the design.

How did you become interested in this area of science/engineering?

My father worked in the power industry building and commissioning power plants. As a kid, I would visit these facilities and was intrigued with the large and complex equipment. I determined in high school that I wanted to study electrical and controls engineering to eventually work with programming the control systems for these processes.

What are some of the key characteristics that are important for a person to succeed in this type of work?

To succeed in engineering, you have to want to solve problems. This could be in the form of solving math and logic problems; programming code to have machines perform certain functions; or assembling thousands of pieces of pipe, cable, instruments, equipment, etc. into an overall facility that will produce a product. A lot of grit and determination are required when solving extremely complex problems, which is the heart of engineering.

Describe a project that you have worked on that was of particular interest to you.

I worked on a once-through steam generator that produced 900 megawatts of electricity. This particular project was complex and required a lot of auxiliary equipment to produce the steam pressures and temperatures required for the generator. One aspect that really fascinated me was the steam generator had a 250 foot tall furnace where the heat source was generated, and this furnace hung from steel 300 feet above the ground. When it came up to temperature, the furnace would grow over a foot from thermal expansion, and all of the interconnecting piping and duct work had to move with it. To this day, it amazes me the structural engineering effort required to ensure the steel was designed to withstand that.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Working with a team of engineers, designers, and procurement and construction folks to design a facility on paper and then bring it to life in the real world.

Is there any advice you would give to someone interested in this field that you wish someone had given you when you were starting out?

Always seek to learn. This includes learning about subjects not directly related to engineering, like philosophy, economics, psychology, history, and such. I have found that having a wider understanding brings solutions to problems that may not be apparent with just an understanding of mathematics and engineering. My recommendation is to learn about Charlie Munger's Mental Model approach.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I enjoy investing in the stock market, reading, and collecting art.

Editor's note: Sean helped design the 2021 Fluor Engineering Challenge for students.

Free science fair projects.